Two independently commissioned polls are giving Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage a strong lead heading into the final days of the governor’s race.
The polls also show a surge for independent candidate Eliot Cutler, while support for Democrat Libby Mitchell appears to be lagging.
The surveys, a robo-poll by Public Policy Polling North Carolina and a live poll by the Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS, were released Thursday and Friday, respectively.
The PPP survey of 1,812 voters gave LePage 40 percent and a 12-point lead over Cutler (28 percent) and a 16-point lead over Mitchell (24 percent). Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott drew 4 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
The margin of error was 2.3 percentage points.
Despite an unfavorable rating for LePage of 51 percent, Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said the Waterville mayor appeared poised to “waltz into the Blaine House” because Cutler and Mitchell were splitting the Democratic vote.
“(Either Cutler or Mitchell) would probably have to drop out of the race this weekend and endorse the other for either of them to have a chance of outpacing LePage, whose Republican support seems pretty solid,” Debnam said.
However, the Pan Atlantic poll of 400 likely voters showed Cutler eclipsing Mitchell and within striking distance of LePage. According to those results, Cutler’s 30.6 percent was just over six points shy of LePage’s 36.8.
The survey had a 4.9 percent margin of error.
The Pan Atlantic poll was taken between Oct. 25 and 27, in the middle of the furor over anti-Cutler attack ads launched by the Maine Democratic Party.
Seven percent of voters were undecided in the Pan Atlantic poll, compared to 2 percent for PPP.
Averaged with recent polls by Rasmussen and PPP, the Pan Atlantic survey results show LePage at 39 percent, followed by Cutler at 28 percent and Mitchell at 24 percent.
Moody and Scott were excluded from the Rasmussen survey.
Responding to the PPP results, Dan Demeritt, LePage’s press secretary, said “poll after poll shows that Paul’s ‘People before Politics’ campaign is uniting voters hungry for change.”
When asked Friday about LePage’s high unfavorable ratings in the PPP poll, Demeritt said whoever wins the Blaine House will have to work to unite a fractured electorate.
Demeritt also rejected claims that his candidate’s decision to pull out of Thursday’s Maine Public Broadcasting Network debate at Bates College was playing prevent-defense until Election Day.
“We’re not running out the clock,” Demeritt said. “Paul is campaigning. By no means is he playing it safe.”
Despite gloomy forecasts for Mitchell in the polls, and a PPP analysis that said she was out of contention, her camp said it was staying the course.
On Friday it announced that Democratic National Party Chairman Tim Kaine would be flying from Washington, D.C., to kick off Mitchell’s canvassing tour in Portland. In addition, President Bill Clinton’s visit to Lewiston still appears to be on for Sunday.
David Loughran, Mitchell’s campaign manager, said, “This has been a volatile race, with a lot of undecideds and a fluid electorate. It is clear that people are taking a hard look at all the candidates and when they do, we are confident they will decide Libby is the best choice to lead Maine.”
Cutler’s camp touted its candidate’s high favorable rating and rise in the polls.
Ted O’Meara, Cutler’s campaign manager, said recent polling shows that the governor’s race is between Cutler and LePage.
Despite the candidates’ eagerness to tout, or dismiss, the results, Curt Mildner, a pollster for Market Decisions, said people should use caution when considering polls before voting.
“We are expecting these surveys to do way more than they are designed to do,” Mildner said.
Voters and the media don’t pay enough attention or perhaps don’t understand the margin of errors in a poll as well as they should, he said.
He said the margin of error can mean that a candidate with a 10-point lead could really have a 5-point lead.
Mildner also questioned the methodology of some of the recent polls and their ability, based on the questions asked, to accurately forecast voter behavior on Election Day.
“These aren’t done with a lot of technical rigor and they tend to be less reliable,” Mildner said.