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Gov. Charlie Baker Leaves Office with High Approval Ratings, Strong Legacy According to New UMass Amherst / WCVB Poll

Majorities say he has represented each group of constituents well, and one-third say he leaves Massachusetts better off than when he first assumed office

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll

AMHERST, Mass. – As Massachusetts voters prepare to choose the next governor of the commonwealth, a new UMass Amherst / WCVB Poll shows current incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker is set to leave office with high approval ratings, even in a time of national political turbulence and divisiveness.

Tatishe Nteta
UMass Amherst professor Tatishe Nteta

“What a difference a year makes,” says Tatishe Nteta, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll. “In the wake of his handling of the pandemic, controversy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and various scandals, most notably, the death of 76 veterans from COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, Gov. Baker in 2021 relinquished his standing as the nation’s most popular governor with his approval ratings dipping to 52% from a high of 68% in 2020. With Baker announcing that he will not seek re-election in the fall of 2021 and his administration facing a lame duck status, he has authored an astonishing comeback story as his approval ratings have bounced back to their 2020 levels, with close to seven in 10 residents of the commonwealth approving of the job that he has done. His popularity is widespread with strong majorities of every demographic and political group approving of the job that Baker has done with even his historically most vocal critics, Trump voters in the Bay State, approving of the governor’s leadership of the state. After a shaky 2021, Baker has regained his status as the nation’s most popular governor.”

The poll of 700 registered Massachusetts voters conducted Oct. 20-26 finds Baker once again with a 68% overall approval rating, with majorities of all demographic groups other than conservatives approving of his performance as the Bay State’s top executive. Majorities of the poll’s respondents say that he has ably handled the COVID pandemic (71%), the economy (65%), taxes (58%), the environment (57%) and education (57%). Respondents were nearly evenly split in their views of his handling of housing in the state, with 42% saying he has handled the issue well and 46% saying that he has not handled it well.

Nearly one-third (32%) of the poll’s respondents say Baker leaves the Bay State better off than when he first took office in 2015, while four in 10 (39%) say Massachusetts is “about the same” and one-fifth (19%) say the commonwealth is “worse off than before.” Majorities of those surveyed say that he has represented well every group about which the poll asked: women (63%), Democrats (65%), Republicans (55%), the middle class (57%), the working class (51%), small business owners (60%) and people of color (55%).

jesse rhodes
UMass Amherst professor Jesse Rhodes

“A key contributor to Governor Baker’s popularity, and political success in the state, is that he has declined to campaign and govern like most of today’s Republicans,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “In Massachusetts – arguably the nation’s most liberal state – Baker has staked out a distinctive moderate political identity, which has won accolades and helped him accomplish many of his political goals. Ironically, however, the very reasons for his success mean that Baker’s post-gubernatorial political options are limited. As the national Republican Party has tacked hard to the right, Baker is increasingly an outlier in his own party, with little to no national constituency.” 

Looking ahead to state leadership in 2023, voters are split about their views of the prospect of Democratic control of both the Legislature and governor’s office for the first time since Baker’s election, with 47% saying they are concerned about the possibility of one-party control and 48% saying that it does not concern them.

ray la raja
UMass Amherst professor Raymond La Raja

“Republicans in the state have failed to capitalize on Charlie Baker’s off-the-charts approval ratings among Massachusetts voters,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “They also could have exploited the fact that almost half of voters are concerned that the Democratic Party is likely to control both the executive and legislative branches of government for the next few years.”

“As Baker enters the final months as governor of the commonwealth, he will leave office as one of the most, if not the most, popular politicians in Massachusetts history,” Nteta concludes. “While much attention has been paid to the divisions in society – from partisan polarization, to racial strife, to generational conflict – Charlie Baker has emerged as a singularly unifying figure in our state. Across demographic and political groups, clear majorities express approval of the job that Baker has done in office, believe that Baker has handled many of the challenges facing the Bay State well, and view Baker as effectively representing the interests of key demographic and political groups during his tenure. Baker is indeed going out on top.”

