Bruce Poliquin misunderstands why voters are angry

Bruce Poliquin lost his seat in Congress in November, but he hasn’t gone quiet.

On Friday, the former congressman spoke to the annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association. With forks and plates clattering as conference-goers ate lunch, Poliquin gave a speech and took questions.

After the luncheon, people were talking about the speech, which I recorded, before they went off to hear research presentations.

Mixed with false claims about Democrats’ views about health and environmental policies, there was a noticeable peevishness from Poliquin.

As one attendee said to me, “He seems very angry.”

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Poliquin talked about why Republicans did so poorly in 2018. The blue wave, said Poliquin, was “driven by hatred for the president, mostly by women, suburban women,” while noting there were “not a lot of suburban women in the Second District.”

Poliquin has refused to say publicly if he voted for President Donald Trump and, in his talk, he didn’t give an explanation for the president’s unpopularity.

And why were voters unhappy? Poliquin gave no reasons.

Nor did Poliquin cite what campaigns focused on all over the country last year — Republicans’ votes to cut health coverage and repeal patient protections.

But Poliquin had a ready explanation for why he lost.

Well, actually he didn’t because the former congressman said outright, “We won in 2018.”

However, according to Poliquin, his 2018 loss wasn’t real because “We have this thing called ranked voting.” It was, said Poliquin, “the biggest political scam” and “the biggest scam I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” Speaking to a roomful of political scientists who are well aware of different voting systems, Poliquin continued in this vein, calling ranked-choice voting “a scam” over and over.

Poliquin claimed that the system went against the principle of one-person, one-vote and the idea that the person with most votes wins. This argument was rejected by US District Court Judge Lance Walker, who heard Poliquin’s challenge to the 2018 election results, because with ranked-choice voting, like other runoffs, no one cast more than one vote in any round and the winner received the most final round votes.

One listener asked Poliquin what he thought of the Electoral College, a system that gives more weight to some voters and the candidate with the most votes can lose. Poliquin said it was good because candidates went to small states. After his questioner noted 2016 presidential candidates didn’t go to many small states, including Montana, the Dakotas, Vermont, and Alaska, Poliquin replied that Trump went to Maine numerous times and brushed aside his purported principle for opposing ranked-choice voting.

Moreover, Poliquin’s explanation for his loss ignored the reality that his support plummeted from the 55 percent of the vote he received in 2016. Maine’s other congressional candidates also ran under ranked-choice voting and had multiple opponents in 2018; Sen. Angus King got 54 percent of the vote and Rep. Chellie Pingree won 59 percent.

Remember when Poliquin called his Democratic challenger Jared Golden names, saying Golden was a radical and a socialist? This sort of rhetoric didn’t work against candidate Golden, a combat Marine, and it’s hard to imagine it being effective as we see our congressman on the Small Business and the Armed Services Committees.

But Poliquin may very well revive these tropes if he runs again. After proclaiming the American system needs more civil dialogue, Poliquin veered from saying discussing income inequality “is very much in play” to invoking Venezuela and Cuba.

Showing care for large corporations, Poliquin held up his iPhone and asked, “Shouldn’t we give thanks to these industries and technologies that gave us them?”

As a questioner pointed out to Poliquin, there are many democracies with greater economic equity and mobility than the U.S. Moreover, back when tax rates were a lot higher in the U.S., households needed only one wage earner, union jobs with good benefits were plentiful, technology was flourishing, and Americans could more easily move up in wealth.

Nothing Poliquin said suggested he thought his take on taxes and opportunity, his approach to constituents, his support for big corporations and banks, and his health care votes were among the reasons he lost. No, someone or something else was responsible, and he seemed peeved.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.