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New Poll Shows King's Lead Widening
10/10/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A new poll indicates that former Gov. Angus King holds a 26-point lead in Maine's U.S. Senate race, a finding that's at odds with other recent polls showing the race had tightened. The new survey, from Portland pollster Patrick Murphy, also predicts that President Barack Obama will carry Maine and that Democratic candidates will prevail in their bids for the state's two congressional districts. Although some election watchers question the poll's methodology, Murphy remains confident of the results. A.J. Higgins has more.

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During the last week of September, Rasmussen Reports claimed their poll showed Angus King with a 12-point lead over his Republican challenger Charlie Summers. But within days, Portland pollster Patrick Murphy was conducting his own statewide survey.

He released the results today that gave King a 26-point lead over Summers, followed by Democrat Cynthia Dill with 12 percent. The owner of the Portland-based Pan-Atlantic SMS Consultants says he expected King's numbers to be high.

"He's pulling about a third of the Republican vote and I think that obviously is to the detriment of Charlie Summers," Murphy says.

The differences between the two polls could be explained in part by methodology. Rasmussen relies on automated phone polling, and had a sample size of 500 likely voters. Murphy's poll was conducted by live interviewers who phoned 400 Maine likely voters. Murphy's poll carried a 4.9 pecent margin of error compared to Rassmussen's 4.5 pecent.

University of Maine Political Science Professor Mark Brewer says when it comes to polling, size matters. And he says Murphy's 400 interviews are just enough to give the survey credibility. "Obviously, the smaller sample size you get, the higher your margin of error is going to be," Brewer says. "I personally wouldn't want to go any lower that."

And that margin of error in Murphy's poll rises when the pollster breaks out responses by congressional district based on 200 respondents. In those instances, the margin of error was set at approximately 7 percent.

A result for the 2nd Congressional District indicated that more than 50 percent of those surveyed would vote for Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud if the election were held the next day, compared to just over 30 percent for Republican Kevin Raye. Fifteen percent were undecided.

Bangor attorney and former 2nd Congressional District Republican primary candidate Tim Woodock says Murphy's results for Michaud and Raye seemed off to him.

"Particularly given all the issues that were facing," Woodcock says. "Mike has been a long-term incumbent now and since the economy is weak and Congress has some role in that, I would think that people would be more skeptical at this point of sending him back than those numbers would indicate."

Murphy stands by his survey for the second district and says the 15 percent undecided factor and the 7 percent margin of error must be considered in his results. "There's still a pretty large undecided factor there," Murphy says. "There's about a 20-point margin right now in favor of Michaud, but I've seen other polls as high as a 25 percent margin for Michaud. I don't think it's quite at that level."

Other results of the poll : More than 50 percent of Maine voters would vote for President Barack Obama, followed by 36 percent for Mitt Romney. In Maine's 1st Congressional District, 56 percent of those surveyed said they planned to vote for Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, more than double the 24 percent for Republican Jon Courtney.

On the question of same-sex marriage, 56 percent of respondents said they planned to vote for legalizing same-sex marriage, compared to 39 pecrent who said they would not. But UMaine Political Science Professor Mark Brewer says the question is a complicated one because some respondents have historically told pollsters that they favor same-sex marriage, only turn around and vote against the question at the polls.

Still he says he thinks supporters are probably leading in the polls. "I would be very surprised, howeve,r if the final vote on Election Day was something like 56-44. I think it will be tighter than that," Brewer says.

The Murphy poll also showed Republican Gov. Paul LePage's numbers nearly unchanged from last year with about 50 percent of those surveyed disapproving of his job performance and 43 percent showing approval.


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