AUGUSTA, Maine — A poll commissioned by the National Education Association and conducted by a Democratic polling firm shows that Democrat Mike Michaud has moved ahead of incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler in a three-way race for governor, National Journal political blog writer Kevin Brennan reported Friday morning.
Spokesmen for LePage and Cutler criticized the poll as skewed toward Democrats and of little value so far before the 2014 election.
The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey between July 11 and 16 of 400 likely voters in the 2014 Maine gubernatorial election showed Michaud leading LePage by nine percentage points in a three-way race. Michaud received support from 40 percent of poll respondents while LePage garnered 31 percent. Cutler placed third in a three-way contest with 26 percent.
David Walker, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, released additional poll data to the Bangor Daily News on Friday afternoon. He said on a question about LePage’s job approval rating, 40 percent of respondents approved and 57 percent disapproved. On personal favorability, which was measured between “warm” and “cool,” 33 percent were warm or favorable to LePage while 66 percent were cool or unfavorable.
Michaud fared better in the poll with 49 percent of those surveyed calling him favorable and 20 percent rating him unfavorable. Cutler had the lowest favorability rating at about 26 percent, compared to 25 percent who called him unfavorable.
The results of the poll, paid for by a teachers union closely aligned with the Democratic Party, gave Democrats even more cause for optimism if the November 2014 election simply pitted Michaud against LePage.
“The poll suggests that LePage would get pummeled in a two-way race, as he trails Michaud, 61 percent to 34 percent,” Brennan wrote. “Democrats are likely to urge Cutler to back away from the contest, arguing that his independent bid will split the anti-LePage vote and give the governor his only feasible path to re-election.”
Ted O’Meara, a spokesman for Cutler, said there is “no chance” that Cutler will pull out of the race.
“He’s in it to win it,” said O’Meara. “As he did during the last campaign, Eliot is going to stand out as a candidate who doesn’t get involved in mudslinging and negative campaigning.”
O’Meara questioned the poll’s results because it was commissioned by the National Education Association.
“That organization is totally in the tank for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates,” said O’Meara. “I would not expect it to show anything but the Democratic candidate in the lead. I don’t think voters will put a lot of stock in polls 15 months before the election.”
Among the aspects of the poll that O’Meara questioned is the fact that it claims only 3 percent of voters are undecided.
“That’s ludicrous,” said O’Meara. “Even in the closing weeks of a campaign you’re going to have more than 3 percent undecided.”
Brent Littlefield, a political adviser for LePage, called the poll “invalid.”
“I could literally paper the walls of an entire house with all of the false polls put out by Democrats and liberal groups over the last four years,” he said.
Walker, who said his firm works exclusively for Democrats when it comes to political polls, defended the results and said respondents who identified themselves as “leaners” one way or the other were pressed to make a choice between the three candidates as if the election were “today.”
“We don’t put out bad data,” said Walker. “This poll does not mean Michaud is a lock. It’s a reflection of how voters feel right now. … all of the polling I’ve seen has this governor in a lot of trouble.”
Walker said the poll sampled about 47 percent men and, not counting leaners, 33 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 28 percent Republican and 37 percent independent. He said about 15 percent of those surveyed were contacted on their cellphones with the rest reached via land lines. Not counting leaners, approximately 10 percent of respondents identified themselves as undecided in the governor’s race.
David Farmer, a spokesman for the Michaud campaign, said Friday that the poll showed nothing but good news for the Democrat, which is consistent with previous polls.
“All the polls that I’ve seen have shown Mike in the high 30s to 40 percent,” said Farmer. “It’s not surprising that people who are trailing don’t like the polls.”
Michaud formed an exploratory campaign in June. LePage confirmed at a July 2 fundraiser that he would seek a second term. Cutler told a Portland radio show host in June that he would formally announce his candidacy after Labor Day.
Three other candidates have also expressed interest in the Blaine House but were not included in the poll. They are Democratic Yarmouth Town Council Chairman Steve Woods, former Maliseet Rep. David Slagger, who is running as a Green Independent and independent Lee Schultheis of Freeport, whose website indicates that he is in the race to participate in the political dialogue, but has little hope of winning.
The margin of error for the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll is plus or minus 4.9 percent.