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Massachusetts Voters Rate Warren Stronger on Health Care, Wall Street, Brown Holds Edge on Bipartisanship

Posted September 17, 2012

Perceptions of Senate candidates come into focus as campaigns advance

Voters perceive clear differences between the candidates for the U.S. Senate when it comes to health care policy, regulating Wall Street, and working with senators from the opposing political party.

The latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute, conducted in partnership with The Republican newspaper of Springfield, MA and, found that likely voters give Democrat Elizabeth Warren the edge on ideas for improving health care, cracking down on Wall Street, and for generally caring more about people like them.

The survey also found that voters were more likely to credit Republican incumbent Scott Brown with having the experience to represent Massachusetts effectively in Washington, and being able to work with senators from both parties to solve problems.

Click here to view complete poll results.

Likely voters ranked the candidates roughly evenly concerning being honest and trustworthy and having the best ideas to create jobs in Massachusetts. The survey of 444 likely voters, conducted Sept. 6-13, 2012, was part of a larger sample of 545 registered voters. The margin of error for the sample of 444 likely voters is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points, and plus or minus 4.2 percentage points for the sample of all registered voters.

“The candidates’ attempts to play to their strengths in the campaign seem to be reaching voters,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a political science professor at Western New England University. “Distinctive portraits of the candidates emerge from the polling data.”

In terms of general political ideology, voters were more likely to place Brown to the center or right of center on the spectrum, and Warren to the left. Thirty-two percent of likely voters identified Brown as moderate, 42 percent described him as somewhat conservative and 7 percent labeled him very conservative. Thirty-seven percent of likely voters rated Warren as very liberal, 28 percent said somewhat liberal, and 13 percent said moderate.

The survey also asked voters:

“Regardless of how you plan to vote in the Senate election, please tell me whether you think each of the following statements applies more to Scott Brown or Elizabeth Warren:”

  • Is honest and trustworthy
  • Has the experience to effectively represent Massachusetts in Washington
  • Cares more about people like you
  • Can work with senators from both parties to solve problems
  • Has the best ideas for creating jobs in Massachusetts
  • Will be tougher on Wall Street
  • Has the best ideas to improve health care

Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who helped to establish the federal government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was perceived by more voters as likely to be tougher on Wall Street.

The margin was 59 percent for Warren to 25 percent for Brown among likely voters, and 57 percent to 25 percent among all registered voters. Warren had led Brown by 23 points on this dimension among all registered voters when the Polling Institute last asked about the candidates’ traits in a Feb. 23 – March 1, 2012 survey.

Voters also viewed Warren as more empathetic than Brown. Forty-seven percent of likely voters said Warren “cares more about people like you,” compared to 36 percent for Brown. The margin for the larger sample of registered voters was 51 percent for Warren and 33 percent for Brown, compared to a six-point lead for Warren on this trait in the Feb. 23 – March 1, 2012 poll.

Brown, who won a special election to the Senate in January 2010 to serve the remainder of the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s term, has sought to portray himself as able to work with members of both parties in the Senate. The message has resonated with voters, with 51 percent of likely voters saying Brown “can work with senators from both parties to solve problems,” while 30 percent said Warren.

Brown also holds a sizable advantage over Warren in terms of who “has the experience to effectively represent Massachusetts in Washington.” Forty-eight percent of likely voters gave the edge to Brown, compared to 33 percent for Warren.

The candidates run roughly evenly on who is perceived as honest and trustworthy – 38 percent of likely voters said Brown, while 35 percent said Warren. Warren, however, led Brown on this dimension 39 percent to 34 percent among all registered voters, and Warren’s standing among all registered voters represented an eight-point gain for her since the Feb. 23- March 1, 2012 poll.

Warren and Brown also were roughly even among likely voters on the question of who “has the best ideas for creating jobs in Massachusetts,” while Warren has made significant gains on this issue among all registered voters. Thirty-nine percent of likely voters gave Warren the nod on ideas for job creation, and 35 percent said Brown. Among all registered voters, Warren led Brown 41 percent to 32 percent, which represented a 14-point gain for Warren and a four-point drop for Brown since the Feb. 23 – March 1, 2012 survey.

Voters also cited Warren in larger numbers for having “the best ideas to improve health care,” with 42 percent of likely voters pointing to Warren and 25 percent citing Brown. Among all registered voters, Warren led Brown on the issue by a margin of 23 points – 45 percent to 22 percent. Warren had led Brown on the issue among all registered voters by 14 points in the Feb. 23 – March 1, 2012 poll.

Voters’ perceptions of the candidates’ ideas for job creation and health care in the latest survey also provided possible openings for both candidates. When asked who has the best ideas for improving health care, nearly one-fourth of likely voters said they did not know or declined to answer the question. Nineteen percent of likely voters could not or would not offer a response when asked who has the best ideas for creating jobs in Massachusetts.

“In each case a large portion of the electorate has difficulty placing the candidates on these issue dimensions,” Vercellotti said. “There is still time for the candidates to shape how voters perceive them on these issues.”


The Western New England University Polling Institute survey consists of telephone interviews with 588 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing Sept. 6-13, 2012. The sample yielded 545 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts, and 444 adults who are classified as likely to vote in the Nov. 6, 2012 general election. Unless otherwise noted, the figures in this release are based on the statewide sample of likely voters. The Polling Institute classified likely voters based on voters’ responses to questions about interest in the election, likelihood of voting in the election, ability to identify their polling place, and whether they reported voting in the 2008 presidential election.

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, age, and county of residence using U.S. Census estimates for Massachusetts. Complete results of the poll are available online at The full text of the questionnaire for this survey is available 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 444 likely voters is +/- 4.6 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 47 percent of likely voters said the phrase “cares more about people like you” applies more to Elizabeth Warren than Scott Brown, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 42.4 percent and 51.6 percent (47 percent +/- 4.6 percent) had all Massachusetts likely voters been interviewed, rather than just a sample. The margin of sampling error for the sample of 545 registered voters is +/- 4.2 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. 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 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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