The polling organization that conducted a statewide poll on Maine’s bear baiting referendum for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram says there is no need to retract the results even though pollsters mistakenly asked prospective voters if they wanted to make it a crime to hunt bears with bait, traps or dogs.

Polls conducted in June, September and October by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center each included questions that used language from the 2004 bear baiting referendum. That measure, which was defeated, asked voters, “Do you want to make it a crime to hunt bears with bait, traps or dogs, except to protect property, public safety or for research?”

Question 1 on Tuesday’s ballot uses slightly different language, asking voters, “Do you want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting except to protect property, public safety, or for research?”

Pan Atlantic SMS, a Portland polling firm, said it was retracting poll results released Tuesday on the bear-baiting question because the poll used the language from the 2004 referendum. Its poll on bear baiting showed that 51 percent of people surveyed would vote in opposition to Question 1 while 41.7 percent would vote in support, according to the company’s website.

A group formed to campaign in support of the ban took issue with the UNH poll and asked that the newspaper retract the survey.

“We do feel it should be retracted because it’s not what voters will see on the ballot on election day,” said Katie Hansberry, campaign director for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting. “The wording of a polling question is very important.”

Hansberry said the UNH survey, which found strong opposition, does not reflect “the strong support we are seeing for our campaign on the ground.”

But Andrew E. Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, said the words used in the survey don’t really matter now because most voters have already made up their minds.

Since June, the survey center has conducted three polls on bear baiting and each poll has shown opposition to the referendum question growing steadily. Smith said that in June only 44 percent of voters polled said they would vote against Question 1, compared to 57 percent in the October poll.

Another component of the survey asked voters how familiar they were with the question. In October, 64 percent of those polled were knowledgeable, Smith said.

“We’ve found that the knowledge around this question is quite high for a referendum,” Smith said. “People are not likely to change their minds (when they vote). Despite the differences in language, the way people vote won’t change.”

The secretary of state did not finalize the referendum question’s language until June 26, about two weeks after the UNH Survey Center conducted its first poll.

Howard Schuman a retired University of Michigan professor and published author on language usage in political polls and surveys, said the newspaper might want to consider doing “an experiment” with a small sampling of voters –about 60 people – to determine if the wording of the poll questions produced an inaccurate response before retracting the poll.

“My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that it would make a difference,” said Schuman, who lives in Phippsburg. “Crime is obviously a lot more serious than ban.”

However, David Trahan, a spokesman for the group that opposes Question 1 said the poll’s wording of the questions does not disturb him.

Trahan said polls conducted by the No on 1 campaign, which supports the continued use of bait, traps and dogs, are consistent with the results being reported by the UNH Survey Center.

“There are very few people out there whose minds are not already made up,” Trahan said. “To me it (the UNH poll) is not a game-changer.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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