A new poll shows Republican Gov. Paul LePage with a slight lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in this year’s race for governor.

The poll of 400 Maine residents by the Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group shows LePage with a 1.3 percentage-point lead over Michaud, 38.6 percent to 37.3 percent, and independent Eliot Cutler trailing with 20.3 percent.

The poll’s margin of error is 4.9 percentage points, meaning it shows LePage and Michaud in a virtual tie about seven months before the election.

The results are similar to those that Pan Atlantic SMS Group posted in November, although that survey showed Michaud with a 1.3 percentage-point lead.

The latest poll shows LePage has gained 2.6 points since then, while Michaud has maintained the same level of support. Cutler received a 1.3-point bump in support from November.

The live telephone survey, conducted from March 31 to April 5, included a mix of land line and cellphone interviews, according to Pan Atlantic.

It is the first publicly released poll to show LePage with a lead. A recent automated poll by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling showed Michaud with a 7-point lead, although that survey oversampled Democrats in its calculation to measure likely voter turnout.

The Pan Atlantic SMS poll asked respondents if they are “very” or “somewhat” likely to vote in November, and its sample more reflects the composition of registered Maine voters.

According to the most recent numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office, 37 percent of Maine’s more than 960,000 registered voters are unenrolled or independent. Nearly 32 percent identify themselves as Democrats while 27 percent identify themselves as Republicans. The rest are registered with the Green Independent Party.

The Pan Atlantic SMS survey sampled 33.5 percent Democrats, 35.8 percent unenrolled or independent voters, and 29.8 percent Republicans.

Independent voters are expected to play a significant role in the governor’s race. According to the Pan Atlantic SMS poll, LePage has the advantage, favored by 38.7 percent of the independent respondents to Michaud’s 28.5 percent and Cutler’s 26.7 percent.

Nearly 53 percent of respondents said they have an unfavorable view of the governor. More than 56.1 percent have a favorable view of Michaud, compared with nearly 44 percent for Cutler.

Only 2.1 percent of respondents said they don’t know if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of LePage. More than 31 percent aren’t sure how they feel about Cutler, while 14 percent are unsure about Michaud.

The poll also shows:

Nearly 65 percent of respondents said Michaud has the best chance to beat LePage in November, compared with 21.5 percent for Cutler.

Slightly more respondents, 48.5 percent, support the Democratic-led Legislature’s effort to expand MaineCare coverage to about 70,000 people. Nearly 46 percent said LePage was right to veto the bill.

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said their elected representatives’ votes on MaineCare expansion will affect their decisions to support or oppose those candidate at the ballot box.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said that welfare fraud is rampant in Maine and the state should crack down on abuse. Nearly 41 percent disagreed, saying people are struggling and need assistance.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they have a favorable view of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Eighty-five percent said they do not know or have no opinion of Shenna Bellows, Collins’ Democratic challenger.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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Twitter: @stevemistler