Issues Facing Massachusetts Voters

“While a plurality of the commonwealth’s residents view the state moving in the right direction, there are a number of warning signs that the relatively good times may be in danger of coming to an end in the Bay State,” Nteta says, referring to the poll’s findings on issues facing Massachusetts voters. “More than a third (35%) of residents have contemplated moving from Massachusetts in the past year, and a majority (60%) of residents express concern about not only a rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths this winter, but in energy costs (84%), taxes (66%) and crime (65%) in the coming year. As new leadership is poised to take control of the state in 2023, they will have their work cut out for them as they seek to continue the state’s upward trajectory.”

“In the past year more than one in three voters have considered moving from Massachusetts to another state,” La Raja notes. “I’m not sure if it’s the weather, traffic, high costs or any combination of these, but politicians should give serious thought to what concerns these folks, especially now that remote work is a viable option for many high-end earners who pay taxes in the state.”

“This looks like it may be a winter of discontent in Massachusetts, with economic anxieties and political uncertainty giving rise to a negative mood in the commonwealth,” says Rhodes, who will join La Raja to present “The UMass Poll: Insights Into the Midterm Elections” a talk for community members at the UMass Amherst Mount Ida Campus, Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. “Going into the winter months, Massachusetts voters are in an anxious mood, with majorities expressing concern about the prospects of an increase in COVID infections and deaths, an increase in home heating costs, growth in taxes, and rising crime. They are feeling the pain of a tough economy, with more than half (57%) rating their own economic situation negatively, and about half (53%) rating the state’s economic situation negatively. However, Massachusetts voters still perceive the state’s economic situation as relatively favorable compared to their view of the nation’s situation, which they rate as abysmal.” 

Nteta agrees, saying, “As inflation continues to wreak havoc on the pocketbooks of Americans across the country and the nation facing a winter of record heating costs, three in four residents of the Bay State (75%) view the national economy in a negative light. However, closer to home, with the state set to return close to $3 billion in excess revenue back to the taxpayers, a housing market that shows few signs of cooling down and median income in the state hovering around $90,000 per year, residents have a more optimistic assessment of the state’s economic fortunes.”

Transportation and Affirmative Action in Education

The only issue on which Baker polls negatively in the new survey is transportation and transit, where 57% disapprove of his handling of the issue, while 34% say he has handled it well. However, when the poll surveyed respondents in areas serviced by the MBTA, only 11% blamed Baker for the beleaguered transit authority’s troubles, whereas nearly half (48%) pinned the blame for the public transportation service’s problems on Steve Poftak, the MBTA general manager. Among all respondents, less than one-third support a federal takeover of the MBTA, while 30% oppose such a measure and 38% neither support nor oppose such a measure.

The poll also asked respondents of their views on affirmative action in higher education, a timely issue with the Supreme Court currently hearing oral arguments on two major cases concerning the issue.

“Today the Supreme Court hears a case about affirmative action in college admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, with national implications,” La Raja says. “It’s a very important case for Massachusetts especially, with its many colleges and universities. What do the state’s voters think? Fifty-one percent oppose affirmative action, 31% support it, and 18% do not take a position. Given the conservative make-up of the court, I expect them to reduce or eliminate current affirmative action admissions policies.”

Nteta agrees, saying, “With little public support for these policies at the national or state level, and the Supreme Court firmly in the hands of a conservative majority, the end of affirmative action is likely near.”


This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 700 registered voters in Massachusetts was conducted by YouGov Oct, 20-26. YouGov interviewed 752 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 700 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education. The sampling frame is a politically representative "modeled frame" of Massachusetts registered voters, based upon the American Community Survey (ACS) public use microdata file, public voter file records, the 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration supplements, the 2020 National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll and the 2020 CES surveys, including demographics and 2020 presidential vote.

The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education and 2020 presidential vote choice. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles. 

Weights for likely voters were separately post-stratified on a 2-way stratification of gender and age (4-category), using benchmarks estimated from 2018 midterm voters in the voter file and 2022 primary election vote counts. Likely voters and non-likely voters were combined again, and the weights were trimmed at 7 and centered to have a mean of 1. 

The margin of error within this poll is 4.32%.

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll


Tatishe Nteta, nteta@polsci.umass.edu
Jesse Rhodes, jrhodes@polsci.umass.edu
Ray La Raja, laraja@polsci.umass.edu
Alex Theodoridis, atheodoridis@umass.edu
Jared Sharpe, jsharpe@umass.edu