Beneath the Numbers

By Jim Ellis

Is Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) in trouble?

July 30, 2020 — Two Senate polls were released earlier this week, and though the ballot tests in Maine and South Carolina didn’t show us anything particularly new, the pollsters asked their respective sampling universes some interesting ancillary questions.

Colby College, a Waterville, Maine institution housing approximately 1,800 students, released its second political poll of 2020 in conjunction with the McVey Data Science Initiative. The questions touched upon the presidential and Senate ballot tests but delved deeper into the attitudes and perspectives of their 888-person sample over the July 18-24 period.

The presidential ballot test found former vice president Joe Biden leading President Trump statewide, 50-38 percent. The Senate ballot test was closer in that former state House speaker Sara Gideon (D) leads Sen. Susan Collins (R), 44-39 percent.

In looking deeper, it is probable that the actual race standings are likely a bit closer. There appears to be a Democratic skew in that all favorability indexes for Democratic public officials were positive and those of the tested Republican officials were decidedly negative. Additionally, 52 percent of the sampling universe comes from the state’s southern congressional district, the 1st, which is decidedly more liberal than the northern 2nd District. Together, these factors provide us the indication that the results are a few points more favorable for Democrats than what we might see in actual voting.

ALG Research, polling for the Jaime Harrison for Senate campaign in South Carolina (July 15-20; 591 likely Spouth Carolina general election voters) adopted a similar approach in their new Palmetto State survey in terms of employing more unique questions to determine where the voting public stands.

The ALG ballot test results, however, were very much in line with what we are seeing from other pollsters. That is, the Lindsey Graham-Jaime Harrison Senate race appears closer than was originally expected. This is largely due to Harrison’s voracious fundraising where he has almost matched incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R) huge receipt total, $29 million to $31 million. The major campaign war chest has given Harrison the luxury of spending early to drive his message, thus seeing the return on his investment in the form of close polling.

While ALG projects President Trump leading in South Carolina, 50-45 percent, Sen. Graham edges Harrison, 49-45 percent, but those numbers include respondents who said they were only leaning to one candidate or the other.

This is another poll where the ballot test may be slightly under-counting the Republican votes. Looking at the favorability ratios, President Trump scores a 52:47 percent positive to negative rating, while Biden is seriously upside-down at 42:56 percent. With numbers such as this, one would expect a larger ballot test spread. With Sen. Graham only recording a 47:47 percent favorability split, and Harrison at 38:22 percent, the closeness of ballot test in their contest appears consistent.

The Maine Colby College poll delved into what the respondents think about coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, the defunding the police situation, sending children back to school, and about increasing mail voting.

The coronavirus responses were consistent with what we’ve seen in other states in that the respondents overwhelmingly support most of the proscribed safety precautions. Despite the virtually homogenous racial nature of the Maine voter sample, support for the Black Lives Matter cause is extremely high (64-32 percent). A plurality of respondents, however, are not in favor of “shifting some funds from police departments to support other social programs in your community,” but the margin is not as large as one might have guessed (a 43-47 percent result in favor of moving the funds).

The questions about re-opening schools and mail voting provided what most people would likely believe are surprising answers. Though the support for COVID-19 restrictions was overwhelming, the sample was split literally down the middle about returning to school. A total of 17 percent said the students should return to the classroom, 17 percent said instruction should be online, and 35 percent said a combination of both should ensue.

For mail voting, only 21 percent believe that mail voting should be made permanent. This is far less than the 36 percent who say it should never be made permanent. Another 33 percent said mail voting should be expanded until the pandemic eases. Of those opposing mail voting expansion, 71 percent stated their belief that voter fraud would increase.

The ALG South Carolina poll asked the respondents, both those who answered that they have a favorable impression of Sen. Graham and the other half who do not, what word comes to mind when they think of him. As you would expect, those favoring him had positive words to say and among those who do not, very negative descriptions were recorded. Interestingly, the phrase “wishy-washy” appeared from both groups as a Graham descriptor.

Though Sen. Graham’s favorability index is 47:47 percent, his fundamentals were much worse. When isolating on certain characteristics, he fares poorly. The respondent universe gave him negative ratings on whether they believe he shares the respondents’ values, if he is honest and trustworthy, and about being a strong leader.

Strong majorities also said he “will say anything to get elected, would put his own political power first, and has lost touch with South Carolina.” Obviously, the senator will have to devote much of his campaign to repairing his personal image. Such responses give credence to the multiple polling results we have seen in the past several months that the South Carolina Senate race is legitimately close.

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