AUGUSTA, Maine — Republicans who lost elections in November will be skeptical, but far more Mainers identified themselves as politically conservative than liberal in 2012, according to a Gallup analysis released Friday.
The highest number of Mainers that Gallup polled during 2012 — 36.3 percent — identified themselves as conservative, while 35.4 percent labeled themselves politically moderate.
Only one in every four Mainers surveyed by Gallup in 2012 identified themselves as politically liberal.
Despite that ideological breakdown, Maine voters last year swept Democrats into majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, re-elected Democrats to U.S. House seats by wide margins and replaced Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who retired, with independent Angus King, who ran as a moderate and was targeted by attack ads paid for by national conservative groups.
Maine’s tradition of voting for individuals rather than party or political philosophies explains the apparent disparity, according to Dan Demeritt, a political consultant and former communications director for Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
“Ideologies don’t fit neatly into party affiliation any more,” he said. “Maine is a state where people are perfectly happy to cross party lines based on the candidate, especially at a local level, but for statewide offices as well,” he said Friday.
Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance agreed.
“First, you can’t really conflate liberal/conservative with Democratic/Republican, especially in Maine,” he wrote in an email Friday.
The Maine People’s Resource Center and other pollsters have found different results from Gallup, Tipping said. “Our polls over the past few year have had a five- to 10-point higher number of self-identified Democrats than Republicans and about even numbers for liberal/conservative identification (those ideology numbers have been remarkably steady over time).”
Maine voter registration numbers support Demeritt’s observation and MRPC’s poll results. As of Jan. 7, unenrolled voters (361,797) outnumbered both Democrats (314,993) and Republicans (269,589) statewide.
A Gallup analysis released Wednesday also highlights the disconnect between being liberal and being a Democrat in Maine, with 8.2 percent more Mainers saying they are Democrats or lean Democratic (45.9 percent) than Republican or lean Republican (37.7).
With 25 percent of the state’s poll respondents identifying themselves as liberal, Maine ranks as the 15th most liberal state in the nation, according to Gallup. The other five New England states all have higher percentages of survey respondents who label themselves liberal, topped by Massachusetts with 30.5 percent. Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only two states in the country where more people identify as liberals than conservatives.
Nationally, the states with the highest percentage of liberal residents are Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Delaware and Connecticut. The District of Columbia was the only place where more than one-third of poll respondents, 40.8 percent, identified as liberal.
Maine and New Hampshire, the latter with 36.4 percent, are the two New England states with the highest percentage of residents who told Gallup pollsters in 2012 that they are politically conservative.
In general, higher percentages of survey respondents called themselves conservative. While only one state, Massachusetts, had more than 30 percent of residents identified as liberals, every state but Massachusetts and Rhode Island polled at more than 30 percent conservative.
More than 50 percent of Alabama residents polled in 2012 told Gallup that they are conservative, making it the most conservative state — ahead of Wyoming and North Dakota. In all, 24 states polled at more than 40 percent conservative.
The margin of error for most states in the poll was plus or minus 3 percent.
Higher percentages of poll respondents who call themselves conservative do not surprise Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine who also writes the Pollways blog on the Bangor Daily News website.
“For decades, there has been a self-proclaimed conservative movement, and so it’s not surprising that conservatives tend to identify as such,” she said Friday. “However, liberal candidates don’t present themselves as part of a liberal movement. Thus it’s not that surprising that, even when liberal candidates do well at the ballot box, fewer Americans call themselves liberals. People who are liberal are more likely to see themselves as progressives or moderates.”
With 42.7 percent, Alaska, which has a “high Republican identification,” according to Gallup, scored the highest percentage of moderates. Rhode Island, one of the most liberal states, ranked second for percentage of moderates, while Ohio, a key swing state in almost every election for the past two decades, ranked third.
With the exception of Illinois, the most liberal states hug the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. That geographic configuration aligns generally with the “red state-blue state” analysis Gallup released Wednesday that shows Democratic party strongholds along the coasts and solid GOP support in the country’s midsection.
Overall, Gallup concludes that the nation swung slightly to the left in 2012, when 23 percent of Americans identified as liberals, 36 percent as moderates and 38 percent as conservatives. The 23 percent of Americans who identify as liberal is the highest figure in the past five years, even surpassing 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency with coattails that helped Democrats up and down the ballot.