The University of Massachusetts Amherst

SBS Experts Consider Politics During the Pandemic using Insights From the UMass Poll [Video]

Friday, August 28, 2020

Ahead of the Massachusetts primary election, three expert panelists from the UMass College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) participated in a webinar that examined the upcoming primary and general elections and policy issues through an interdisciplinary lens.

Moderated by Jennifer Lundquist, senior associate dean of research and faculty development, and professor of sociology, and introduced by Dean John A. Hird, the panel used the latest data compiled by the UMass Amherst Poll to consider some of the most pressing issues facing our communities today including voting, political news reporting, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No one needs reminding that we’re all living in perilous times with the global pandemic, an economic crisis that exacerbates existing inequalities, and considerable political uncertainties involving a federal government that, let’s just say, doesn’t enjoy the full confidence of the American people,” said Dean Hird. “The upcoming elections are particularly consequential at both the national and subnational levels, including a number of interesting races right here in Massachusetts.”

“Take good care, stay well, and vote.”

- Dean John Hird

Tatishe Nteta, associate professor or political science and UMass Poll director, kicked things off with a breakdown of the UMass Poll and its latest lines of inquiry. 

The August poll surveyed 500 Massachusetts registered voters on topics ranging from election approval ratings to perceptions of economic well-being to the Black Lives Matter movement, which Nteta noted was particularly important because preceding this webinar, NBA playoff teams began striking for racial justice, prompting professional teams across national leagues to cancel games.

Here in the commonwealth, by several metrics Senator Ed Markey leads Representative Joe Kennedy III in the Senate primary. But, Nteta cautioned, polls are designed to capture the political flavor of a specific time and place; that is, anything can happen between now and election day.

“We think that Senator Markey, at this moment in time — again, six days out from the election — does enjoy an advantage,” said Nteta. “But I think in six days we’re going to find out which side wins, right? Does the Kennedy name brand in statewide politics and an overarching desire for change that we see across the country, is that going to be enough to overthrow a relatively popular incumbent with 47-years of experience.”

(L to R) Stephanie Murray '17, POLITICO Massachusetts Playbook Author; Tatishe Nteta, Associate Professor of Political Science & Director of UMass Poll; Jesse Rhodes, Chair and Professor of Political Science & Associate Director of UMass Poll

Alumna Stephanie Murray ‘17, journalism, author of the POLITICO Massachusetts Playbook, followed Nteta and added some color to the UMass Poll’s numerical data. Murray weaved together Nteta’s description of Massachusetts voters’ priorities with considerations of how those issues affect what happens at the ballot box. 

As a journalist, Murray has an insider’s position to understand the history, inclinations, and attitudes of not only citizens but of elected officials and behind-the-scenes operators.

“It’s important to note the top priorities of Massachusetts voters, and this is according to the UMass Poll and those the coronavirus, the pandemic, unemployment, jobs and the economy, housing, healthcare,” said Murray. “These are all issues that are all colliding at once because of the coronavirus pandemic but if the primary’s shown us anything, it’s that the common thread is that all voters are focused on Trump, his base is focused on keeping him in office, and Democrats are united in defeating him.”

She also noted how Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s election to Congress and brand of progressive liberalism sparked nationwide campaigns to topple longtime incumbents. What makes this particularly interesting here in Massachusetts is that Markey, a nearly 50-year incumbent, has the support of Ocasio-Cortez and many of her peers while Kennedy boasts the endorsement of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a stalwart of the Democratic Party establishment.

Jesse Rhodes, chair and professor of political science and UMass Poll associate director, wrapped up opening remarks by discussing the politics of the pandemic and its effects on Massachusetts voters.

“What we’ve seen is that it’s not just affecting their lives, but it’s affecting how they’re thinking about the future,” said Rhodes. He pointed out that almost 80% of UMass Poll respondents said they are worried about a second wave of the virus. 

"there still is very widespread awareness of the importance of the politics of the racial justice in this country and there’s a great deal of support among those we surveyed”

- Jesse Rhodes

But even while COVID-19 dominates headlines, a strong majority of voters indicated positive views of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

They are very aware of racial inequalities in American society, overwhelmingly acknowledge white people have advantages because of their skin color, and are aware that racial problems are not rare and isolated situations. There is also strong enthusiasm for large parts of the Black Lives Matter agenda, in particular efforts to reform police in ways that reduce biases in policing and give those who are affected by police violence opportunities to sue and to protect themselves.

“Although the pandemic is overwhelming most issues right now, there still is very widespread awareness of the importance of the politics of the racial justice in this country and there’s a great deal of support among those we surveyed,” said Rhodes.

The panelists then fielded questions posed by Lundquist submitted by the audience, during which the experts distilled their observations and insight into specific opinions on topics like reliable news outlets and media biases, the motivations of the approximately 40% of Americans who approve of President Trump, and whether or not polls should exist at all.

As the event came to a close, Dean Hird thanked everyone involved in the facilitation and participation of the event, urging everyone to “Take good care, stay well, and vote.”