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Turnout is the Maine Issue

Here are the results of the four recent — and somewhat contradictory — polls on Maine’s Question 1, which seeks to overturn the state legislature’s decision to provide for same-sex marriage in the state.

Pick your poison. The Democracy Corps poll is of registered voters (bad); the other three are of likely voters (good, usually). The PPP poll has the largest sample (good), and the Pan Atlantic Poll has the smallest sample (bad). The PPP poll is the most recent (good) — although the poll showing the worst result for gay marriage, from Research 2000, is the least recent. Pan Atlantic is a Maine-based pollster (good); the other three are national pollsters (bad). The PPP poll is an automated poll — which Tom Jensen thinks might be preferable in this instance — whereas the other three use traditional telephone methods.

I tried to come up with a crude weighting scheme based on these various factors and scored the PPP poll at 10 points, the Pan Atlantic poll at 6 points, and the other two polls at 3 points each. That would produce a weighted average of 46 percent (actually, 45.7 percent) voting ‘yes’ (meaning rejecting the same-sex marriage law), and 49 percent voting no, although this is not much different from the unweighted average of 45/49.

In addition to the polls, we also have a statistical analysis I conducted a couple of weeks ago that predicts the ban would fail 43.5-56.5, although with a fairly large margin of error; a more conservative version that accounts for the fact that this is an off-year election would change the numbers to 47.5-52.5.

What I think is reasonably clear is that if you had a 2008-type turnout, the marriage ban would fail. California approved the similar Proposition 8 by a 52-48 margin last year, but Maine is quite a bit less religious than California — it’s one of just four states in which a majority of citizens do not consider religion an important part of their daily lives — and religiosity is the big driver of support on this issue. But, there’s not going to be a 2008-type turnout. Compare PPP’s aged-based demographics, for instance, to 2008’s, as well as the 2006 and 2004 elections.

PPP has just 31 percent of the 2009 electorate being under age 45, versus 43 percent in 2008, 36 percent in 2006, and 45 percent in 2004. They also show a more conservative electorate, with 22 percent identifying as liberal versus 33 percent conservative, whereas those numbers have been about even in the exit polls for Maine’s last three general elections. (Note: PPP uses very slightly different age brackets than the exit polls, and so I’m extrapolating accordingly).

If that’s what the turnout looks like, I have little doubt that Question 1 is a toss-up, as PPP suggests. But I think that’s probably somewhat toward the pessimistic side. In contrast to California, where the Yes on 8 folks seemed to be better organized, the anti-gay Stand for Marriage Maine campaign seems fairly shoddy, trailing 2-1 in funding, relying on manipulative advertising that the majority of the state doesn’t buy, and with an amateurish web interface which, for instance, when I checked it yesterday, didn’t list any “House Parties for Marriage” within 50 miles of any of the ten largest cities in Maine.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave the marriage ban 3:1 odds against passing. I might lower that slightly to about 5:2 given the PPP poll, but the fundamentals remain fairly good for proponents of marriage equity. If the marriage ban passes, the pro-gay marriage side is really going to need to rethink its messaging strategy (my suggestion on how to do so here.)

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.