Voices & Choices

Roll Call, Suffolk U. ranked choice voting polls look to gauge outcomes in Maine’s federal elections

Roll Call, Suffolk U. ranked choice voting polls look to gauge outcomes in Maine’s federal elections

U.S. Sen. Angus King appears poised to sweep his re-election bid, but the same can’t be said for Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who is facing a fiercely competitive general election this November in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

A set of new polls predict outcomes Maine’s upcoming elections, which will be the first in the country to determine federal representatives using ranked choice voting.

The new voting method, backed by Maine voters under two separate ballot measures, lets voters rank their candidates in order of preference. When the ballots are counted, if no candidate earns a majority of support (50 percent plus one), the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and those who ranked that candidate as ‘number 1’ have their ballots go to their next choice. This “instant runoff” process of eliminating the last-place candidate and having their votes go to their next choice continues until a candidates wins with more than half the votes.

That elimination step might never come into play for King. The independent incumbent and former governor won 52 percent of first choice votes in a Suffolk University poll. Another 25 percent of voters picked Republican State Sen. Eric Brakey, while Democrat Zak Ringelstein took 9 percent. The remaining 15 percent were undecided.

The poll also considered the outcome if votes were counted in a second round, which widened King’s lead over Brakey to 58 to 27 percent.  

Things look much tighter for Rep. Poliquin, the two-term Republican representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District. A poll first published by Roll Call shows Poliquin neck and neck with Democratic challenger Jared Golden, with  The Cook Political Report declaring the race a toss-up.

A single point separated the pair in the initial prediction - Poliquin took 48 percent to Golden’s 47, with independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar receiving a combined 4 percent. The undecided voters were removed for calculation purposes.

Simulating the ranked choice model that will occur in November, the poll asked voters to indicate their back-up choices so that second choices can be counted if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of first picks. A second round, striking Hoar from the ballot, left Poliquin and Golden tied at 48 percent. Down to the top two in the third round, Golden took the lead 51 to 49 percent.

Unlike in the federal races, Maine’s high-profile gubernatorial race will not use ranked choice voting thanks to unresolved concerns raised over an obscure clause of the state constitution. Mills and Moody were locked in a dead heat with 39 percent voters choosing or “leaning toward” each one, with 16 percent still undecided, according to the Suffolk poll. Since ranked ranked choice voting will not apply to this election, a candidate could win without earning 50 percent of votes.

Voters were also split on how they viewed ranked choice voting: 47 percent approved, 43 percent disapproved and the remaining 10 percent were undecided. Whether they thought favorably of ranked choice voting broke down along party lines, with 71 percent approval among registered Democrats versus the 22 percent of Republicans who approved.

Despite the partisan divide in public opinion of ranked choice voting, numerous studies show how the system offers equal opportunity for candidates of either major party, as well as third party candidates, minorities and women.

Maine voters already voiced their support for creating a more fair and democratic voting method when they backed the ballot initiatives to adopt ranked choice voting. As proven by these polls (as do predictions for the Maine primary published in an earlier SurveyUSA poll), ranked choice voting elections are pollable and, when done correctly, can offer more detail on potential outcomes in close races.

Read the full polls from Suffolk University and Roll Call.

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