AUGUSTA – New polls indicate that the majority of Maine voters support the proposal on November’s ballot to legalize same-sex marriage, but the gap is narrow enough for one of the pollsters to predict “a very close race.”
Public Policy Polling released results Thursday that show 52 percent of likely voters support the proposal, 44 percent oppose it and 4 percent are undecided.
Also Thursday, the Maine People’s Resource Center released a poll that shows 53 percent support, 43 percent oppose and 4 percent are undecided on Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“Our experience in polling gay marriage is that if people say they’re undecided, it usually means they’re opposed to it,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, in a prepared statement. “Despite the 8-point lead for passage, this should be seen as a very close race.”
Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, agreed with Debnam.
“There’s a lot of ‘I’m kind of for it but I’m a little uneasy too,’” he said.
Mainers United for Marriage, the leading advocate for legalizing gay marriage, said it is pleased to see a majority of Mainers continuing to support gay marriage.
“There’s no question this is going to be a highly contested election,” said David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage. “All the polling shows a clear majority of folks supporting marriage, which is good news.”
Opponents also are heartened by the results.
“We are encouraged by this, but it’s still going to take a tremendous effort,” said Carroll Conley of Protect Marriage Maine, the leading opponent of the ballot proposal. “The other side has been thorough.”
A poll commissioned by the Portland Press Herald in June showed 57 percent of respondents supported gay marriage, 35 percent opposed it and 8 percent were undecided.
Both sides said they expect to see the numbers vary from poll to poll. Farmer said differing methodologies, particularly in the way the question is worded, affect the results from one poll to the next.
Also, both sides noted that polls are snapshots in time and don’t predict the outcome on Election Day.
Historically, poll results on same-sex marriage have varied, even just before the election.
One week before Mainers voted to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage law in 2009, Pan Atlantic SMS Group of Portland released poll results that showed 53 percent supported gay marriage, 42 percent opposed it and 6 percent were undecided.
However, Public Policy Polling results released a week earlier had shown a dead heat — 48 percent to 48 percent, with 4 percent undecided.
Ultimately, voters rejected gay marriage, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Public Policy Polling, a firm in Raleigh, N.C., is used frequently by Democrats. It surveyed 804 likely Maine voters on Sept. 17 and 18, asking: “Question 1 would allow the state of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. If the election was today, would you vote yes or no on Question 1?”
As a follow-up, respondents were asked if same-sex marriage should be legal or illegal. Fifty-two percent said legal, 40 percent said illegal and 8 percent were unsure.
The poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.
The Maine People’s Resource Center, affiliated with the liberal advocacy group the Maine People’s Alliance, conducted its poll Sept. 15 through Sept. 17.
It became the first pollster to ask Mainers the question that will appear on the ballot: “If there were a referendum held today that asked ‘Do you want to allow the state of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,’ how would you vote?”
The margin of error for the 856-person survey was 3.3 percentage points.
Maine is one of four states that will vote on gay marriage this fall. Voters in Maryland and Washington state will decide whether to uphold laws enacted there. Minnesota voters will decide whether to support a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
So far this campaign season, gay-marriage supporters in Maine have aired three television commercials. Opponents have yet to air any. Opponents are expected to begin airing commercials by the end of this month.
Internal polling used in a fundraising appeal by gay-marriage opponents on Wednesday indicated a tighter race than the polls released Thursday.
Protect Marriage Maine is distributing poll numbers that show 48 percent supporting gay marriage, 44 percent opposed with 8 percent undecided. Louisiana-based JMC Analytics and Polling used an automated poll with a sample size of 615 and a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The survey was done Sept. 17 and 18.
Conley said polling on the issue is difficult because people aren’t always honest with pollsters.
“I think people are not likely to be as transparent with pollsters with opposition to the redefinition of marriage,” he said.
Farmer said all of the polls he has seen — internal and public — show support for gay marriage ranging from 53 percent to 57 percent.
“I will take a 10- or 8-point lead,” he said. “That’s not bad news.”
MaineToday Media Staff Writer Susan M. Cover can be reached at 621-5643 or at: