Down East 2013 ©
Pine Tree Politics , the conservative-leaning blog authored by NRSC  staffer Matt Gagnon, has broken new ground in the coverage of Maine politics. On Saturday it became the first Maine blog to pay for and release a public opinion poll.
The poll  (more info here  and here ) found LePage with a one point lead in the governor's race, with 24 percent of the electorate still undecided and Pingree leading Scontras in the first Congressional District by eight points.
The poll was conducted by the newly created Maine Center for Public Opinion , a firm founded by software developer Mark Smith. This is the second poll the Center has released; the first came just five days before the June gubernatorial primary and showed Peter Mills with a substantial lead and Paul LePage in fourth place. Smith worked for the Mills campaign at the time. In the end, LePage won by a large margin and Mills came in a distant third.
Gagnon says they've worked with Smith to make sure this poll is more accurate.
"We discussed 'what went wrong' with them AT LENGTH, and are convinced their voter model has been corrected. Still, we will be open about prior results," said Gagnon via Twitter.
Based on public statements about their methodology, however, it looks like MECPO may be over-correcting. They use an unorthodox weighting scheme where they oversample Republicans based on a likely voter model they've created, in part, by looking at turnout in prior elections, including the recent primary.
There's a debate in the polling community about weighting by party, with some pollsters swearing by it and others believing the practice to be deeply flawed, but using primary turnout to construct their model is even more questionable. The factors that drive turnout in the two kinds of elections are so different that it's difficult to believe the comparison could be helpful without some serious statistical work examining elections and turnout over a long period of time.
Some political scientists quoted in the Press Herald today  seem to have similar concerns about the poll.
That being said, the results of the poll do pass the smell test. Based on other polls, the margin they report in the governor's race seems eminently plausible and it's certainly possible that the coverage of the controversy over Pingree flying on her fiancé's private plane could have narrowed the numbers in that race.
Overall, I'm glad to see one more voice in the discussion over how to take the temperature of Maine elections and to witness another step forward in the professionalization of online political coverage.