This one figure shows the strength of LePage’s tax-cut rhetoric

As they’ve done twice a year for nearly two decades, Portland-based market research and polling firm Critical Insights on Friday released its Spring Tracking Survey.

There’s a lot of good info in the report (check it out here) but there’s one particular data point that piqued my interest.

taxesSee the green line representing the number of respondents who said “taxes” are the most pressing economic concern? Notice how it’s jumped about 75 percent since the fall?

Now, see that blue line, representing the number of respondents who said “job loss” is the most pressing economic concern? See how it’s fallen by about one-third?

If you’re like me, you probably see the political narrative in those two numbers. I had a hunch that the figures correlate to one thing: Gov. Paul LePage.

As is the case most elections, jobs were the top issue for candidates at the height of the campaign. LePage was no different. He regularly touted the 22,000 new private-sector jobs created during his first term.

Then he won the election. The rhetoric quickly shifted to tax reform, the key pillar in LePage’s proposed two-year budget. In a colossal reform package, LePage wants the elimination of the state’s income tax to be his political legacy. Tax reform has dominated since the day the governor was elected to his second term.

Is it possible that LePage alone is responsible for the sudden jump in concern over taxes? I asked MaryEllen FItzgerald, president of Critical Insights, if my hunch was right.

“That’s exactly the way I interpreted it as well,” she said. “The governor’s agenda really does drive public awareness.”

Fitzgerald said the jump was statistically significant, and that it told part of a story about Maine’s increasing feeling of economic security.

The survey indicated that about 40 percent of Mainers believe the state is headed in the right direction. That’s still lower than we’d like, but it’s basically flat over the past six months — in other words, it hasn’t gone down.

Couple that with the shift in concern from job loss to taxes, and Fitzgerald says the complete picture is one of a population that feels more resilient it did six months ago.

“When you see a concern about taxes, you can interpret that more as lifestyle concerns, rather than [concern over] economic survival,” she said.

In other words, if more Mainers are worried about how much of their income is going to taxes and fewer Mainers are concerned about whether they’ll have an income at all, that’s progress.

Other takeaways in the CI Spring Tracking Survey:

  • More than half of respondents, 55 percent, said they expected the state’s economy would be “about the same” in 12 months as it is today. One quarter said it would be better, while 19 percent said it would be worse.
  • Mainers are slightly more optimistic about the direction of the nation than the country as a whole (33 percent say “right direction,” as opposed to 30 percent nationally), but a majority (53 percent) of Mainers still see things headed in the wrong direction.
  • More Mainers than not think Hillary Clinton “did not do anything wrong” by using a personal email address and a home-based server when he was secretary of state. 44 percent gave Clinton a pass, while 40 percent said it was wrong to use the personal email.
  • The 40 percent of Mainers who think the state is headed in the right direction and the 47 percent who think it’s on the wrong track both attribute their opinion more to the governor than to any other factor.
  • A majority (54 percent) say they disagree with LePage’s proposed change to General Assistance that would pay higher reimbursements to municipalities that spend less while large cities like Portland, Lewiston and Bangor lose funding.

Find the full public survey results below. Critical Insights polled 601 self-identified registered voters by telephone, including cell phone users, between March 24 and March 29. The survey results have an associated sampling error of +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.