AUGUSTA, Maine — If independent Eliot Cutler ran for governor as a Democrat in 2014, he would lead incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage by almost eight percentage points, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The Pan Atlantic SMS Group survey of 403 Maine residents, conducted by veteran Portland pollster Patrick Murphy, indicates that LePage would lead any three-way gubernatorial race that pitted him against Cutler, an independent who formerly worked for Democrats Ed Muskie and Jimmy Carter, and any other likely Democratic challenger.
Other intriguing political findings revealed by Murphy’s polling include the fact that LePage (36.5 percent) and Cutler (27 percent) both poll significantly better than former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci (21.1 percent) in a hypothetical three-way race for the Blaine House in 2014. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd District, would fare slightly better than Baldacci, garnering 22.8 percent compared with LePage (33.5 percent) and Cutler (25.6 percent) if those three men competed to be Maine’s next governor.
Those finding mirror January Public Policy Polling results that indicate LePage would win a three-person contest.
Baldacci, Michaud and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, all have confirmed that they’re considering, but have not decided on, making Blaine House runs. LePage and Cutler, along with Democrats Steve Woods and David Slagger, have filed campaign documents with the Maine Ethics Commission.
The Maine Democratic Party on Wednesday released internal poll results that place Michaud in a “statistical dead heat” with LePage and ahead of Cutler. The Normington Petts poll of 800 Mainers between March 18 and 21 showed LePage with 36 percent, Michaud with 33 percent and Cutler at 20 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
In a statement announcing the internal poll results, Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said that the fact Michaud hasn’t announced his intentions “automatically impacts any survey results that match him against two declared candidates.”
Grant described Murphy’s poll as a “complete outlier” saying, “Because SMS released numbers about Congressman Michaud that deviate so wildly from our own numbers — and from a recent PPP poll — we felt compelled today to show our hand so that the voters in Maine get the whole story about this specific matchup.”
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser, said in a phone interview Wednesday that it’s premature to focus on the 2014 election.
“While Democratic pollsters and politicians would like to start the race for governor now, Paul LePage is focused on continuing to lower the unemployment rate and pay the state’s hospitals the debt left by John Baldacci,” Littlefield said. “One thing this poll does confirm is that Paul LePage has never polled at or below the [vote] percentage he got in 2010. We are confident that the governor remains in a strong position today going into next year.”
Murphy’s poll does not show how Pingree would fare against LePage and Cutler in a 2014 gubernatorial race. Among other Democrats, former secretary of state and state senator Bill Diamond of Windham polled best among respondents who identified themselves as Democrats and independents. A majority of those respondents (41.7 percent) listed themselves as “unsure” who they would vote for if Baldacci, Pingree or Michaud did not run. Diamond polled at 15.9 percent, well ahead of state Sen. Emily Cain (8.9 percent), Attorney General Janet Mills (8.5 percent) and “other” (7 percent). Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, former U.S. Small Business Administration director Karen Mills and former state senator and BDN blogger Ethan Strimling followed.
LePage’s relatively good standing in hypothetical gubernatorial races does not mean Mainers are warming to the Republican governor, whose approval ratings have consistently hovered around 40 percent. His latest job approval rating, according to Murphy, is 43.4 percent, compared with 43.8 percent in October 2012 and 43.3 percent in November 2011.
The poll pegs LePage’s overall disapproval rate at 52.9 percent, slightly higher than his 51.8 percent rating in October 2012. However, the percentage of poll respondents who strongly disapprove of LePage’s performance decreased from 36.8 percent to 31.8 percent during the same interval.
The governor’s policies win more support than his governing style. He polled much better among men than women and in the 2nd Congressional District than in the 1st District.
Polling on other Maine political figures shows Sen. Susan Collins, who is up for re-election in 2014, with easily the highest overall favorability rating at 74.7 percent. Michaud ranks next at 60.8 percent.
A majority of those polled (52.5 percent) disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job performance.
By asking respondents whether they believe Maine’s economy is headed in the right or wrong direction, Murphy determined that for the first time since 2007, confidence in the economy is growing. Mainers between 18 and 34 years old (46.2 percent) and Republicans (50.8 percent) are more likely to view the state’s economy optimistically than others.
When asked to identify the state’s most pressing issue, 27 percent of respondents cited jobs and unemployment, while another 17 percent said the economy in general. Balancing the state budget placed next at 11 percent, followed by education at 9 percent.
More than 60 percent of those posed believe Maine will have to wait until after 2014 before the state will emerge from economic recession. Just less than 12 percent think Maine has already escaped the recession while another 14.6 percent believe the recession will end in 2014.
Of those polled, 47.6 believe their economic situation will stay about the same, 23.1 percent think it will improve and 26.8 percent expect their personal circumstances to worsen. A third of those older than age 55 believe their situations will worsen.
Just less than 90 percent of poll respondents favored background checks on all gun purchases. Higher percentages of women (95.1 percent) and Democrats (94.7 percent) support universal background checks for all gun purchases. Strong percentages of males (83.2 percent) and Republicans (92.2 percent) also expressed support for background checks.
Support for a ban on assault-style weapons registered 57.1 percent, with opposition pegging at 37.7 percent. Banning ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets drew positive responses from 63.5 percent of those polled and opposition from 34.2 percent.
Opinion split on whether information about concealed handgun permit holders should be available to the public. Democrats, women and residents of the 1st Congressional District were more likely to back public access to that information.
The Maine Legislature is considering a bill, LD 345, which would exempt personal information about concealed handgun permit holders from the Freedom of Access Act.
Almost nine in 10 of those polled believe people deemed a threat to themselves or others should be prohibited from possessing firearms.
Just less than 42 percent said they’re “somewhat concerned” that a mass shooting could occur at a school in their community. About 11 percent said that possibility concerns them “a great deal,” while 29 percent replied “not so much” and 18.4 percent said “not at all.”
This is Pan Atlantic SMS Group’s 51st public opinion poll in Maine. The most recent, in October 2012, correctly forecast Angus King’s easy victory in the U.S. Senate race and passage of same-sex marriage.
The random telephone survey of registered Maine voters took place between March 11 and March 16. Murphy calculated the margin of error to be plus or minus 4.9 percent. Equal percentages of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, Republicans and independents. Murphy’s demographic data also shows an equal breakdown between residents of the 1st and 2nd Congressional districts.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that independent Eliot Cutler would receive 35.6 percent of the vote in a three-way gubernatorial race with Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. The poll showed 25.6 percent support for Cutler. It also stated that 57.1 percent of poll respondents support assault-style weapons. That percentage supports a ban on assault-style weapons.