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Voters View Senate Candidates Evenly on Honesty

SUNDAY, JUNE 23, 2013 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

Poll finds Markey has advantage over Gomez on most traits and issue positions

Voters in Tuesday’s special Senate election are equally likely to view candidates Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez as honest and truthful, but Markey leads Gomez on bipartisanship and economic and gun reform issues, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey, which the Polling Institute conducted June 16-20, 2013 in partnership with MassLive.com, the Republican newspaper and television station WSHM CBS-3 in Springfield, provides insights into the dynamics behind the race to fill the remainder of John Kerry’s Senate term. Kerry resigned in February to serve as secretary of state.

The survey of 566 likely voters, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points, found that Markey, a Democratic congressman from Malden, leads Gomez, a Republican businessman from Cohasset, by a margin of 49 percent to 41 percent, with nine percent still undecided.

In addition to candidate preference, the survey asked:

"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 Gabriel Gomez or Ed Markey:" (Names of the candidates rotated in random order in the question.)

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
  • Has the best ideas to reform gun laws
  • Has the best ideas to reform the federal tax code

While Markey polled ahead of Gomez on most traits and issues, his greatest advantage came in "having the experience to effectively represent Massachusetts in Washington." Fifty-five percent of likely voters pointed to Markey, who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976, and 22 percent said Gomez, a private equity investor and former U.S. Navy SEAL.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said the data suggest that Gomez’s argument that Markey has served in Washington for too long has not resonated with a large enough pool of voters to help Gomez.

"The strategy to tap anti-Washington sentiment can sometimes be effective, but it does not appear to be paying off for Gomez in this race," Vercellotti said.

Gomez also has sought to present himself as best suited to reach across the aisle to work with both parties on policies in the Senate, an argument that former Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, also articulated in his unsuccessful bid for re-election last year. Thirty-two percent of voters said Gomez would be more likely to work with members of both parties, but an even larger number of voters – 41 percent – said the same of Markey.

When the Polling Institute put the same question to likely voters in a Sept. 6 – 13, 2012 poll during last year’s Senate race between Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren , 51 percent of voters said Brown was more likely to work in a bipartisan way. Thirty percent pointed to Warren. Even with that edge Brown lost to Warren in November by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent.

Vercellotti noted that pledges of bipartisanship may be a necessary part of Republican campaigns in Massachusetts, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a margin of three to one, and unaffiliated voters make up the other half of the electorate. But the argument may be less effective for a candidate who has not held public office before, such as Gomez.

"Brown had a voting record on which he could run, and that record included some bipartisan votes," Vercellotti said. "But Gomez can only speak to the future, and that does not appear to be as persuasive for voters in this campaign."

In addition, while Gomez stressed that he is politically moderate, voters were more likely to describe him as conservative. When asked to place Gomez on a scale of "very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative or very conservative," 19 percent of likely voters described him as moderate, while 38 percent said somewhat conservative and 13 percent said very conservative. In contrast, 32 percent of voters described Brown as moderate in the Sept. 6 – 13, 2012 survey.

Likely voters also placed Markey at the other end of the spectrum, with 62 percent describing him as very or somewhat liberal. Sixty-five percent of likely voters said the same of Warren in the Sept. 6 – 13, 2012 survey.

In the latest survey voters perceive both Gomez and Markey to be “honest and trustworthy” on roughly an equal basis, with 32 percent citing Gomez and 35 percent giving Markey the nod. Markey holds the advantage on a measure that typically favors Democratic candidates: “cares more about people like you.” Forty-three percent of likely voters said Markey, and 34 percent said Gomez. Warren also led Brown on that dimension in the September 2012 poll by a margin of 47 percent to 36 percent.

On policy issues, voters give Markey the advantage on gun reforms and job creation, while the candidates finish roughly even on ideas for reforming the federal tax code.

When asked to rate which of the candidates has the best ideas for reforming gun laws, 47 percent of likely voters said Markey and 26 percent said Gomez. Gun control has been a key issue in the campaign, with both candidates supporting expanded background checks for gun purchases, but parting company over an assault weapons ban, which Markey favors and Gomez opposes.

The survey found that Markey received more support for gun reform ideas across all major demographic categories except for likely voters who identified themselves as Republicans. On most other candidate traits and issue dimensions, Gomez finished stronger among men and independent voters, as well as among Republicans, while Democrats and women were more likely to favor Markey.

"Support for gun reforms appears to cut across a lot of different demographic lines in Massachusetts, and that seems to work in Markey’s favor," Vercellotti said.

When asked which candidate has the best ideas for creating jobs, 37 percent said Markey and 30 percent said Gomez. Warren and Brown also were separated by a handful of percentage points on the issue in the September 2012 poll. On who has the best ideas for reforming the federal tax code, 34 percent of likely voters said Markey and 32 percent said Gomez.

On each of the three issues – gun reforms, job creation, and tax reforms – between one-fifth and one-quarter of likely voters could not say or refused to say which candidate has better ideas. Vercellotti noted that knowledge of candidates’ positions on issues is not always widespread among voters. The quick run-up to the April 30 primary and eight-week campaign cycle between the primary and the June 25 special election may also have contributed to low voter knowledge, he added.

"In an ideal world voters would have the time and the desire to learn where the candidates stand on key issues and make their choices accordingly," Vercellotti said. "But voters, even in routine election cycles, don’t always have the resources or the inclination to do that. That may be especially true during this abbreviated campaign season."

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.