Are Maine Francophone Towns a Bellwether in 2020?

Being the most northernmost town in Maine, Madawaska sits right across the Canadian Border next to New Brunswick. The town is known for having a record low of -41 degrees Fahrenheit, being the home of bluegrass singer Roland White, and for its prime Maine scenery. However, it is also defined for having a very large Francophone population. 83.4% of its residents speak French as their main language and roughly 48% of residents are French-Canadian.

In Madawaskas subdivision of St. David, that number rises to a little over 58% French-Canadian. The surrounding towns also have a very large French ancestry population as well. French citizens are spread out all throughout Maine, but many are clustered in Aroostook County up north.

The Maine Francophone Vote

French Mainers also will play another important role – help determine many Maine elections, and perhaps even the Presidential one. Many French Canadians migrated south to Maine between 1840 to 1930 for the large milling industry in Maine. While the population is dwindling, they remain a substantial bloc and there are active movements to preserve Acadian history.

Politically, the block has leaned to the left, but it has had a shift to the right. Madawaska voted for Clinton around 15 points. Representative Jared Golden won the town by over 20 points just in the first round, and his margin of victory went up in the second round. In the voting district with the highest ancestral French citizenry in Maine (which comprises several northern Francophone-heavy Maine towns), Obama bested McCain by 38.1%, but that shifted to a Trump win of nearly 1%. While that does not just account for voters with French ancestry, it goes us a good clue of their voting behavior.

Local Politics

Aroostook County is an interesting County. State Senate District 1 (which takes in most of Aroostook County) is a Republican-leaning area upwards on the ballot, voting for Trump by a margin of 7.3%. However, progressive State Senator Troy Jackson coasted to re-election in 2018, attaining over 60% of the vote. Jackson is discussed as a successor to Jared Golden. The 2nd State Senate District also is a good example but has a lower Francophone population. Local politics are strong here.

Looking at Election Analyst Thorongil16’s map below, you can see the northern edge of Maine go from light blue and reds to a dark blue shade. St. John Plt. (the near dark-red town up north in the first map) is firmly for Trump but goes for Jackson in a double-digit landslide.

It’s worth noting many of the towns’ populations are small, but they do accumulate to a decent number of votes. They matter even more in their congressional district.

Can Maine Francophones Decide the Next President?

In Maine and Nebraska, electoral votes are given in a hybrid system. The winner of the state is guaranteed two electoral votes. However, the other EV’s are delegated by the winner of the state’s congressional districts. This in turn allowed Trump to win an electoral vote from Maine despite losing the states’ popular vote. He won the second congressional district, which contains most of Maine’s Francophones, by double-digits.

This is how Maine’s 2nd and, in turn, Maine’s Francophones could be decisive. There are several scenarios where either Maine or Nebraska could play kingmaker.

For instance, if Biden flipped Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona but failed to flip any other states, ME-02 would be crucial. This would even be more true if Nebraska’s 2nd went to Trump. The map below shows how ME-02 could very well play kingmaker.

In this map, ME-02 would determine the Presidential outcome.

If Trump carried ME-02, the election would be tied and go to the House, where Trump would likely win. This in turn could be a scenario where ME-02 determines the Election. However, this scenario is unlikely, as Nebraska’s 2nd is far likelier to go to Biden.

Fundamentals

If this district is tight, that likely means Biden is doing well. The seat despite being friendly to Democrats down-ballot shifted rapidly to Trump. The seat went from 53-44 Obama to 51-41 Trump. However, the seat did revert back to its former roots in 2018 somewhat. It backed Independent Angus King in the Senate contest, and Jared Golden unseated two-term Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the House race. However, Republican Shawn Moody narrowly carried the congressional district in the gubernatorial contest while losing statewide. Poliquin won the first round but lost due to Maine’s newly-implement ranked-choice voting (RCV).

The presidential race is using RCV in Maine. Polls also suggest Biden is gaining substantially with white voters, particularly in the north and in rural areas. Biden holds a narrow lead according to the 538 polling average. This likely means he will perform well in the Francophone areas. Golden is also expected to win re-election by a surprisingly large margin.

Bellwether Towns

An interesting Francophone town to watch is Frenchville. Up north near Madawaska, the town went to Trump by roughly 52-44%, around how ME-02 voted overall. The town also has a small but sizable amount of voters. If Biden carries, Frenchville, he likely has a good chance in ME-02.

Other Maine Francophone towns to watch include St. Agatha, Fort Kent, and Eagle Lake. However the three towns mentioned only narrowly voted for Trump, and will most likely flip to Biden.

Looking further down south in the district, Democrats are going to try to squeeze out large margins in their vote-rich strongholds of Bangor and Lewiston. They also want to pick off as many light red towns as possible. Cutting the margins in rural red areas will also be key.

Maine’s Senate Race

The last puzzle piece is how ME-02 will vote in the Senate race. Incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins will likely overperform Trump all around Maine, including the 2nd. While she has lost much appeal with more liberal-leaning Mainers and has a formidable opponent in Sara Gideon, she still has a fair amount of crossover support. The race will likely be in the single-digits, with Gideon winning the 1st and Collins winning the 2nd.

As for the Francophone towns, the margins will be interesting. Collins has tended to dominate in the region. She won Madawaska, a town Clinton carried by 15%, with 64% of the vote in 2014. Her margins will inevitably dwindle in the region just like the state, but by how much. She likely wins Frenchville and likely narrowly loses Madawaska. As for the other smaller, light red towns, the race is a dead-heat. If Collins wins smaller Francophone towns like St. Agatha, that means she has a shot. If she carries them by a modest margin that means she might be overperforming statewide. If she carries them by over 10 point, she might be in the driver’s seat.

Collins is likely the narrow favorite to carry the Francophone-heavy voting districts, but Gideon could do well in the elastic Francophone region.

The Big Picture

Overall, Maine’s 2nd is likely to vote to the right of crucial toss-ups like Pennsylvania and Arizona. It likely even votes to the right of states narrowly favored to go to Trump, like Iowa and Georgia.

However, Biden is pushing the map further left and is putting states that should be going to the President in play. Golden is expected to cruise to a second term, and Collins falling might cut off a potential coattail boost for Trump. Polling shows a modest edge for Biden in the district and a largely favorable electoral map for Biden nationally.

If ME-02 is in play, the night is likely over. However, if there is a rare scenario where ME-02 and NE-02 decide the election, it could be crucial. The 2nd is a very elastic district and has a lot of rural whites, a group Biden is making large gains with compared to Clinton in 2016. There is a very small chance ME-02 determines the election.

Evan Hunt is very interested in foreign Governments and finds the U.K. particularly interesting. If you are interested in more content like this, you can follow him on Twitter at @Pollsterking1.

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