Republicans Susan Collins and Donald Trump outperformed Democrats Sara Gideon and Joe Biden among rural and small-town Mainers, those who identify as religious, gun owners, veterans and – the biggest and most reliable voting bloc – voters between the ages of 45 and 64.

Gideon and Biden were favored among college-educated voters, suburbanites and higher-income households.

An exhaustive survey of more than 1,800 Maine voters conducted between Oct. 26 through Election Day by The Associated Press showed familiar but widening political divides across age, geography and gender. The results help explain how and why politics have become so polarized and identity driven.

Jordan LaBouff, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Maine, said people’s social and cultural identities are often powerful predictors of how they think, feel and behave politically, maybe more so than ever.

“Some psychologists argue that we have entered a stronger period of sectarianism, the idea that there is a moral value behind your beliefs,” he said. “That really doesn’t allow for cooperation.”

The AP’s VoteCast survey was conducted in all 50 states by NORC, the opinion research center at the University of Chicago. Maine’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race offered some insights, as did the presidential contest, although voter trends differed somewhat in the two races.


Among those surveyed by AP in Maine, men favored Collins by a margin of 53 percent to 41 percent, while women preferred the incumbent by a 49-45 margin. Pre-Election Day polls had shown Gideon with a sizable advantage among women. In the presidential race, women favored Biden over Trump by a 56-43 margin, and men by a 50-46 spread.

Collins outperformed Gideon in every age bracket except for 18-to-29-year-olds, where Gideon won 54 percent to 38 percent. That is not a surprise – younger voters lean Democratic. In the biggest and most reliable voting bloc, 45-to-64-year-olds, Collins won 54 percent to 40 percent. Biden, meanwhile, had 29- and 13-point advantages in the 18-to-29-year-old and over-65 categories, respectively, but was tied with Trump at 49 percent among voters ages 45-64.

Those without a college degree supported Collins by a margin of 56 percent to 39 percent, while those with a college degree favored Gideon 51 percent to 41 percent. Biden fared even better among college educated voters in Maine – 67 percent to 29 percent – while Trump led among those without a college degree, 52 percent to 46 percent. Similarly, Collins and Trump fared better among those with household incomes below $50,000, while Gideon and Biden won households with incomes over $100,000.

And, of course, urban and suburban voters were much more likely to support the Democrats than voters in rural areas – although Collins outperformed Trump in small-town Maine, a development that helped propel her to a fifth term.

Dan Shea, chair of the government department at Colby College and the lead researcher on the school’s polling this year, said he was most surprised by the growing chasm between urban/suburban and rural Maine.

“If you look at Senator Susan Collins, she didn’t just win some of these small rural towns by a 2-to-1 margin. It was more like 3 or 4 to 1,” Shea said Wednesday. “That same phenomenon was playing out across the country and in the presidential race as well. I think that divide is getting wider and wider. We got a glimpse of this when (former Gov. Paul) LePage emerged in 2010, so it’s been growing.”


Shea said some of the results of the election in Maine – the fact that support for Collins outpaced support for Trump and that Democratic Rep. Jared Golden won in a district that Trump also carried – showed that split-ticket voting still happens.

“I think Mainers are once again celebrating being independent,” he said.

For years, people have talked about the “two Maines,” but it’s  more nuanced than just a north versus south divide. It’s tied to other cultural touchstones.

Gun owners, for instance, favored Trump by 15 points and Collins by an even wider margin. And although Maine is among the least religious states in the country, those who identify as religious went heavily for Republicans. Voters who identified as Protestant or Christian favored Collins by a margin of 68 percent to 28 percent and Trump by a 59-to-38 margin. Collins, a lifelong Catholic, also led among Catholic voters, 54 percent to 43 percent.

Views on racism shed light on voter preference as well. Those surveyed who feel racism is a very serious problem preferred Gideon by a margin of 72 percent to 19 percent, but those who said racism is not serious supported Collins by a staggering 94 percent to 3 percent. In the final debate before the election, Collins faced criticism for saying she didn’t think systemic racism was a problem in Maine.

How Maine voters feel about the coronavirus pandemic seeped into their voting as well.

Among those who think the pandemic is either completely or mostly under control, 95 percent supported Trump and 94 percent supported Collins. Among those who don’t believe the virus in under control at all, 84 percent favored Biden and 69 percent voted for Gideon.

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