ANALYSIS

The polls were right in Maine and nationally, despite criticisms

Posted Nov. 08, 2012, at 6:40 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 09, 2012, at 6:47 a.m.
President Barack Obama speaks to supporters at his election-night headquarters as he celebrates his re-election on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois.
Brian Cassella | MCT
President Barack Obama speaks to supporters at his election-night headquarters as he celebrates his re-election on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois.

AUGUSTA, Maine — As presidential election results trickled in from across the country Tuesday night, the victorious candidates weren’t the only ones to claim wins.

Pollsters, who largely found an edge for President Barack Obama in the swing states in their surveys leading up to Election Day, also were proven victorious in their predictions, despite Republican criticism that they were oversampling Democrats.

In Maine, three established pollsters released surveys the weekend before Nov. 6, and the outcomes they predicted largely held as well.

Two Portland-based pollsters, the Maine People’s Resource Center and Critical Insights, and Public Policy Polling of North Carolina predicted the winners in all major contests on Maine’s ballot. In some cases, however, the pollsters predicted closer margins of victory for the winning sides.

All three predicted Obama would take Maine’s electoral votes, and two of the three pointed to a slimmer margin of victory in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

Obama ultimately carried Maine 56 percent to 41 percent over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The three firms that polled Maine in the days leading up to Election Day all projected a 42 percent share of the vote for Romney and varied on Obama’s percentage.

Public Policy Polling, whose founder is a Democratic pollster, projected a 55-42 win for Obama. Fordham University named PPP the most accurate pollster for 2012. The Maine People’s Resource Center, which is affiliated with the liberal advocacy group the Maine People’s Alliance, predicted a 53-42 win for Obama. Critical Insights, which polled for the Portland Press Herald, predicted the closest contest, a 49-42 Obama victory.

In the 2nd District, where Republicans held out hope that Romney could claim one of Maine’s four electoral votes, the final tally was closer. Obama won 53-44 there, according to unofficial results. The results for the final polls in that race all fell within their respective margins of error.

PPP projected a 51-46 Obama win while the Maine People’s Resource Center, or MPRC, found a 50-46 lead for him in the 2nd District. Critical Insights found a 49-42 contest, and a fourth pollster, Gravis Marketing of Florida, projected a tighter 50-47 lead for the president.

Critical Insights president MaryEllen FitzGerald said her firm noticed the presidential race tightening more in the state’s 1st Congressional District than the 2nd District over the course of the fall.

“We saw that the difference between the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts really shifted so that they were virtually the same by the time we finished,” she said.

When Critical Insights staff removed the undecided segment of the polling sample and apportioned the remaining results to total 100 percent, she said, “We were right on the money in most of the races. It was really nice for all of us.”

On the same-sex marriage ballot measure, PPP predicted Maine voters would approve it 52-45. (The firm also predicted the 3 percent of undecided voters would fall into the “no” category.) Unofficial results show voters approved same-sex marriage 53-47.

MPRC projected a 51-47 split while Critical Insights forecast a 55-42 vote in the “yes” side’s favor.

The three pollsters also predicted similar margins of victory for independent Angus King in Maine’s U.S. Senate race, though none originally projected King would claim the 53 percent of the vote he did. King ultimately led Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill 53-31-13.

PPP projected a 50-36-12 contest, MPRC forecast a 48-34-11 edge for King, and Critical Insights predicted a 49-33-11 victory for King.

“There was real consistency among all the polls,” FitzGerald said. “They were clustering together, and that’s a good sign.”

Only MPRC and Critical Insights surveyed voters on the contests for Maine’s two seats in the U.S. House. In the 2nd District, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud fended off a challenge from Republican Kevin Raye, claiming 58 percent of the vote to Raye’s 42 percent.

MPRC had projected a tighter, 50-46 contest while Critical Insights had forecast a 55-36 result.

The Michaud and Raye campaigns had released dueling internal poll results in the week leading up to Election Day, each claiming their candidate was in the lead and each discrediting the other side’s polling. Michaud’s latest internal poll showed him winning by 22 percentage points, 55-33. Internal polling for Raye, meanwhile, showed him in the lead by less than a point, 44.3-43.6.

“I’ll be the first to admit, I was wrong,” said Kathie Summers-Grice, a Raye campaign consultant whose company, Eaton River, conducted the last internal poll. “It turned out to be exactly what the Democrat pollsters predicted it was going to look like, which was a very high Democrat turnout.”

Summers-Grice said the Raye camp based its polling on a model that assumed the electorate would be 35 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican and 35 percent independent. Raye staffers were skeptical when they saw polls predicting a Democratic-leaning electorate that mirrored the voting population in 2008, when a heavy Democratic turnout helped elect Obama to a first term.

“It comes down to where the weighting is,” she said. “We really didn’t believe we were going to see the type of participation we did in the 2008 presidential year, and for the most part, we did.”

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