Markey Leads Kennedy by 15 Points in Massachusetts Senate Primary According to New University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll

Survey shows 12% still undecided; majority of likely voters plan to vote by mail
Tatishe Nteta
Tatishe Nteta

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at:

AMHERST, Mass. – A new University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB poll released today shows incumbent Sen. Edward Markey leading challenger Rep. Joseph Kennedy III by 15 points in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary, notably expanding his lead since the last time the race was polled by UMass Amherst in February.

Including leaners, Markey tops Kennedy 51-36, a 12-point increase of his February lead of 43-40. While Markey has stretched out his lead, the poll shows 12% of respondents are still undecided in advance of the September 1 primary. Fifty-three percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they plan to vote by mail in the primary, while 34% plan to vote in-person on Sept. 1 and 13% plan to take advantage of early voting to vote in-person prior to Sept. 1.

“With three weeks until Election Day, a majority of the Commonwealth’s likely Democratic voters have thrown their support behind incumbent Senator Edward Markey in his primary race against Representative Joseph Kennedy III,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB poll. “It has been quite a turnaround for Sen. Markey. Down as much as double digits early in the campaign, he has roared back to take a double-digit lead over Rep. Kennedy in the late stages of the campaign.”

The July 31-August 7 poll of 500 registered voters in Massachusetts, 362 of whom are likely Democratic primary voters, found that voters trust Markey over Kennedy on nearly every issue for which they were asked. The incumbent is preferred over the challenger by double digits on handling the COVID-19 crisis (45-29), the economy (48-29), health care (47-36), taxes (41-29) and education (43-33), and by eight points on handling transportation (41-33).

Kennedy is closer to Markey, but still trailing, on the issues of President Trump (39-36) and climate change (43-39). He holds a slight lead over Markey on the issue of race relations (38-37), but in February’s UMass Amherst / WCVB poll Kennedy led by eight points on race relations (39-31), and by three points on education (40-37).

“Markey had an excellent July, with endorsements from The Boston Globe, the Mass Teachers Association, and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as from many progressive organizations and most of the Massachusetts congressional delegation,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “Our results suggest that the party’s rally to Markey has paid dividends, especially among voters who were previously undecided. Since February, undecided voters broke two-to-one for Markey, contributing to his significant lead over Kennedy.”

When asked which candidate would best represent various constituent groups as senator, respondents felt Markey would best represent the working class (46-33), the middle class (50-30), labor unions (49-29), small business owners (44-30), veterans (50-27) and progressives (40-38). Markey was also thought to be a better potential representative for the residents of Western Massachusetts (38-27).

While respondents thought Kennedy would better represent young people (56-24), Markey actually leads Kennedy among voters age 18-29 by 51 points, with only 9% undecided.

“Markey, the older candidate, seems to be pulling a Bernie Sanders with younger voters,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “They break for him big time, with 71% of those under 30 years old preferring him over Kennedy. Ironically, older voters tend to be the ones least inclined to break his way.”

Markey tops Kennedy in almost all demographic categories of the likely Democratic primary voters polled, with Kennedy only holding leads among non-white voters (43-37), voters with a high school education or less (44-30) and ideological conservatives (35-21).

Respondents also believe Kennedy would better represent Catholics (51-18), and the two candidates were virtually tied in the areas of representing women and racial minorities, with Kennedy leading the categories 38-36 and 37-36, respectively.

Asked for one word that best describes each candidate, voters said Markey was “old,” “progressive,” “good,” “experienced,” “liberal,” “reliable,” “hardworking,” “smart,” “dedicated” and “useless.” Kennedy was described as “young,” “ambitious,” “entitled,” “Kennedy,” “good,” “opportunist,” “smart,” “energetic,” “liberal” and “privileged.”

“During a pandemic experience appears to matter, especially if candidates don’t differ much on policy,” La Raja says. “In contrast to some recent upsets in Democratic primaries by progressive upstarts in other parts of the country, Massachusetts voters seem to be saying we are dancing with our steady partner, Ed Markey. Voters describe him in mostly positive terms as experienced, progressive, reliable and hardworking.”

As for the method of voting in the primary, Nteta says “In the midst of a pandemic, a majority of likely Massachusetts Democratic Senate voters are choosing to vote from home and take advantage of the state’s move to allow mail in ballots for September’s primary. However, there is a noticeable class and racial divide in the Commonwealth, as pluralities of lower income, less educated, and non-white Democratic primary voters indicate that they plan on voting in person on September 1.”

Non-white voters (53%), those with a high school education or less (55%) and those with incomes less than $40,000 (47%) all specified a preference for voting in person on Sept. 1, while only 23% of non-white voters surveyed indicated that they plan to vote by mail in the primary.


This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 500 registered voters in Massachusetts was conducted July 31-August 7 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 563 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 500 to produce the final dataset. The sample included 199 likely Democratic Senate Primary voters who are registered Democrats and 163 likely Democratic Senate Primary voters who are Independents.

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 region. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.

The weights were then post-stratified on the age x gender stratification of Democratic Primary voters from the Massachusetts voter file and the education distribution of the February 2020 UMass Poll to produce the final weight.

The margin of error within this poll is 5.9% for all registered voters, and 7.0% for likely Democratic primary election voters.

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at: