Kate Downey (left) tours Senator Susan Collins through W.S. Emerson Company in Brewer on Friday where they have added masks to their production line. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Democrats are leading in Maine’s major races, according to a Bangor Daily News-Digital Research poll conducted in late July and early August.

House Speaker Sara Gideon held a 5-point lead over Sen. Susan Collins among likely voters in the closely watched U.S. Senate race. Freshman Rep. Jared Golden and former Vice President Joe Biden were up by even larger margins among registered voters in the poll, though Biden and President Donald Trump were virtually tied in the 2nd District.

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Underlying those gaps is an electoral environment favoring Democrats for now. Collins, who has long prided herself as an independent voice in the Senate, has not been able to escape this so far, with half of voters seeing her as too tied to the extreme elements of her party.

Here are six key takeaways from the poll’s detailed results.

Attitudes about Collins have gotten overwhelmingly negative over the past four years with even Republicans giving her little credit.

It’s easy to see how Gideon’s challenge to Collins has developed given the context that 60 percent of registered Maine voters have a more negative opinion about Collins than they did four years ago. This decline has come across the board, encompassing 80 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 34 percent of Republicans, and is the story of the race to date.

Only 31 percent of Republicans said their opinions have changed positively, showing Collins’ diminished crossover appeal is not leading to major returns with Republicans. It has led to a situation in which 74 percent of Republicans back Collins, 15 points behind Gideon’s mark with Democrats. That gives Collins room to grow, but it is still a difficult path to re-election.

Maine voters back Gideon over Collins when asked more detailed questions about them.

Also worrying for Collins is how Maine voters responded to a more detailed series of questions posed about her and Gideon. She lagged or led Gideon in negative ways for her on each of the four questions we asked — whether the hopefuls are principled, too tied to special interests, too tied to extreme elements of their parties or focused on the needs of regular people.

While 49 percent of voters said Collins was too tied to extreme elements of her party, only 30 percent thought the same of Gideon. Collins registered at 46 percent while Gideon got only 27 percent when voters were asked if they were too tied to special interests.

More than a quarter of those backing Maine’s freshman Democratic congressman also support Collins in a rare split-ticket race.

Swing voters do not look to be a major factor in this election, with backers of one major party candidate rarely saying they would vote for another party’s candidate in another big race. The exception is for backers of Collins and freshman U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat.

More than a quarter of Golden voters — or 27 percent — said they would also vote for Collins. Only 11 percent of Collins voters are backing former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, while 10 percent of both Golden and Gideon voters are backing Trump. Backers of former state Rep. Dale Crafts, who trailed Golden overall by nine percentage points in the poll, were even less likely to cross over.

Independents are breaking for Democrats in the major races.

Voters who are not affiliated with either party appeared to be favoring Democrats by a few points in each of the big races, though independent voters were more likely to be undecided than voters registered with a party.

Even in today’s hyper-partisan era, some voters will still cross party lines. But Democrats already have a significant advantage in party registration in Maine, with about 387,000 registered voters compared to 295,000 registered Republicans. If independents end up leaning Democratic, that could make it a tough year for Republicans up and down the ballot.

Mainers’ views of whether the U.S. and state are on the right track are defined heavily by party.

Voters are far more favorable about the state of affairs in Maine than in the U.S. at large, with 58 percent saying things are on the right track here versus only 27 percent nationally. This question hewed closely to partisan lines as one might expect with Democrats in control of Augusta and Republicans controlling the White House and Senate.

While a staggering 89 percent of Democrats say the country is on the wrong track, 70 percent of them say Maine is on the right one. The views of Republicans are extremely muddled, with roughly half thinking both Maine and the U.S. are on the right and wrong tracks, though they were most likely to say the U.S. is tracking well and Maine is not.

Republicans look to have an uphill bid to retake the Maine Legislature, with more voters saying they back Democrats.

We asked voters about which party they would vote for in local elections including those for the Maine Legislature, which Democrats now dominate with an 88-56 edge in the House and a 21-14 edge in the Senate. For now, it does not look like Republicans can claw back at once.

Overall, 45 percent of voters said they would back Democrats, with 37 percent backing Republicans. In a small sign of hope for Republicans, independents broke slightly for them over Democrats in these races, but it may take bigger margins to win any type of majority in 2020.

This poll of 500 likely Maine voters was paid for by the Bangor Daily News and conducted between the dates of July 28 and Aug. 9 by Digital Research/Critical Insights, a Portland-based firm. You can view the questions and full breakdown of the political portion of the poll here.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...