Early Takes on Trump: Maine By Mark Brewer
How President Trump is perceived in Maine is difficult to ascertain because Maine sees very little in terms of public opinion polling. This is especially true when there are no high profile election campaigns underway, as is presently the case. That said, we can nonetheless make a somewhat educated assessment as to how Maine sees President Trump as we head into the summer of 2017.
Any discussion of Maine politics will sooner or later turn to the idea of the "two Maines." Briefly stated, this concept holds that in terms of politics (and economically, socially, and culturally as well), the state of Maine is separated into two distinct components. The first is generally referred to as Southern Maine, largely represented by York and Cumberland Counties, although for political purposes some will include the coastal communities in Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc Counties as well. The second Maine is everything else, often thought of as the "other Maine."
The concept of the two Maines is useful in our evaluation of how President Trump currently stands in Maine. The tale of Trump's standing in Southern Maine can be told briefly and succinctly. Trump was never terribly popular in Southern Maine, and is likely even less popular there today than we he was on Election Day in 2016.
Maine's First Congressional District, which roughly maps the political idea of Southern Maine, is a strongly Democratic district that voted heavily for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and has sent the liberal Chellie Pingree to Washington as its member of the House of Representatives since 2009. Hillary Clinton beat Trump 54 percent to 39 percent in Maine's 1st CD, as the major elements of Trump's campaign platform—an America first foreign policy, anti-immigration, repeal of the Affordable Care Act—and his authoritarian populist style and message did not attract a great deal of support in this part of Maine. Southern Maine was not Trump country, and is likely even less supportive of Trump currently than it was in fall 2016.
Maine's Second Congressional District—roughly mapping the "other Maine"—is a much different story for President Trump. After supporting Obama in both 2008 and 2012, though below the levels of Maine's 1st CD, Maine's 2nd CD went for Trump over Clinton 51 percent to 41 percent in 2016. In many ways this is not surprising. Based on exit polls and other post-election data we know Trump did well among older Americans and white Americans, and according to the US Census Bureau Maine's 2nd CD is the oldest and whitest part of the oldest and whitest state in the nation. We also know that candidate Trump performed well among low income and low education whites, groups which are heavily represented in the "other Maine."
Indeed, three of the four counties in Maine that went most heavily for Trump in 2016—Piscataquis, Aroostook, and Washington (Somerset County is the outlier here)—are not only the three poorest counties in Maine, but in all of New England. Census Bureau data also show that Maine has the lowest percentage of its population age 25 and over completing college—29 percent—of all the New England states, and that the same three counties listed above all come in at less than 20 percent of the population completing college. This is true for Oxford and Somerset Counties as well, places that also supported Trump. Post-election data demonstrated that Trump was successful in attracting the votes of displaced white, blue collar workers, a group heavily represented in Maine's 2nd CD as manufacturing jobs (especially in the pulp and paper industry) have left the state.
So Maine's 2nd CD was clearly Trump country in 2016. The question is; however, whether this remains true in June 2017. We know that nationwide the overwhelming majority of Trump voters remain steadfast in their support of the president, and in some ways there is no reason to see "other Maine" residents as any different. At the same time, there are some reasons to think that Trump's support in Maine's 2nd CD either has eroded or is vulnerable to erosion in the near future.
First, Maine regularly receives more funds from the federal government that it contributes, and this is especially true of rural 2nd CD Maine. Trump's proposed budget is potentially harmful to this part of the state, a fact covered prominently by Maine media outlets, including the Portland Press Herald and Maine Public.
Second, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Trump-backed American Healthcare Care Act indicates that older and poorer Americans will be significantly harmed by this legislation. This is obviously problematic for Maine's 2nd CD, a fact that has been pointed out by the editorial team of the Bangor Daily News.
Third, President Trump's executive order initiating review of twenty-seven national monuments designated by previous presidents includes review of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (pictured above), established by President Obama in 2016. While this issue was highly contentious and opposed by many in Northern Maine, some of these same opponents have since changed their views as early results of the Monument's creation indicate an uptick of economic activity in this long-suffering part of the state. Trump's actions here moving forward could affect his approval in this part of the state.
So where does all of this leave us? Without polling data it is impossible to say for sure, but based on the evidence we do have it is reasonable to say that President Trump is not viewed warmly in Southern Maine. And while his support undoubtedly remains stronger in Maine's 2nd CD, there is a chance that this support either has declined somewhat or has the potential to do so in the not-so-distant future.
Mark Brewer is Professor of Political Science at The University of Maine.