Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

A Skeptical Look at Maine’s MPRS Poll Results

In Senate on April 9, 2012 at 11:56 am

The left-wing Maine People’s Resource Center released their new survey (March 31-4/2; 993 registered Maine voters) of the state Senate and House races with results that are, let’s say, susceptible to a reliability scrutiny. Since the newly open Senate contest is of critical importance in determining which party will control the majority in the next Congress, it is this campaign that demands the most analysis.

According to MPRC, Independent former Gov. Angus King is staked to a commanding lead in the hypothetical general election ballot test. In the one intra-party match-up surveyed, King leads Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) and former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) by a whopping 56-22-12 percent margin, respectively. But, the poll appears to have methodology flaws.

Angus King, after developing some statewide name identification as the Maine PBS spokesman, was elected governor in 1994 as an Independent and easily won re-election four years later. He established himself as a liberal, but also as someone who will take conservative positions under certain circumstances. For example, he endorsed George W. Bush for President in 2000, but backed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

King has said several times that if elected to the Senate he may not caucus with either party, but will do what “is in the interest of the people of Maine.” He further said that he will caucus with the Democrats on some issues and the Republicans on others. He will eventually come to the conclusion, as both senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have publicly advised him, that he cannot succeed without caucusing with one of the major parties for organizational purposes, including the rendering of committee positions. King will also realize that having such assignments will be “in the interest of the people of Maine,” so expect him to join the Democratic conference.

Returning to the Maine People’s Resource Center poll, the data appear to have two principal problems. First, the sample is tilted in favor of the Democrats, and the methodology description admits the result data is not weighted to reflect an accurate political party dispersion. Of those polled, 39 percent are Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent Independents. Considering that the actual Maine electorate divides into a 32 percent Democratic-28 percent Republican split, with 37 percent Independent (officially labeled as “unenrolled”), the polling sample is unbalanced.

Secondly, the MPRC general election ballot test is only asked with Mr. Dunlap as the hypothetical Democratic nominee. But, even in their own poll of Democratic primary contenders, state Sen. Cynthia Dill outperforms the former secretary of state 20-17 percent. Therefore, to only test the second-place finisher against the top-performing Republican and King unfairly skews the results away from the Democratic Party ballot position even though it is they who have the greater number of respondents.

MPRC also tested the state’s two House races, which are now more conventional campaigns since neither Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) nor Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) are seeking their party’s Senatorial nomination. According to the study, Pingree leads state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney (R) by a huge 61-28 percent count. This finding, too, is likely skewed in Pingree’s favor especially when contrasting her 2010 re-election result (55-42 percent) in virtually the same district.

The ME-2 campaign is expected to be more seriously contested because the Republicans are fielding state Senate President Kevin Raye as their candidate. Raye ran for the seat when it was last open in 2002 and lost to Michaud 52-48 percent. According to this latest data, the Congressman leads 53-37 percent. Again, considering the sample skew, it is virtually certain that the incumbent has a substantial lead, but it is reasonable to conclude that this poll probably skews it a few points more in his favor than what is the actual margin.

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