Colby Government department conducts 2020 polling

In conjunction with the Wall Street Journal, the Colby Government Department released its first poll on the 2020 elections on Feb. 18. 

The Government Department worked alongside national pollster SocialSphere to survey Mainers on a variety of national and Maine-specific issues. This poll is the first in a series the Government Department will conduct before the upcoming 2020 election. 

According to the Government Department’s webpage, the survey’s purpose is “to engage students in elections, particularly through data science, and to provide new information and thoughtful commentary on the 2020 election.” 

The poll uses both landline and cellular telephone calls  and online surveys to collect information.

The Government Department questioned a politically diverse group. Of those polled, 30% identified as Democrat, 28% as Republican, and 42% as independent/other. For the 42% classified as independent/other, 15% leaned Democrat, 12% leaned Republican, and 14% did not specify. 

Most respondents intend to vote in the 2020 presidential election; 91% said they “definitely will vote.” No one placed their likelihood to vote at less than “probably will vote,” which was chosen by only 9%.

The poll also asked people for their opinions on the federal and Maine state governments. About 13% of people were pleased by the federal government, while about 36% were angered. The rest had a neutral opinion on the federal government. 

Respondents generally viewed Maine’s state government more favorably than the federal government; 18% regarded it favorably, while 15% regarded it unfavorably. Two-thirds of respondents feel optimistic about Maine’s direction, while one-third feel pessimistic.

Professors Daniel M. Shea, Carrie LeVan, and Nicholas Jacobs lead the project. The Echo spoke with Jacobs about the polling process and its results. 

Jacobs said that because Maine is a small state with few polls surveying its citizens, identifying trends can be difficult. That being said, the polls did produce interesting results. 

Jacobs said that  “Susan Collins’ favorability has significantly declined, even since she was reelected six years ago. Her favorables in comparison to the president are largely better, but she’s only outperforming Donald Trump by a little bit,” he continued. 

“This is surprising because Susan Collins is an institution. She should be able to stand apart from the president and should be able to run on her own merits.” 

Jacobs believes that people “increasingly conflate their evaluation of Collins with that of the President.” He noted that Collins’ declining approval ratings is a new phenomena worth studying. 

Before the Government Department’s new poll, CNN’s 2008 exit poll provides the last reliable numbers pertaining to Collins’ favorability. 

In 2008, Collins stood as one of the most popular senators in the country. Although Barack Obama headlined the ticket, Collins, a Republican, still won every county Obama did. 

Since 2008, Jacobs believes that “one big thing has changed. Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket.” 

Split-ticket voting was once common, but Americans increasingly embrace straight-ticket voting. 

“One thing we hope to do with this poll is to figure out a little bit more about why [we see this phenomena]. I’ve suggested that it’s being driven by the president,” Jacobs said. 

Considering Collins’ favorability ratings and the eight months between now and election day, during which a lot can change, Jacobs believes, “We’re in uncharted territory for Collins’ political future.”

Jacobs also spoke about how polling in Maine tends to be more difficult than in other states. The Government Department called cell phones in an attempt to collect answers, which is an expensive but effective method. Jacobs thinks cell phone data makes the poll results more representative. The results capture the opinions of both rural and urban Maine.

“Maine has some interesting divisions within the state, not just urban and rural, but downstate and upstate,” Jacobs said. “We really strive to get geographic diversity, and we have excellent coverage across all of Maine’s sixteen counties.” 

In the future, the Government Department will conduct three more polls, at least two of which will focus on Maine.

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