Elections should be about people and the policies that affect them. In my column in the Press Herald this weekend, I laid out how the vote for governor this year is a life or death decision for some Mainers.
Unfortunately, what this election seems more often to be about is math and meta-analysis. This is partly a natural result of a three-way race in a first-past-the-post electoral system and partly due to the media’s tendency to focus on polls over policy.
This dynamic is particularly unfortunate given the fact that the basic math is now, for all intents and purposes, settled. Progressive voters who support Eliot Cutler can argue that casting a vote for their preferred candidate is a valuable symbolic act, but they can’t argue that the independent has any chance of winning the race.
Let’s look at the numbers:
Setting aside the fact that there has been no increase in support for Cutler in the polls, (even after the debates that he argued would turn things around for him), and the fact that Cutler’s campaign has basically stopped campaigning, at least on television (although Republicans seem to have picked up some of the slack), just the simple math of the election shows that he can’t win.
Polling aggregators currently show a deadlocked race between Congressman Mike Michaud and Governor Paul LePage, with one or the other up by less than a couple percentage points and Cutler in a distant third place (and those results include today’s PPH/UNH poll with a statistically significant lead for LePage).
In 2010, at this point in the race, Cutler was already tied or ahead of Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell in the polls. Michaud is obviously not in that position and is a much stronger candidate with more money and support than Mitchell had in 2010. There’s nothing to indicate that there will be any movement from Michaud to Cutler, but even if we assume that some game-changing event will occur and drive Michaud down to 19%, Mitchell’s final result in 2010, and every one of those voters go to Cutler, he would still lose handily to LePage.
In fact, even this is overstating the case for Cutler. According to data from the Secretary of State’s office, as of Friday 53,032 voters have already returned their absentee ballots. With a bit more than 500,000 voters expected to cast ballots for governor this year (based on turnout numbers from previous gubernatorial elections) that’s a full tenth of the electorate that has already voted. Another 36,853 voters have also requested but not yet returned their ballots – their votes may already be cast and in the mail as well.
The political parties and outside groups supporting their candidates have been promoting early voting (and registered Democrats currently make up a plurality of returned ballots). Cutler, on the other hand, has explicitly asked his supporters and those who might lean in his direction not to vote early. It’s reasonable to think that there are far more votes already banked for Michaud than for the independent.
I believe Michaud is the most progressive candidate and will make the most effective governor, so the choice for me is easy. For those who feel the same way about Eliot Cutler, right now they have a decision to make: whether the value of a symbolic vote is worth another four years of the policies of Governor LePage.