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Scott Brown Holds Advantage in Early Senate Polling

Posted March 14, 2011


Republican Scott Brown is in a strong position as he prepares to seek a full six-year term in the United States Senate in 2012, according to the latest survey from the Western New England College Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 472 registered voters, conducted March 6-10, found that Brown is the best known among a list of declared and possible candidates for Senate, with a favorability rating of 53 percent and an unfavorability rating of 27 percent.

Also, 52 percent of registered voters say Brown deserves to be re-elected, while 28 percent say he does not deserve to be re-elected. Brown won a special election in January 2010 to serve the remainder of the late Senator Edward Kennedy's unexpired term and is expected to seek a full term in 2012.
The poll found that Brown holds double-digit leads in potential matchups against U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano of Somerville, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Senate leading up to the special election, and Elizabeth Warren, an advisor to President Barack Obama and architect of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Click here to view complete poll results.

Among registered voters, if the election were held today, Brown would lead Capuano 51 percent to 38 percent with 10 percent undecided. Brown would be ahead 51 percent to 34 percent with 14 percent undecided against Warren, a Harvard Law School professor whom Democratic activists and bloggers are attempting to recruit for the Senate race.

Polling Institute Director Tim Vercellotti said the poll data offer a snapshot of the challenge facing Democrats who may be thinking of taking on Brown in 2012.

"Obviously it's early in the election cycle and a lot can change in the coming months," said Vercellotti, an associate professor of political science at Western New England College. "But the survey results show that the Democrats have a hill to climb to unseat Senator Brown."

Name recognition

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, tested name recognition and favorability for Brown and six individuals whose names have appeared in media reports as possible Democratic challengers to Brown: Mike Capuano, Elizabeth Warren, Alan Khazei, co-founder of the nonprofit organization City Year and another unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for the special Senate election; Newton Mayor Setti Warren; Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll; and Bob Massie, a political activist and Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994. Of the Democrats, only Massie has announced that he is running for the Senate.

The survey found that Brown is much better known than any of the potential Democratic opponents. Fifty-three percent of respondents held a favorable view of Brown, and 27 percent held an unfavorable view, with 15 percent offering no opinion and 5 percent saying they hadn't heard of Brown or refusing to answer.

Capuano had a 30 percent favorability rating, followed by Elizabeth Warren with 17 percent, Khazei with 14 percent, Driscoll with 9 percent, Massie with 7 percent and Setti Warren with 5 percent. In each instance a majority of voters said they had not heard of the individual or had no opinion of him or her.

tim_vercellotti_web.jpg"That majorities of voters cannot offer an opinion of these potential candidates – even Capuano and Khazei, who ran statewide campaigns less than 18 months ago – is problematic for the Democrats," Vercellotti said.

But he added that name recognition levels can sometimes turn around quickly once a campaign gets underway. Vercellotti noted that more than three-fourths of registered voters could not offer an assessment of Brown in a Western New England College Poll in mid-October 2009, just three months before Brown defeated state Attorney General Martha Coakley to win the Senate seat.

Job approval

The latest survey also found that Brown's job approval rating is on a par with those of Senator John Kerry and Governor Deval Patrick, and his disapproval rating is much lower than those of Kerry and Patrick.

Fifty-seven percent of registered voters said they approve of the job that Brown is doing as senator, identical to Kerry's job approval. Fifty-four percent of voters approve of the job that Patrick is doing as governor. Brown's disapproval rating is 24 percent, compared to 34 percent for Kerry and 40 percent for Patrick.

Brown's job approval is 88 percent among Republicans, 64 percent among independent voters, and 42 percent among Democrats. Brown is most popular in Central Massachusetts, where 80 percent of voters approve of the job that he is doing, while his approval rating is 58 percent in Western Massachusetts, 54 percent on the North and South shores, and 52 percent in Boston and surrounding suburbs.

Re-Election Prospects

Poll results regarding Brown's re-election prospects offer encouraging news for Brown and potentially troubling signs for Democrats. In the hypothetical match-ups with Mike Capuano and Elizabeth Warren, Brown receives support from almost two-thirds of independent voters, who tend to be the deciding factor in statewide elections in Massachusetts. Brown also wins backing from about 20 percent of voters who identify themselves as Democrats. Republicans are solidly behind Brown, with 96 percent supporting him in the hypothetical matchups.

Vercellotti noted that Brown has come under attack from conservative Republicans for some of his votes in the Senate during his first year in office, including his votes in support of reforms of financial practices on Wall Street and eliminating the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military.

"The backlash from conservative Republicans over Brown's voting record is having minimal, if any, effect on his electoral support among Massachusetts Republicans," Vercellotti said.

Brown leads across all demographic groups and most regions in the hypothetical matchups as well. While women typically tend to favor Democratic candidates over Republican candidates, Brown leads both Capuano and Warren among women, although by narrower margins compared to his leads among men.

The matchups take into account the preferences of voters who express a choice in response to the initial matchup question, as well as the choices of undecided voters who are asked in a follow-up question to indicate toward which candidate they might lean at the moment.

Among voters who express a preference in response to the initial question, Brown leads Capuano 45 percent to 30 percent, with 11 percent saying they would support "some other candidate" and 14 percent saying they are undecided. Brown leads Warren 46 percent to 28 percent, with 11 percent preferring another candidate and 14 percent undecided.

Vercellotti pointed out that, with one-fourth of voters preferring another candidate or undecided when given the initial choice between Brown and either Capuano or Warren, the race for the Senate is very fluid at this stage. "The race has yet to fully take shape, and voters' preferences are certainly subject to change," he said. "Needless to say, much can happen between now and November 2012."


The Western New England College Polling Institute conducted telephone interviews with 515 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing March 6-10, 2011. The sample yielded 472 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts. Unless otherwise noted, the figures in this release are based on the statewide sample of registered voters.

The Polling Institute dialed household telephone numbers, known as "landline numbers," and cell phone numbers for the survey. In order to draw a representative sample from the landline numbers, interviewers first asked for the youngest male age 18 or older who was home at the time of the call, and if no adult male was present, the youngest female age 18 or older who was at home at the time of the call. Interviewers dialing cell phone numbers interviewed the respondent who answered the cell phone after confirming three things: (1) that the respondent was in a safe setting to complete the survey; (2) that the respondent was an adult age 18 or older; and (3) that the respondent was a resident of Massachusetts. The landline and cell phone data were combined and weighted to reflect the adult population of Massachusetts by gender, race, and age using population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006-2008 American Community Survey for Massachusetts.

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 472 registered voters is +/- 4.5 percent, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 60 percent of registered voters said they approved of the job that Scott Brown is doing as U.S. Senator, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 55.5 percent and 64.5 percent (60 percent +/- 4.5 percent) had all Massachusetts voters been interviewed, rather than just a sample. 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. Additional information about the Polling Institute is available at


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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