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Poll Finds Debates Benefit Both Senate Candidates

Posted October 9, 2012

Voters also more likely to describe the tone of the race as negative than positive

Three-fifths of likely voters say they have seen or heard at least one of the debates in the Massachusetts Senate race, and voters are evenly divided over whether the debates have steered them closer to Republican Scott Brown or Democrat Elizabeth Warren, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

Click here to view complete poll results.

The Polling Institute’s survey of 440 likely voters, conducted Sept. 28 through Oct. 4 in partnership with The Republican newspaper of Springfield, MA, and MassLive.com, found that 61 percent have seen or heard at least one of the two debates that have been broadcast on television and radio so far in the campaign.

election_logojpgAmong those who have seen or heard at least one debate, 31 percent said the most recent debate they saw or heard made them more likely to vote for Brown, while 30 percent said Warren, and 37 percent said the debate made no difference.

A third debate, sponsored by a consortium of universities and media organizations in western Massachusetts, including Western New England University and The Republican, is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Symphony Hall in Springfield.

The survey also examined the effects of campaign ads on voter preferences and voters’ assessments of the overall tone of the Senate race and found:

Ninety-four percent of likely voters said they have seen or heard at least one campaign ad in the race, with half of those voters saying the ads have not affected their choice, 28 percent saying the ads have made them more likely to vote for Warren and 20 percent saying the ads have made them more likely to vote for Brown;

By a three to one margin – 64 percent to 21 percent – voters were more likely to describe the general tone of the Senate race as very or somewhat negative as opposed to very or somewhat positive;

Among those offering a negative assessment, 51 percent said Brown is the candidate most responsible for the negative tone, 21 percent said Warren, and 24 percent said both candidates.

“Voters are hearing the candidates’ messages, either through debates, ads, or statements on the stump,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University. “The debates seem to be helping both candidates, while the ads seem to be helping Warren a bit more than Brown. For voters who perceive a negative tone in the race, Brown is more likely to be viewed as responsible for that tone than Warren.”

The latest survey found Warren leading Brown by a margin of 50 to 45 percent among likely voters, compared to a six-point Warren advantage in a Sept. 6-13 poll. The latest survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

Brown and Warren debated Sept. 20 in Boston and Oct. 1 in Lowell. Breaking down the Sept. 28 – Oct. 4 survey data by date, 51 percent of voters interviewed leading up to the start of the Oct. 1 debate said they had seen or heard at least one debate, compared to 71 percent who were interviewed during or after the Oct. 1 debate.

Thirty-three percent of men who had seen or heard at least one debate said the most recent debate they had watched or heard made them more likely to vote for Brown, while 24 percent of men said Warren. Thirty-six percent of women, however, said the most recent debate they had seen or heard made them more likely to vote for Warren, compared to 28 percent who said Brown.

Sixty-one percent of Republicans who had seen or heard at least one debate said the most recent debate they had watched or heard more them more likely to vote for Brown. The reverse was true for Democratic debate-watchers, with 53 percent saying the experience made them more likely to vote for Warren. Among independent voters who had seen or heard a debate, 33 percent said the most recent debate they had watched or heard made them more likely to vote for Brown, while 20 percent said Warren.

While about three-fifths of likely voters said they had seen or heard at least one debate, 94 percent said they has seen or heard at least one ad in the Senate race. Fifty-one percent of those who had seen or heard any campaign ads said the ads have not affected their vote, while 28 percent said the ads have made them more likely to vote for Warren and 20 percent said the ads have made them more likely to vote for Brown.

Forty-eight percent of Democratic likely voters who have seen any ads say the ads have made them more likely to back Warren, while 62 percent of Republicans say the same for their support of Brown. Sixty-one percent of independent voters said the ads have had no effect, while the remaining independents are fairly evenly split, with 20 percent saying the ads have pushed them toward Brown and 18 percent saying the ads have made them more likely to back Warren.

Male likely voters who have seen any of the campaign ads also were more likely to say the ads have had no effect (58 percent). Twenty-two percent said the ads make them more likely to vote for Brown and 19 percent said Warren. Women who had seen any of the ads were twice as likely to say the ads increased their probability of supporting Warren (36 percent) compared to Brown (18 percent).

When asked to consider the general tone of the Senate race, including the debates, ads, and candidates’ statements, voters were three times more likely to describe the tone as very or somewhat negative (64 percent) than very or somewhat positive (21 percent). The most critical assessments came from Democrats, with 68 percent rating the tone very or somewhat negative, followed by independents (64 percent) and Republicans (52 percent).

Women were more likely than men to describe the tone as negative (71 percent of women compared to 57 percent of men). Seventy percent of likely voters who said they supported or leaned toward supporting Warren for Senate also characterized the tone as negative compared to 61 percent of voters who said they support or lean toward supporting Brown.

Among voters who described the tone of the race as very or somewhat positive, 47 percent said Warren was the candidate most responsible for the positive tone, while 39 percent said Brown and 11 percent credited both candidates.

Among voters who characterized the tone of the race as very or somewhat negative, 51 percent said Brown was the candidate most responsible for the negative tone, while 21 percent said Warren and 24 percent said both.

Seventy-seven percent of Democrats who said the tone was negative blamed Brown, while 74 percent of Republicans said Warren was most responsible. Among independent voters who said the tone was negative, 37 percent said Brown was most responsible, 26 percent said Warren, and 35 percent blamed both candidates.

Male and female voters were both more likely to point to Brown than Warren as most responsible for the negative tone, with 45 percent of men saying Brown and 26 percent saying Warren, and 56 percent of women saying Brown and 18 percent saying Warren.

Even among voters who said they support or lean toward Brown, 15 percent said he was most responsible for the negative tone. Only one percent of Warren supporters and leaners blamed her for the negative tone.

METHODOLOGY

The Western New England University Polling Institute survey consists of telephone interviews with 567 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing Sept. 28 – Oct. 4, 2012. The sample yielded 516 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts, and 440 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 www.wne.edu/news. The full text of the questionnaire for this survey is available at www1.wne.edu/pollinginst. Complete coverage of the poll by media partners The Republican and MassLive.com can be found at www.masslive.com/politics.

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 440 likely voters is +/- 4.7 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 55 percent of likely voters said they had seen or heard at least one of the debates in the Senate race, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 50.3 percent and 59.7 percent (55 percent +/- 4.7 percent) had all Massachusetts likely voters been interviewed, rather than just a sample. The margin of sampling error for the sample of 516 registered voters is +/- 4.3 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. Additional information about the Polling Institute is available at www1.wne.edu/pollinginst.

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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 3,700 students, including 2,550 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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