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New Poll Finds Coakley Leads Field for U.S. Senate Nomination

Posted October 26, 2009

State Attorney General Martha Coakley is best known among the Democrats seeking to succeed the late Edward Kennedy in the United States Senate, and she holds a comfortable lead in the race for her party’s nomination, according to the latest statewide survey from the Western New England College Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 468 registered voters, conducted October 18-22, found that Coakley has the highest name recognition among the four Democrats seeking the party’s nomination in the December 8 primary.

Coakley also leads the field with support from 37 percent of registered Democrats and unenrolled voters, who are eligible to vote in the primary. Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca has support from 14 percent of Democrats and unenrolled voters, with 13 percent favoring Congressman Mike Capuano and four percent backing Alan Khazei, co-founder of the public service organization City Year. Twenty-six percent said they were undecided or declined to state a preference.

Click here for complete poll results

The winner of the primary is likely to face Republican State Senator Scott Brown in the special election scheduled for January 19. The poll found that Coakley currently leads Brown by 26 points among registered and likely voters. Capuano leads Brown by 14 percent among registered voters and 16 percent among likely voters.

“With six weeks to go until the primary, the Democratic nomination is Martha Coakley’s to lose,” said Tim Vercellotti, associate professor of political science and co-director of the Western New England College Polling Institute.

Vercellotti added that, with 26 percent of Democrats and unenrolled voters saying they were undecided or not stating a preference, there is plenty of room for movement between now and December 8.

tim_vercellotti_web.jpg“Voters may not be paying much attention to the race at this point,” he noted. “With municipal elections on the ballot for November 3, voters may be distracted, which will make for an even more compressed election cycle for the Senate candidates once local elections are over.”

The candidates’ levels of name recognition show that most of them are still unknown to large numbers of registered voters. Coakley, who as attorney general is the only candidate to have won election to statewide office in the past, is the best known, with 43 percent of voters offering a favorable view, 19 percent unfavorable, and 38 percent saying they hadn’t heard of her, had no opinion of her, or declining to answer.

Capuano and Pagliuca each received favorable ratings from 27 percent of registered voters, with Capuano receiving an unfavorable rating from 13 percent of voters and Pagliuca receiving an unfavorable rating from 12 percent of voters. In each case about 60 percent of voters had not heard of the candidates, had no opinion of them, or declined to offer an assessment.

None of the candidates fared much better in terms of name recognition when the sample was narrowed to just Democrats and unenrolled voters. However, Coakley’s ratio of favorable to unfavorable views improved to 46 percent to 13 percent, and Capuano’s ratio increased to 30 percent favorable to 12 percent unfavorable.

Name recognition numbers for Brown, the likely Republican nominee, were even lower than those for all but one of the Democrats. Eighty-two percent of registered voters said they had not heard of Brown, had no opinion of him, or refused to offer an opinion. Thirteen percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Brown and six percent had an unfavorable opinion.

Coakley and Capuano held significant leads over Brown in hypothetical match-ups in the survey. Coakley led Brown 55 percent to 29 percent among registered voters, and 58 percent to 32 percent among likely voters. Capuano led Brown 44 percent to 30 percent among registered voters, and 49 percent to 33 percent among likely voters.

In each match-up there is a gender gap that is typical for statewide and national races, with women more likely than men to support the Democratic candidate. But the gap is magnified with the possibility of a female nominee for U.S. Senate. Women backed Coakley over Brown by 41 points, 63 percent to 22 percent. Coakley’s lead over Brown among men is only eight percentage points. By comparison, Capuano led Brown by 23 points, 46 percent to 23 percent, among women and by five points among men, 43 percent to 38 percent.

“If Coakley is the nominee, the level of enthusiasm among women for Coakley would be difficult for any opponent to overcome in a general election,” Vercellotti said.

The strength of each candidate also varies by region. Coakley runs strongest against Brown in Boston and surrounding suburbs, where she leads 61 percent to 25 percent. She also holds a 29-point edge in the four counties of Western Massachusetts (Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire), and a 21-point lead in Central Massachusetts. Brown narrows the gap to 12 points on the North and South Shores.

Capuano’s leads are smaller, reflecting a larger level of uncertainty among voters concerning a Capuano – Brown match up. Capuano leads Brown 57 percent to 23 percent in Boston and surrounding suburbs, and 37 percent to 27 percent in Western Massachusetts. The two are essentially tied in Central Massachusetts, and Brown has a small lead over Capuano, but still within the margin of error, on the North and South Shores. The percentage of registered voters expressing no preference in the match-up, however, ranges from 17 percent in Boston and surrounding suburbs to 26 percent in Western Massachusetts.


The Western New England College Polling Institute conducted telephone interviews with 522 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing October 18-22. The sample yielded 468 adults who said they were registered to vote in Massachusetts. Unless otherwise noted, most of the figures in this release are based on the statewide sample of registered voters. The data were weighted to reflect the adult population of Massachusetts by gender, race and age. Complete results of the poll are available online at

All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. The sampling error for a sample of 522 adults is +/- 4 percent, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 50 percent of adults said they had a favorable view of a candidate, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 46 percent and 54 percent (50 percent +/- 4 percent) had all Massachusetts adults been interviewed, rather than just a sample. The margin of error for the sample of registered voters is +/- 4.5 percent. Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample. Sampling error does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question wording, or context effects.

Established in 2005, the Western New England College Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts residents and communities. The Institute provides the College’s faculty and students with valuable opportunities to participate in public opinion research.


Western New England University is a private, independent, coeducational institution founded in 1919. Located on an attractive 215-acre suburban campus in Springfield, Massachusetts, Western New England University serves 3,955 students, including 2,575 full-time undergraduate students. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs are offered through Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Pharmacy, and School of Law.


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