AMHERST, Mass. – Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has emerged as the early front-runner in the race for governor, both in the Democratic primary and the general election, according to a new UMass Poll released today by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Based on an online survey of 500 registered Massachusetts voters conducted by YouGov America under the direction of the UMass Poll from March 31 to April 6, Coakley holds an 11-point lead over Republican Charlie Baker in a prospective general election matchup, 45-34, with 21 percent of voters undecided. She holds a 30-point lead among registered Democrats in the primary race, topping state Treasurer Steve Grossman 39-9. Former Boston Globe columnist Juliette Kayyem and former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Donald Berwick trail in the Democratic primary race with just 3 percent each, but 44 percent of respondents indicated that they were not sure whom they would support in the Sept. 9 primary.
“Coakley has a wide lead over her Democratic rivals, but that gap may reflect the fact that she benefits from greater name recognition,” said Brian Schaffner, director of the UMass Poll. “And with such a large share of Democratic voters still undecided, there is plenty of potential for this race to tighten up.”
“Right now for Democratic candidates the name of the game is getting on the primary ballot, which means wooing delegates rather than advertising to voters,” said Raymond La Raja, associate director of the UMass Poll. “This is a triage strategy for those with limited resources. They’d rather save precious campaign funds until they get out of the gate with the convention.”
In hypothetical matchups for the Nov. 4 general election, Coakley is the only Democrat with a double-digit lead over Baker, due largely to her 17-point advantage among women (47-30). The other Democratic hopefuls fail to generate a large gender gap advantage, but Grossman still leads Baker 35-29 in a potential general election matchup, and current long-shots Kayyem and Berwick each fall into a statistical dead-heat with Baker, 32-32 and 32-29, respectively. In each of these matchups, Baker showed a modest advantage among self-described independents, but garners only 3-4 percent support among Democrats.
“Coakley’s efforts to rehabilitate her image in the wake of her failed run for Senate in 2010 seem to have paid off,” said Tatishe Nteta, associate director of the UMass Poll. “While Baker has shored up support among Republicans in the state, our results indicate that he still has work to do in courting the support of middle-of-the-road Democrats and independent voters necessary for a general election victory.”
In each hypothetical general election matchup, between one-fifth and one-third of registered voters remain undecided, allowing for the possibility that either Baker or any of the potential Democratic nominees could still gain significant support.
“A consistent pattern in recent elections in the Commonwealth is that Democrats tend to win when they carry women by at least a 10-point margin,” Schaffner said. “Coakley is currently exceeding this threshold while the other potential Democratic nominees fall short. Her lead over Baker is impressive, but the campaign has barely started, and with so many voters still undecided, the governor’s seat is still very much up for grabs.”
When asked for which word they would use to describe Coakley, registered voters most frequently mentioned “liberal,” “smart” and “strong.” When asked for which word they would use to describe Baker, voters most frequently said “Republican,” “unknown” and “conservative.” Grossman’s most common word was “unknown,” reflecting the fact that most voters know little about him at this stage in the campaign.
Said La Raja, “It’s undeniable that, except for Coakley, it has been incredibly difficult for Democratic candidates to get voters to remember them. Voters just aren’t paying attention and candidates have not yet been spending a lot on expensive television ads to raise their name recognition.”
The poll also surveyed voters’ thoughts on the job performance of outgoing Governor Deval Patrick and the current state of the Commonwealth. Overall, Patrick continues to enjoy good approval ratings, with more voters approving of his performance than disapproving (43-36), and voters are split evenly on whether they think Massachusetts is better off (31 percent), worse off (34 percent), or the same as it was (32 percent) before his term in office began.
Respondents of this poll were matched to a target sample of Massachusetts registered voters based on gender, age, race, education, party identification, ideology and political interest. YouGov then weighted the matched set of survey respondents to known characteristics of registered voters from the state of Massachusetts from the 2010 American Community Surveyusing propensity score weighting and then post stratified the weights to party registration statistics from October 2012. All analyses were produced using these weights, and the margin of error for the poll is 5.9 percent.