Steve Mistler, Portland Press Herald, Maine
A new poll shows that independent Angus King is the heavy favorite to succeed U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, and that a ballot question that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Maine has strong support.
The poll is the first since last week's Republican and Democratic primaries narrowed the field of candidates for Snowe's seat.
It asked likely Maine voters whom they would choose to replace Snowe, who is not seeking re-election. Fifty percent picked King. Secretary of State Charlie Summers, the Republican nominee, drew 23 percent, while Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill got 9 percent.
The poll did not include three lesser-known independent candidates. It was commissioned by WBUR, the Boston affiliate of National Public Radio, and conducted by the nonpartisan MassINC Polling Group.
The survey of 506 likely Maine voters, done Wednesday and Thursday, has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
King, who served two terms as governor, is the best known candidate, according to the poll, and enjoys a 60 percent favorability rating.
Only 5 percent of the respondents said they hadn't heard of him. Thirteen percent said they had heard of him but had not decided whether to vote for him.
Summers has a 27 percent favorability rating, the poll says, with 31 percent of respondents saying they had heard of him but had not made up their minds about him. Twenty-three percent said they hadn't heard of him.
Fourteen percent of the respondents said they have a favorable view of Dill. Thirty-five percent said they had never heard of her, and 30 percent said they had heard of her but hadn't decided whether to vote for her.
The poll shows a higher rate of undecided voters -- 17 percent -- than some recent surveys. Steve Koczela of MassINC Polling said that is likely because his questioners didn't ask a follow-up "leaner question" when respondents initially said they were unsure whom they would vote for in November.
The undecided rate could be good news for Summers and Dill because it indicates that some voters may not be settled on King.
"Now that the field is finalized, people are giving themselves a little bit of space to figure out who the three candidates are," Koczela said. "You have a lot who have identified an initial preference, but there's still a significant number who haven't made up their minds."
The poll also shows that 55 percent of respondents favor a new state law to allow same-sex couples to marry. The poll question mirrored the one proposed by advocates of gay marriage, including a phrase saying the law would exempt clergy members from performing same-sex marriages if doing so conflicted with their religious beliefs.
The draft of the ballot question released by Summers last week does not mention the exemption, which supporters of same-sex marriage believe is significant to the proposal's chances of passing in November. Summers opposes same-sex marriage.
Mainers United for Marriage, which is campaigning for the new law, said the poll tracked with national surveys showing increasing support for gay marriage.
"Polling in Maine -- and around the country -- consistently shows that voters are changing their minds about allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license," Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said in a written statement. "In the past two years, we've had more than 88,000 one-on-one conversations with Maine voters, and we can see a difference."
But opponents said polling on gay marriage is often flawed. Frank Schubert, a political consultant who is working on the marriage issue nationwide, said polls consistently show more support for gay marriage than actually exists because people aren't always truthful in the surveys.
Carroll Conley, with the anti-gay marriage group Protect Marriage Maine, said the most recent poll was biased.
"Biased questions inevitably lead to biased answers," Conley said in a statement. "We are confident that we will prevail in this fight just as we did in 2009, and as we have in thirty-two out of thirty-two public votes across the country."
In the final days of the campaign to repeal the gay marriage law that Maine's Legislature passed in 2009, some statewide polls showed support for same-sex marriage with significant leads. Ultimately, 53 percent voted to repeal the law, while 47 percent voted to uphold it.
Koczela, with MassINC Polling Group, said the latest poll was not connected to any candidate or the gay marriage campaign. Koczela did polling for the Obama campaign in 2008, but he said MassINC does not do polls that are funded by campaigns.
Koczela said his survey appears to line up with national polls that show increasing support for same-sex marriage.
Public Policy Polling, a national firm, is expected to release a poll today showing that support for gay marriage has increased in Washington state, where opponents of a gay-marriage law are trying to overturn it.
Overall, 53 percent of the respondents in MassINC's survey were women and 47 percent were men. The most respondents, 31 percent, were ages 45 to 59, while 27 percent were 30 to 44.
Thirty-four percent of the respondents were independent, 33 percent were Democrats and 31 percent were Republicans.
A strong majority of Democrats favored legalizing gay marriage, while most Republican respondents opposed it.
The MassINC survey also showed President Obama ahead of Republican Mitt Romney in Maine, 48 percent to 34 percent. The president's margin was 26 percentage points among female voters and independents. Male voters were split between Obama and Romney.
Gov. Paul LePage is a polarizing figure, according to the survey. Forty-nine percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of his job performance while 40 percent approved.
LePage has a 64 percent approval rating among Republicans; his favorability is 21 percent among Democrats and 36 percent among independents.
©2012 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)