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Poll Finds Democrats Hold Commanding Leads in Massachusetts Senate Matchups

Posted April 21, 2013

Republicans lag in name recognition as April 30 primaries near 

U.S. House members Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch lead potential Republican opponents Gabriel Gomez, Michael Sullivan and Dan Winslow by wide margins in hypothetical match-ups for the U.S. Senate, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

2013_special_election_poll_logojpgThe telephone survey, which the Polling Institute conducted April 11-18 in partnership with, the Springfield Republican newspaper, and television station WSHM CBS-3, also found that Markey leads Lynch by 10 points, 44 percent to 34 percent, in the race for the Democratic nomination for the Senate.

The race for the Republican nomination is less clear, with Gomez, a Cohasset businessman and former Navy SEAL, and Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney from Abington, battling for the lead while Winslow, a state representative from Norfolk, trails in third place. The parties will nominate candidates in primaries April 30, with the general election set for June 25.

Click here to view complete poll results.

Voters will choose a senator to serve the remainder of John Kerry’s term, which expires in 2014. Kerry resigned from the Senate in February to serve as secretary of state. Governor Deval Patrick named William Maurice “Mo” Cowan, a former aide to the governor, to serve as an interim senator until the general election.

The survey of 480 likely voters found that Markey, first elected to the House in 1976 from Malden, and Lynch, who has represented South Boston and neighboring areas since 2001, hold double-digit leads over their potential Republican rivals.

Markey leads Gomez by 15 points (51 to 36 percent), Sullivan by 18 points (52 to 34 percent), and Winslow by 19 points (51 to 32 percent). Lynch holds even larger advantages, leading Gomez by 32 points (58 to 26 percent); Sullivan by 32 points (57 to 25 percent); and Winslow by 36 points (59 to 23 percent). The sample of 480 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said Lynch is padding his lead by running stronger among unenrolled voters than Markey does in the head-to-head match-ups.

Lynch leads Gomez, Sullivan and Winslow by anywhere from 28 to 34 points among unenrolled voters, who make up more than half of the electorate in Massachusetts. Markey leads the Republican candidates by margins of four to 10 points among unenrolled voters.

The survey found that Lynch also is managing to attract support from up to one-quarter of Republican voters depending on the match-up. Markey draws support from between 9 and 13 percent of Republicans depending on the opponent.

“Stephen Lynch has managed to stake out the middle ground in these match-ups, which has allowed him to build large margins over his potential Republican rivals,” Vercellotti said.

But Lynch trails Markey by 10 points in the race for the Democratic nomination, the survey found. Among 270 registered Democrats and uenrolled voters who said they are very or somewhat likely to vote in the Democratic primary, 44 percent said they would vote for Markey and 34 percent said they would back Lynch. Twenty-one percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they are undecided. The margin of error for the sample of 270 likely Democratic primary voters is plus or minus six percentage points.

Breaking down the Democratic primary vote by party registration offers an insight into the dynamics of that race. Markey leads Lynch by 20 points among registered Democrats. Lynch, however, leads Markey by six points – 41 percent to 35 percent – among unenrolled voters.

tim_vercellotti_web.jpg“The poll results give the campaigns a sense of the type of voter each candidate needs to mobilize,” Vercellotti said. “Significant turnout among registered Democrats plays to Markey’s strength, while increased participation among unenrolled voters gives Lynch a boost.”

In addition, among voters who expressed a preference for Lynch or Markey, more than one-third – 36 percent – said they might change their mind before the primary. “With more than a week left before the primary, each candidate still has a chance to close the deal with primary voters,” Vercellotti said.

Survey results suggest that the race for the Republican nomination may be turning into a two-man contest between Gomez and Sullivan. The poll’s sample includes 128 Republican and unenrolled voters who said they are very or somewhat likely to participate in the Republican primary. Vercellotti noted that the margin of sampling error for such a small group is quite large, plus or minus nine percentage points.

“We can’t identify a front-runner given such a large margin of error, but Gomez and Sullivan appear to have the edge over Winslow at this point,” Vercellotti said.

Among likely Republican primary voters, 33 percent said they would support Gomez and 27 percent said they would back Sullivan, with Winslow receiving support from nine percent. Thirty percent of likely Republican primary voters said they are undecided.

The survey provided evidence that the Republican race may be more unsettled than the Democratic contest. Of the likely Republican primary voters who expressed a candidate preference, 59 percent said they might change their mind before the primary.

“Voters say they have made choices for the Republican primary, but for many voters those preferences are not strongly held,” Vercellotti said.

They survey found that the Republican candidates simply are not as well-known as the Democratic candidates. Measures of name recognition and favorability found that, among the 480 voters who said they are likely to participate in the June 25 election, more than 60 percent said they had not heard of the Republican candidates or could not offer an opinion about them. Even among likely voters in the Republican primary, about half had not heard of or could not offer an opinion about the Republican candidates.

Although Lynch and Markey also are not universally known, their name recognition scores were higher. Among likely voters in the June 25 election, 41 percent held a favorable view of Lynch and 18 percent held an unfavorable view, and likely Democratic primary voters followed similar response patterns. About one-third of likely primary and general election voters had not heard of Lynch or could not offer an opinion about him.

Markey has a favorable-unfavorable rating of 39 percent to 24 percent among likely general election voters, and 55 percent to 15 percent among likely Democratic primary voters. About one-third of likely general election voters could not offer an opinion of Markey or had not heard of him, and the same was true of about one-quarter of likely Democratic primary voters.

With voting in the primaries still several days away and the general election several weeks away, more than one-third of voters think Markey has the greatest likelihood of winning the Senate seat at this point.

When asked to indicate who they think will win, regardless of whom they actually support, likely voters in the general election gave the nod to Markey with 38 percent, Lynch with 15 percent, Gomez with three percent, Sullivan with two percent and Winslow with one percent. But more than one-third of voters said they could not predict who would win the Senate seat. 


The Western New England University Polling Institute survey consists of telephone interviews with 582 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing April 11 – 18, 2013. The sample yielded 528 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts. Within the sample of registered voters, 480 voters were classified as likely to vote in the June 25 special Senate election, 270 voters were identified as likely to vote in the Senate Democratic Primary on April 30 and 128 adults were identified as likely to vote in the Senate Republican Primary on April 30. Unless otherwise noted, the figures in this release are based on the statewide sample of likely voters for the June 25 election and the April 30 primaries. 

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. 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 480 likely voters is +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 55 percent of likely voters said they planned to vote for a specific candidate, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 50.5 percent and 59.5 percent (55 percent +/- 4.5 percent) had all Massachusetts likely 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. The margin of error for the sample of 270 likely voters in the Democratic primary is plus or minus 6 percentage points, and the margin of error for the sample of 128 likely voters in the Republican primary is plus or minus 9 percentage points.  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


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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