Warren Leads Brown Within the Margin of Error in New UMass Poll 

December 1, 2011

AMHERST, Mass. – A political poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst finds that Elizabeth Warren, the leading Democrat in the field of challengers to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, is running even or perhaps ahead of Brown in a potential matchup next fall.

Find full results here. More on our methodology here

Warren leads Brown by 4 points among registered voters in the UMass Amherst Poll, 43 percent to 39 percent, the difference being within the 4.4 percent margin of error, say UMass Amherst political scientists Brian Schaffner and  Ray La Raja. The poll finds Warren is drawing strong support from women, middle-to-low income residents and younger voters. Brown maintains a large lead among Independent voters while Warren is getting overwhelming support from Democratic voters in Massachusetts.

“These numbers could mean trouble for Scott Brown,” Schaffner says. “The race is a dead heat and his support is well under 50 percent, which usually means difficulty for an incumbent, especially this far out from Election Day.” 

The new poll, part of the iSurvey Project at UMass Amherst, is run by Director Schaffner and Associate Director La Raja, both associate professors of political science. The project is committed to studying public opinion in Massachusetts and the United States to inform policy making in the Commonwealth and beyond. This initial round of polling, done between Nov. 9 and Nov. 22, reflects the views of a sample of 500 adults in Massachusetts. The survey was conducted by YouGov America (http://yougov.com). Schaffner’s research focuses on public opinion and campaigns and elections, and he is a contributor to the award-winning political site Pollster.com. La Raja’s research focuses on American political parties, interest groups, elections and money in politics. 

A key group in the election will be Independent voters. Here, Brown’s lead remains substantial with Independents favoring him by 18 points, 49 percent to 31 percent  However, 15 percent of Independents remain undecided, which means there is substantial room for change. 

Schaffner says, “Because of the advantage Democrats hold in this state, Republicans must dominate the independent vote to win. Brown’s 18-point edge among Independents is impressive and similar to what Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker enjoyed in 2010, but that edge was not large enough to push Baker to victory.”

Brown’s support is higher by 6 points among those making more than $100,000 (42 percent for Warren vs. 48 percent for Brown). Warren’s candidacy appears to resonate strongly among lower and middle class voters. Respondents earning $40,000-$100,000 support Warren by 11 points (48 percent to 37 percent), while those making less than $40,000 support her by of 15 points (42 percent to 27 percent).

La Raja says, “Warren’s populist campaign is clearly winning her points among the working and middle class. But it is not clear that outrage against Wall Street will win the day in a state that relies heavily on the financial industry.”

Warren’s chief strengths are among women, middle-to-low income residents and young voters, the poll finds. Women favor Warren over Brown by 15 points (46 percent to 31 percent), while Brown holds the edge among men by 6 points (40 percent for Warren compared to 46 percent for Brown). A  large number of women, 20 percent, remain undecided, while only 9 percent of men have not made up their minds.

While this is a strong showing for Warren, the survey does suggest some potential areas of weakness for her candidacy. When asked to describe the candidates in a single word, two of the three most common words used to describe Warren were “liberal” and “socialist” while the most common word used to describe Senator Brown was “moderate.”

Schaffner says, “If Brown can solidify his position as the moderate in this race while painting Warren as too liberal, he has a good chance of winning re-election.”

Brown gained office by winning a special election two years against Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General. Among voters who voted in that election, the ground has shifted somewhat toward the presumptive Democratic nominee. Twelve percent of voters who voted for Brown said they would vote for Warren or someone else in 2012, while only 4 percent of those who voted for Coakley said they would vote for Brown or someone else.

With respect to geography, Warren’s strongest areas of support are in the western parts of the state and Boston area. In Western Massachusetts she leads Brown by 21 points (46 percent to 25 percent) and by 7 points in the Boston area (46 percent to 39 percent).  Brown, in contrast, is stronger in regions that are dense with Independent voters, including Central Massachusetts, which extends from Worcester to the outlying Boston area. There he has a 13-point advantage among voters (48 percent to 35 percent).  The candidates are virtually tied in the southeastern part of the state with 41 percent of voters favoring Brown and 38 percent favoring Warren.

For Warren to face Brown next November, she must win the Democratic primary in 2012, and she currently holds a wide lead in that race. Among likely Democratic primary voters, Warren is the overwhelming favorite, with 73 percent of likely Democratic primary voters saying they would vote for Warren if the primary were held today. This compares to just 7 percent for Thomas Conroy, 6 percent for Marisa DeFranco and 2 percent for Herb Robinson. 

The poll also assessed the job performance of state and national officeholders.

While Massachusetts citizens generally do not see things going in the right direction, they are more negative about how things are going in the country than they are about the Commonwealth. Only 13 percent see things in the country as headed in the right direction, compared to 71 percent who think the country is off on the wrong track. A total of 32 percent see things in Massachusetts as headed in the right direction, and 52 percent see Massachusetts as off on the wrong track.

•A total of 49 percent of Massachusetts adults approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing while 48 percent disapprove. Governor Deval Patrick’s approval ratings are similar: 47 percent approve while 45 percent disapprove. Just 37 percent of Massachusetts adults approve of the job Sen. Brown is doing while 49 percent disapprove.

Disapproval of the Massachusetts Legislature is high, but not nearly as high as it is for Congress. A total of 28 percent approve of the job the Massachusetts Legislature is doing compared to 56 percent who disapprove. Meanwhile, just 12 percent of Massachusetts citizens approve of Congress while 79 percent disapprove.

Brian Schaffner, 413/545-0416, schaffne@polsci.umass.edu
Ray La Raja, 413/545-6182, laraja@polsci.umass.edu