June 24, 2018
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Opposition to ballot questions grows

By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A poll released Monday suggests that supporters of gay marriage have pulled further ahead of opponents, but voter sentiment for two tax-related initiatives may be souring as the campaigns enter the final week.

In the most closely watched race on the Nov. 3 ballot, Question 1, the latest survey results from Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group show the effort to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law trailing.

Roughly 40 percent of respondents indicated they would vote to repeal versus 52 percent in support of allowing same-sex couples to marry. That is a slightly larger gap than a Pan Atlantic poll from earlier this month.

That contrasts with the results of a larger survey, released last week, showing the contest over Question 1 in a dead heat, with both sides pulling in 48 percent of respondents.

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While interpretations of the different surveys may vary, pollsters, political scientists and campaign workers all agree on one point.

“It is really going to depend on who comes out to vote,” said Amy Fried, an associate professor of political science and polling researcher at the University of Maine.

The get-out-the-vote effort is already under way for both campaigns.

On Monday, voters in nine communities — including Bangor — had an opportunity to cast their ballots early thanks to new pilot program aimed at streamlining the absentee voting process for clerks. This week, voters in Bangor, Augusta, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Hallowell, Saco, Scarborough and Standish can cast ballots by voting machine or ballot box instead of sending in absentee ballots.

Bangor City Clerk Peggy DuBois said they were seeing heavy turnout for early voting as well as a large demand for absentee ballots. DuBois said she believed interest in the gay marriage issue might be driving the higher numbers.

“For an off-year election, it’s been projecting a 50-60 percent turnout, which is unheard of in an off-election year,” DuBois said.

According to the Pan Atlantic poll of roughly 400 likely voters, 51.8 percent of respondents indicated they would vote no on Question 1, thereby upholding Maine’s law allowing same-sex couples to marry. That is up about 1 percent since the last Pan Atlantic poll, released on Oct. 14. The polls have a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

Scott Fish, spokesman for Stand for Marriage Maine, the group behind the effort to repeal the law, said the campaign pays attention to polls but does not necessarily change tactics because of them. But he said all of the polls underscore their message to gay marriage opponents.

“This is not one to sit out,” he said.

In other questions on the ballot, the poll shows that support for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR II, has waned considerably in recent weeks.

In the Oct. 14 poll, 41.9 percent of respondents indicated support for TABOR, which would require voter approval for any tax increases or growth in government spending above the rate of inflation plus population growth.

But in poll results released Monday, support for TABOR — Question 4 on the ballot — had fallen to 39.8 percent with 46.3 percent opposing the measure.

Likewise, support for a ballot measure that would reduce the excise tax has dropped. About 56 percent of respondents said they planned to vote against the excise tax reduction proposed in Question 2, compared to 43.9 percent two weeks ago.

Public opinion over an effort to repeal Maine’s school consolidation bill was more divided, with 36.3 percent of respondents planning to vote in favor of the repeal and 42 percent planning to vote against it. Opposition to scrapping the school consolidation law, as proposed by Question 3, has gained more than 5 percentage points since the last Pan Atlantic poll.

Christian Potholm, a political scientist at Bowdoin College who has his own polling firm, said he expected to see a shift against TABOR, although the extent of the shift reflected in the Pan Atlantic poll was surprising. Maine voters rejected a similar TABOR proposal in 2006 as well as another spending restriction initiative two years earlier.

Advertising from the anti-TABOR campaign likely contributed to that shift, Potholm said.

On the issue of gay marriage, Potholm lent more credence to the Pan Atlantic poll than the Public Policy Polling survey, released last week, that showed the race deadlocked at 48 percent to 48 percent.

Although PPP surveyed more than 1,100 likely voters, compared to 400 in the Pan Atlantic poll, the pollsters had little way of ensuring they were talking to a registered voter because it was an automated call.

Tom Jensen of PPP argued last week that the automated system may be more accurate than live polling when it comes to certain contentious social issues, such as gay marriage. Jensen said some respondents might be more willing to respond truthfully to a recorded voice than to a live person.

Potholm said that with less than a week to go, a lot can change in the campaign.

“But I would be willing to bet that, if the election were held today, the no side would triumph by 3 or 4 points,” Potholm said.

UMaine’s Fried said at this point, she wouldn’t be surprised to see either side win. What would surprise her is a large margin of victory, no matter the winner on Nov. 3.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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