With about 16 weeks to go to the 2022 gubernatorial election, a creatively presented political survey made the rounds over the weekend. 

Bearing the name “Maine Today,” the online poll – which contained an inflammatory set of questions about gender identity, welfare benefits for illegal immigrants, and the teaching of critical race theory in public schools – was assumed by many to have some connection to MaineToday Media, the owner of this news organization and others. 

Not so. 

Behind the underhanded polling was the Arlington, Virginia-based American Principles Project, a national conservative outfit with about $9 million to burn on advertising in the upcoming election cycle and a Tucker Carlson endorsement in its Twitter bio. 

The purpose of the survey, said the group’s president Terry Schilling, is to determine the efficacy of certain messaging; testing the waters on a variety of culture war mainstays before deciding whether to “get involved” in Maine.

State law doesn’t require the architect of a political poll to disclose itself. In posing as a local media network, however, Schilling’s group went a step further, demonstrating brazen disregard for basic ethics and insulting Mainers’ intelligence in the process. 


Objective polls that test messaging are legitimate, whereas “push polls” that smuggle in characterizations of candidates or parties and do not prioritize information gathering (or bother with it at all), are not just objectionable but illegal in Maine. These days it’s often difficult to distinguish between the two.

Claiming no knowledge of the reasoning behind the use of the Maine Today name, Schilling was nothing short of cavalier about his group’s approach. “We don’t do October surprises,” he told this newspaper. “We like to go up early. We like to get them [attack ads] into the news cycle.”

Based on candidates’ projections alone, November’s is likely to be the most expensive governor’s race in the history of the state. Add to that the ever more crafty and cash-intensive participation of outside groups, and we’re promised a very loud and very muddy campaign. 

Where does this leave an electorate likely to be faced with more deliberately borderline and suspect content in the coming weeks and months? 

It’s easy to fall for stunts like the American Principles Project “questionnaire.” Unsolicited links, arriving by text or email, should be treated with vigilance. Where it’s not clear who’s coordinating a request for information or insight, it’s better not to proceed. If something feels fishy, it’s safe to assume that it is. Particularly fishy communications (and any unwanted communications, in fact) can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

Political surveying designed to mislead and exploit makes the public far less inclined to participate in opinion polling – something which, done correctly, should play a unique and important role in policy-making. Proceeding with an abundance of caution may mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Deceptive polling is damaging to democracy in more ways than one.

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