Senate Race a Toss-Up as Warren Closes Gap on Brown
Posted June 2, 2012
Massachusetts voters are split nearly evenly between in latest Western New England University Polling Institute survey
Democrat Elizabeth Warren has gained on Republican Scott Brown in the race for the U.S. Senate, with just two percentage points separating the two candidates in the latest survey by the Western New England University Polling Institute.
The telephone survey, which the Polling Institute conducted in partnership with MassLive.com and The Republican newspaper of Springfield, MA, found that Warren leads Brown 45 percent to 43 percent, with 11 percent undecided.
The survey of 504 registered voters, conducted May 29 – 31, 2012, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Coverage of the poll and complete poll results are available online at masslive.com/politics.
The poll results take into account voters who expressed an initial preference when asked about the race, as well as voters who gave no initial preference and when pressed said they lean toward one candidate or the other. Among voters who gave an initial preference only, Brown leads Warren 42 percent to 40 percent.
“The race can’t get much closer than this,” said Tim Vercellotti, associate professor of political science and director of the Western New England University Polling Institute.
Of the voters who expressed a preference or said they leaned toward a candidate, 26 percent said they could change their minds before Election Day, down five points from the last survey.
Warren supporters were slightly more likely than Brown supporters to say they might change their minds (28 percent to 24 percent). Also, more than one-fourth of voters who identified themselves as Democrats or independent voters said they might change their minds, compared to 18 percent of Republicans. Uncertainty also was higher among those with a high school education or less (36 percent) compared to college graduates (21 percent).
The gap between Warren and Brown has narrowed considerably since the last survey conducted by the Western New England University Polling Institute for MassLive.com and The Republican newspaper Feb. 23 – March 1, 2012. In that survey, Brown led Warren by eight points among registered voters, 49 percent to 41 percent.
Warren has made gains among both female and male voters. She leads Brown by 52 percent to 37 percent among women voters, compared to a four-point lead in the Feb. 23 – March 1 poll. Brown leads Warren by a margin of 50 percent to 38 percent among men, but that 12-point advantage is down from 21 points in the previous survey.
Warren also has made progress in consolidating her base. She leads Brown 84 percent to 10 percent among voters who identified themselves as Democrats, compared to a margin of 70 percent to 22 percent in the last survey. Brown has support from 91 percent of Republicans, compared to 94 percent in the previous poll.
Warren has cut significantly into Brown’s lead among independent voters, trailing Brown 50 percent to 37 percent. Brown had a 29-point lead among independent voters in the Feb. 23 – March 1 survey.
Brown, meanwhile, remains a popular figure in Massachusetts. Fifty-one percent of voters approve of the job that he is doing as senator, which is down three percentage points from the last survey, but the shift is still within the latest survey’s margin of error. Brown’s disapproval rating has crept up four points to 32 percent.
Forty-nine percent of registered voters have a favorable view of Brown, up two points from the last survey, while his unfavorability rating rose four points to 32 percent.
Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, saw her favorability rating rise four points to 41 percent, but her unfavorability rating rose 10 points to 30 percent. More than one-quarter of voters said they did not have an opinion or had not heard of Warren, down from 36 points in the previous survey.
It was unclear from the survey results whether the increased unfavorability rating was due to the recent controversy over Warren’s claim of Native American ancestry. News media and the Brown campaign have questioned whether Warren’s claim helped to advance her academic career.
Voters, when asked to say in their own words what is the most important issue to them in choosing a candidate for the Senate, cited economic issues (39 percent), followed by the morals, ethics or personal integrity of the candidate (10 percent), and the political party of the candidate, education issues, and health care (7 percent each).
Among those who cited morals, ethics or personal integrity, 45 percent were Warren supporters and 53 percent were Brown supporters. Only one of the 504 voters in the survey specifically cited the controversy surrounding Warren’s ancestry as the most important issue.
“While Warren’s ancestry has dominated recent press accounts of the contest, voters appear to have many other issues on their minds,” Vercellotti said.
About three-quarters of voters said the candidates’ genders would not influence voters’ decisions. Massachusetts is among 30 states that have never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Fifteen percent of voters, however, said Warren’s gender would make people less likely to vote for her, and seven percent said her gender would make people more likely to vote for her. Sixteen percent of voters said Brown’s gender would make people more likely to vote for him, and only one percent predicted Brown’s gender would have a negative effect.
Democrats were more likely than Republicans and independents to say that gender would hurt Warren and help Brown. Men also were more likely than women to say Warren’s gender would make people less likely to vote for her (18 percent to 13 percent).
“While gender is far from a dominant issue in the race, about one-sixth of voters see it playing a role in other people’s deliberations,” Vercellotti said. “It’s an issue to watch as the campaign unfolds.”
The Western New England University Polling Institute survey consists of telephone interviews with 552 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing May 29-31, 2012. The sample yielded 504 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.
Braun Research, Inc. of Princeton, NJ conducted the telephone interviews under the direction of The Polling Institute. The call center 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, age, and county of residence using U.S. Census estimates 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 504 registered voters is +/- 4.4 percent, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 55 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 50.6 percent and 59.4 percent (55 percent +/- 4.4 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 University Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts and the region. The Institute provides the University’s faculty and students with valuable opportunities to participate in public opinion research. Additional information about the Polling Institute is available at www1.wne.edu/pollinginst.
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