AUGUSTA, Maine — A new poll released Tuesday suggests that a large number of Democratic and Republican voters remain undecided about whom they will support in next week’s gubernatorial primary.
But some observers cautioned that primary elections are notoriously difficult to gauge, even more so with such a small survey size.
Furthermore, the large number of candidates hoping to become Maine’s next governor, combined with strong voter discontent, likely makes the 2010 Maine primary even trickier than most to predict.
According to Pan Atlantic SMS Group, 61.7 percent of 300 Democrats who said they were likely to cast ballots next Tuesday had yet to decide which of the four candidates would receive their vote.
In the Republican race, which features seven gubernatorial candidates, 47 percent of poll participants said they were still undecided roughly 10 days before the election.
“There’s just not a lot of excitement out there,” said Patrick Murphy, president of Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group. In fact, Murphy said his pollsters even had difficulty identifying self-described “likely voters” to participate.
“We found enough of them, but we went through an awful lot of calls on both sides to find people who said they were likely to vote,” Murphy said.
Amy Fried, a political scientist at the University of Maine who studies polling, said such a small survey pool is going to have a larger margin of error. The Pan Atlantic poll had a margin of error of 5.7 percent.
Fried said primary polls typically have even larger error rates than surveys leading up to a general election because voter turnout in a primary is so hard to predict. But the high “undecided” response in the Pan Atlantic poll could reflect confusion or perceptions among voters — especially among Democrats — that the candidates are fairly similar to one another.
“I think you get higher numbers of undecided voters when people are not differentiating between the candidates very much,” Fried said.
There have been relatively few polls on the two Maine gubernatorial primaries.
Last month, the Portland polling firm Critical Insights released the results of a survey — conducted in late April and early May — showing that 42 percent of participants could not name any of the 11 major-party candidates running for governor.
MaryEllen FitzGerald, president of Critical Insights, said she believes that number has shrunk since then, especially now that all of the candidates have begun airing TV ads. FitzGerald also said it seemed unusual to her to see an undecided block as large as the one suggested by the Pan Atlantic poll.
“Now that we are a week out [from the election], I think anyone who hasn’t made up their mind yet about who they’re going to vote for probably is not going to vote in the primary,” she said.
At least one candidate said that while he agrees turnout will be relatively low, he believes those who will head to the polls on June 8 have largely made up their minds, at least in the Republican race.
Sen. Peter Mills, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said his internal polling focused only on voters with a history of participating in primaries. Mills said his campaign’s polls place the undecided block at around 24 percent.
Because the Pan Atlantic survey had such a large block of undecided voters, it also significantly increases the margin of error among those whom the poll showed leading their respective races.
Among Democrats, Libby Mitchell received the most support from respondents followed by Steve Rowe, Rosa Scarcelli and Pat McGowan.
Among Republicans, Les Otten received the most support followed by Paul LePage, Mills, Steve Abbott, Bill Beardsley, Bruce Poliquin and Matt Jacobson.