AMHERST, Mass. – UMass Poll’s exit poll from the Nov. 6 Massachusetts election shows that the gender gap helped propel Elizabeth Warren to victory in a competitive race against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. The poll shows that women voters preferred Warren to Brown by a margin of 20 percent, while men split evenly between the two candidates. Brown was also faced with an electorate that looked much different than the one that elected him to office in 2010.
The election was clearly influenced by a campaign that focused significantly on women’s issues. “The female vote was an important one this election,” says Maryann Barakso, associate professor of political science and associate director of UMass Poll. “Despite Brown’s substantial efforts to appeal to women voters during the campaign, Warren enjoyed a significant advantage among women, which proved decisive for her victory.”
While the economy was rated as a very important issue by 84 percent of voters, 51 percent said that the issue of abortion was very important for their vote, while 61 percent reported that equal pay was very important. “Voters who saw these women’s issues as very important voted for Warren by a large margin over Brown,” noted Barakso. Moreover, the electorate in general felt that Warren would represent women very well in office when compared to Brown (49 percent to 26 percent). “In the final months of the campaign, we saw increasingly more attention to women’s issues, and this only served to benefit the challenger,” says Barakso.
Beyond these issues, 74 percent of voters cited taxes as very important this election; those voters preferred Brown by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
The 2012 election rallied a different and larger base of voters than in the January 2010 special election for the seat. While voters who said they supported Brown in 2010 mostly stuck with their candidate this year, 21 percent of the electorate did not vote in the 2010 special election, and that group voted overwhelmingly for Warren (60 percent for Warren to 40 percent for Brown).
“The Brown campaign knew they would be tested in this election if for no other reason than the electorate gets bigger and more diverse in a presidential election year,” says Brian Schaffner, chair of the department of political science and director of the UMass Poll. “In a different year with a different electorate, Brown may have had an easier time keeping his seat.”
In the closing days of the campaign, Warren appealed to the prospect of a Republican-controlled Senate to drive voters away from Brown, while the Brown campaign urged voters to support the “person rather than the party.” When asked whether their vote for senator was more “in support of the candidate I wanted to win the election” or “the party I wanted to control the Senate,” 72 percent said they supported the candidate, while one-in-four voted based on party control of the Senate.
Voters who stated that they were concerned about partisan control of the Senate overwhelmingly supported Warren by a three-to-one margin. “Warren’s appeal to have voters think about a Republican-controlled Senate persuaded a quarter of the electorate to do just that,” says Schaffner, “and in a close race, the idea of another vote for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed just enough voters over to the Warren side.”
“In the end, Warren was effective in communicating Brown’s record of support for Republican policies in the Senate and in so doing successfully painted Brown as in lockstep with the more extreme wings of the GOP,” says Tatishe Nteta, assistant professor of political science and associate director of the UMass Poll.
Two Massachusetts ballot issues attracted attention during the campaign. The legalization of medical marijuana was widely supported by Massachusetts voters. A majority of both men and women supported this legislation, and it was more popular among voters aged 18 to 29 (79 percent of whom supported it) than it was for those over the age of 65 (with just 38 percent voting yes).
The “death with dignity” ballot issue was hotly contested during the final weeks of the campaign. In the end, more women than men opposed the legislation, with only 44 percent of women (compared to 58 percent of men) supporting the legislation.
The UMass Poll exit poll interviewed 1,179 voters leaving the polls at more than a dozen precincts across the state. The margin of error for analyses of Massachusetts’ voters is 3 percent.
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Contact: Brian Schaffner, 202/329-9297