2nd district poll: Baldacci holds solid lead over Cain and Jackson

In the second poll I have seen regarding the 2nd district Democratic primary, Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci holds a 9-point lead over state Sen. Emily Cain of Orono, with state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash in third. Alden Smith, the fourth declared candidate is at 2 percent. The poll was administered by Public Policy Polling and conducted from August 23-25. It included “561 likely Democratic primary voters” with a margin of error of 4.1 percent. The toplines from the poll are here, but the head-to-head numbers are as follows:

  • Joe Baldacci:         31 percent
  • Emily Cain:            22 percent
  • TroyJackson:         15 percent
  • Alden Smith:            2 percent
  • Not sure:                30 percent

So what does the poll tell us? Obviously, the most striking piece of news is the extent to which Baldacci has broken away from the pack. In a June poll I wrote about by the same firm (linked below), it tested a similar grouping in which it had Cain, Baldacci, Jackson and Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. In that question, Cain led 25 percent-22 percent-10 percent-5 percent, respectively. Now, in this poll, when an almost identical list is polled, Baldacci leads by 9. That is a surprisingly big swing in a short time and a little hard to pinpoint.

Although Baldacci hasn’t bought any TV, he has done a lot of high-profile work in Bangor, and that could certainly account for some movement. Plus his last name is probably getting stronger among Dems who yearn for the days of his brother in the wake of LePage. (We started feeling the same about Bill Clinton after a few years of George Bush). However, a swing like this may also simply be the margin of error playing out between the two polls. (Not to get too geeky, but he could have been as high as 26 percent in the last poll and as low as 27 percent in this one).

Regardless of the reason, it is clear that Baldacci has a solid lead before he has even entered the race. (My sense is that he is getting pretty close to entering.) This lead will help greatly if/when he gets in. Donors will be more likely to give to him. Cue givers will be more likely to back him. And voters will consider him much more seriously if they believe he is the frontrunner. While holding and maintaining a lead is always hard, it is much harder to overcome a 9-15 point gap.

That said, there is also some very good news for the other candidates in this poll and reason for real hope.

From the June poll, Jackson bounced up from 10 percent to 15 percent, a significant bounce. I expect this is because he had not announced prior to the previous poll, and he has been much more present across the second congressional district since announcing. Plus, while Jackson is behind in the overall vote, he also has the lowest name recognition of the top three candidates. Because only 38 percent of Democrats polled know who he is, compared to 45 percent for Cain and 55 percent for Baldacci, he has a lot of opportunity for growth. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when you go even deeper into the crosstabs, he has the highest favorability of any of the candidates in their home county. His favorables in Aroostook are an astounding 70 percent, which is 20 points higher than the other candidates in their home counties. What that tells you is that those who know him best love him dearly, and if he can get others to know him as well, he will rise quickly.

As for Cain, Baldacci’s strongest competitor at the moment, she should feel very good about already being at 22 percent. She has only been a state senator for one year, having previously held a seat representing less than 10,000 people. Plus, like Jackson, she has a lot of room for growth (55 percent still don’t know her) and very strong favorables (2-1 in favor). Plus, in her home county of Penobscot, which she shares with Baldacci, her favorables are slightly better than his (50 percent positive vs. 43 percent for Baldacci).

However, perhaps the best piece of news is how strong Cain is with independents. While both Jackson and Baldacci are upside down with unenrolled voters (more negative than positive), Cain is seven points up. Why does that matter, since we are talking about a Democratic primary? One of the arguments that has been made against Emily is that she is too liberal to win in the general election. According to these numbers, that is clearly not the case.

As a side note, PPP also asked where Democrats stand on the income tax cuts LePage won from the Legislature and whether a candidate’s support of those tax cuts could be a vulnerability. Not to say that I told you so, but a few of us have been screaming about the idiocy of Democrats supporting these cuts as antithetical to Democratic values. Well, this poll overwhelmingly says that the vote is a huge vulnerability. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents said they would choose a Democrat who opposed these cuts as opposed to one who voted for them.

One final note, this poll was paid for and given to me by Baldacci, one of the individuals polled. Because of this, as you can see from my analysis, I insisted on full access to the entire poll and pollster before I agreed to write. Baldacci provided both, and I am more than satisfied that the methodology was neutral. Additionally, PPP has a very strong record of accuracy in Maine, and a recent poll that they did on the governor’s race was rightfully lauded by Democrats statewide and confirmed by Mike Tipping’s results two weeks later. PPP also declared to me that it stands by this poll as if it paid for it. Finally, it confirmed the only other time they polled this race was back in June when it did a similar poll for Baldacci, which I reviewed, analyzed, and wrote about (Baldacci requested anonymity at that time but “came out of the closet” as part of my agreeing to analyze this one). This is important so that I feel comfortable I am not seeing a selected set of results.

Posted by Ethan Strimling