Where Will Marriage Be Decided?
There's been plenty of talk in Maine's media about where the money is coming from for each side of the equal marriage campaign, but less mention so far of a more important consideration; where their votes are coming from.
One way to take a guess at how Mainers will decide this election is to take a look at how they've voted on similar issues in the past. The best election to use for comparison is obviously the 2005 gay rights people's veto referendum, which made it illegal to fire someone or deny them housing, education, or other services because of their sexual orientation.
While the 2005 vote isn't a perfect match with the current debate, the similarities are enough to allow it to serve as a good stand-in for this year's contest. In fact, in 2005, the anti-gay rights side attempted to make the vote about gay marriage by using a slippery slope argument.
There's reason to believe that both sides may be stronger than they were four years ago. The groups opposing gay marriage have a new standard bearer in the Catholic Diocese. The groups in favor can feel good about polls showing a change in public opinion climate in Maine and the nation, with marriage rights becoming much more accepted.
Due to the larger implications of the vote, both sides will benefit from increased attention, with national organizations both for and against sending in money and staff from all over the country.
The demographics of the state of Maine haven't changed much in four years, however, so the electoral strongholds and battlegrounds will likely be similar.
Attached to this post is a map of the 2005 contest (using results from the Secretary of State and town information from Maine Geographic Information Systems). The purple represents towns that supported the veto, and voted against gay rights. The green represents towns that voted against the veto referendum and for equal rights. The darker the color, the higher the percentage of the vote in that direction.
As you can see, the strongest margins in favor of equal rights were seen on Maine's southern and central coast. The strongest margins against were in rural areas, especially Washington, Aroostook, Piscataquis and Northern Penobscot Counties.
The list of towns that voted most strongly against equal rights includes places like Blaine, Hodgdon, Mars Hill, Greenbush, Corinth, and Palmyra.
The few towns in these regions that voted for equal rights did so by very small margins. Fort Kent's light green color in the far north represents just a 2 percent margin against the veto referendum.
The towns that supported equal rights most strongly in 2005 include urban and coastal areas like Bar Harbor, Camden, Portland, Kittery, Cape Elizabeth, and Yarmouth. The only central Maine town in the top-twenty highest percentages in favor of equal rights was Orono, home of the University of Maine.
In Maine's other urban hubs, gay rights won by 7 percent in Lewiston and by just over 2 percent in Bangor.
In Presque Isle, the center of Maine's third media market, the equal rights side lost by 8 percent.
The towns that were close in 2005 and that will likely be close this November represent a wide swath through Western and Central Maine. Some of the closest last time were New Gloucester, Farmingdale, Buxton, Windham, and Brewer. If, as expected, this race is closer than the contest in 2005, majorities in many of these towns will vote against equal marriage.
If you take 2005 results and shift the percentages to where the polls currently show the equal marriage debate (just about 50/50), we can get a rough idea of where the vote will be close this year.
In the run-up to November, keep a close eye on Gorham, Westbrook and Skowhegan.