New numbers show bear baiting referendum was ‘game changer’ in governor’s race

Wildlife biologist Randy Cross and "Big John," a 432-pound black bear | John Wood, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Wildlife biologist Randy Cross and “Big John” | John Wood, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Emily Shaw, formerly a Maine-based political scientist and now national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, recently took a look at the results of the 2014 election and came up with an answer to a persistent political question about what role a citizen-initiated referendum banning the use of bait, traps and dogs in the hunting of bears in Maine had on the state’s gubernatorial race.

“So what was the effect of the highly contentious ballot measure on turnout and support for LePage? Was it a game-changer?” asks Shaw in a post on her personal blog.

“It totally was,” she concludes.

Shaw’s analysis indicates that the referendum drove turnout, especially for voters favoring the re-election of Maine governor Paul LePage.

“Controlling for people in the town who voted for LePage in 2010 and the power of median municipal household income, every four votes against Question 1 predicted an increase of 1 vote in support of Gov. LePage,” writes Shaw.

Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine David Trahan (left) and other campaigners against the referendum celebrate their victory on election day – Michael C. York | BDN

High levels of opposition to the referendum (and in favor of keeping bear baiting legal) were predictive of 17% additional turnout in municipal totals.

Shaw hasn’t yet done the math on whether the referendum alone could have tipped the election in LePage’s favor (LePage won by about five percentage points over Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud), and other factors certainly affected the race, but referendum-inspired turnout certainly seems to have had a measurable, positive impact on his vote totals.

The new results contrast with a more cursory county-level analysis that Shaw  conducted shortly after Election Day and which indicated that the referendum had less of an effect.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.