What to know about Trump, Biden, Haley, polls

Maine is one of 16 states (and one U.S. territory) that will hold presidential primary voting on March 5. Known as Super Tuesday, it’s an important date in the race for nomination where more than a third of the total delegates will be awarded.

The race will see familiar players: former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley headline on the Republican ballot. President Joe Biden and Congressman Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, are the only names listed on the Democratic ballot. Trump and Biden have been steamrolling to the nominations for their parties.

Despite being a small state with just four electoral votes, Maine has stirred up some controversies in the run-up to the primary. Maine’s secretary of state sought to remove Trump’s name from the ballot, and the Maine Republican Party has said it won’t recognize the state’s ranked choice voting system.

Here’s what to expect in Maine’s presidential primary:

Is Trump on Maine’s primary ballot?

In December, Maine’s Secretary of State Shannon Bellows ruled to remove Trump from the primary ballot under the Constitution’s insurrection clause for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. But he remains on the ballot because the Supreme Court has yet to rule on a similar case in Colorado.

“It certainly got Trump people feeling, ‘Well, here’s another way the system is stacked against us,’” said Jim Melcher, a professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington. “That, if anything, lit a fire under those people.”

Trump expected to win in Maine, but Haley could see support from unenrolled voters

According to the Feb. 22 UNH Survey Center Poll on the Maine primaries, 77% of likely GOP primary voters say they will vote for Trump, and 19% are for Haley.

“You would think on the one hand, this would be the kind of state where Nikki Haley would do relatively well, but the Maine Republicans have largely swung to Trump,” said Melcher.

Maine’s northern second congressional district is more conservative than the rest of the state. Melcher pointed out it was the only electoral college vote in New England that went to Trump in the past two elections. But in the first congressional district, which includes Portland and other southern towns and tends to vote blue in presidential elections, Melcher thinks that Haley could pick up never-Trump and unenrolled voters.

Biden appears headed to an easy victory in Maine

The same poll shows Biden as the first-choice candidate of 75% of likely Democratic voters. Three percent support Phillips.

“The Dean Phillips challenge to Joe Biden just doesn’t seem to have gotten off the ground,” said Melcher. “There are Democrats who are unhappy with President Biden for whatever reason. Some people don’t agree with his stance one way or the other on the Israel-Gaza conflict, or wish there was somebody younger, but there’s no reason to expect that Joe Biden won’t win by a commanding margin.” 

He said there won’t likely be much of a protest vote against Biden.

Biden’s support in Maine is strongest among self-described moderates and those over 65, according to a Feb. 22 UNH Survey Center poll. His lowest support of likely Democratic voters comes from self-described socialists and those aged 18-34, but still has the majority with 52% and 64%, respectively.

Maine’s tradition of political independence

Maine has long been known for voting for independents or splitting their party tickets. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has been elected as an independent since 2013. And Jared Golden, a Democratic U.S. representative from Maine, was able to win the second district despite it going to Trump by seven points in 2020.

However, new voter registration numbers show that unenrolled voters, the state’s largest voting bloc just four years ago, have now fallen behind both major parties.

Still, this tradition could provide a boost to Haley. State law in Maine was changed just last year to allow unenrolled voters to vote in either primary, as is done in New Hampshire.

“There has been a lot of speculation that since there’s really not much of a race at all on the Democratic side, that some people might cross over to the Republican side maybe in an effort to slow Donald Trump down, vote for Nikki Haley,” Melcher said. “We really haven’t seen much evidence of a lot of that happening, but that would be one thing to look for.”

How do Maine voters feel about the election?

There has been little campaigning from candidates in the state, but that doesn’t bother voters. Unlike New Hampshire, Melcher said, Maine doesn’t expect it.

However, results from the UNH Survey Center poll show that Democratic voters are less enthusiastic about a Biden nomination than Republican voters are about Trump. Fifty-three percent of likely GOP primary voters say they would be enthusiastic if Trump was the Republican nominee. Thirty-two percent of likely Democratic voters said the same of Biden.

The border/immigration, cost of living, and jobs/economy are the most important issues to Republican voters, especially Trump supporters. Haley supporters are more likely to list protecting democracy, foreign policy, or winning the 2024 election as their top issues.

Biden’s age has repeatedly emerged as a negative factor in this election, and Maine is no exception. Forty-five percent, a plurality, rate Trump as possessing higher physical and mental fitness than Biden. 

However, a majority of Maine voters rate Biden higher than Trump on temperament, honesty and integrity, decision-making, policy positions on major issues, and ability to understand “problems facing people like you.”

What’s the deal with ranked choice voting in Maine?

This year, Maine is implementing ranked choice voting for the first time in a presidential primary, meaning voters can vote for multiple candidates by ranking them by first, second, and third choice, for as many candidates as there are. Maine was the first state in the nation to use ranked choice voting in statewide offices.

More: How a new way to vote is gaining traction in states — and could transform US politics

However, Maine’s Republican Party says it won’t recognize the results of ranked choice voting, and whoever gets the most votes will be awarded the state’s delegates.

“They tend to feel that ranked choice voting was essentially a Democratic plot at revenge,” said Melcher, noting a few governor’s races in Maine’s history had been won with less than 40% of the vote. Melcher doesn’t think in this election, though, it will be a “big deal.”

Ranked choice voting will only come into play if no candidate gets above 50% of the vote, which both Trump and Biden are likely to do. Maine’s secretary of state’s office says the parties aren’t required to recognize ranked choice voting results, meaning they can choose to simply award delegates to the top vote-getter.


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