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Baker Holds Slim Lead in Race for Governor

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2014 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

Latest poll finds five-point edge among likely voters

As the race for governor of Massachusetts heads into the final weekend of the campaign, Republican Charlie Baker leads Democrat Martha Coakley by a margin of 46 percent to 41 percent among likely voters, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 430 likely voters, conducted Oct. 21 – 30, found that Baker has built significant leads among men and independent voters, while Coakley’s advantage among female voters lags behind what Democrats typically need to win statewide office in Massachusetts.

The survey also found:

-- U.S. Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, leads Republican Brian Herr 54 percent to 34 percent as Markey seeks re-election to a full six-year term in the Senate

-- A ballot initiative that seeks to repeal a state law that authorizes licensing up to three casinos in Massachusetts faces significant opposition from likely voters, with 59 percent saying they would vote no on the question and 35 percent saying they would vote yes.

The survey of 430 likely voters has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points. The likely voters were part of a larger sample of 522 registered voters, which has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

While Baker, a former health care executive, leads Coakley by five points among likely voters, his lead shrinks to one percentage point – 41 percent to Coakley’s 40 percent – among all registered voters in the sample.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said the narrower edge among all voters illustrates the importance of get out the vote efforts on Tuesday.

“Martha Coakley has an opportunity to make up ground if the Democrats succeed in turning out the vote,” he said.

Vercellotti noted, however, that the poll found troubling indicators for Coakley, the state’s attorney general and an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in a special election in 2010. Baker leads Coakley by 18 points among male likely voters, 54 percent to 36 percent, while Coakley’s lead among women is six points, 46 percent to 40 percent.

“Democrats usually need a double-digit advantage among women to prevail in statewide races,” Vercellotti said.

Baker also holds a 25-point lead among voters who identified themselves as independent, 54 percent to 29 percent. In addition, while 94 percent of voters who identify themselves as Republicans said they would vote for Baker, no Republicans said they would back Coakley. The poll found that 75 percent of Democratic likely voters said they would support Coakley, but 15 percent of Democrats said they would vote for Baker.

“Martha Coakley has to shore up her base if she is to catch Baker,” Vercellotti said.

Candidate favorability ratings also contained good news for Baker and worrisome news for Coakley. Fifty-four percent of likely voters said they have a favorable view of Baker, up seven points from the Polling Institute’s Sept. 20 – 28 survey. Baker’s unfavorability rating also rose by four points to 28 percent.

Meanwhile, more likely voters viewed Coakley unfavorably than favorably in the latest survey. Forty-seven percent said they had an unfavorable view, up nine points from the September survey, while 42 percent had a favorable view, down four points from September.

Seven percent of likely voters said they were undecided in the race for governor, and another five percent of the vote was divided among three independent candidates. Evan Falchuk, founder of the United Independent Party, received support from three percent of likely voters. If Falchuk can maintain that level of support on Tuesday his party will receive official state recognition and the ability to run candidates under the party’s banner in 2016.

While Baker currently holds the upper hand in the race, voters’ views are not set in stone. Of the voters who expressed a preference for governor, 29 percent said they could still change their minds before the election. That was true for 23 percent of Baker’s supporters and 33 percent of Coakley’s supporters. About one-third of Democrats and independent voters who expressed a preference said they might change their minds, while that was true for only nine percent of Republican voters. One-third of women and one-fourth of men who said they backed a candidate also said they could still change their minds.

The economy is the top issue for voters as they deliberate over the candidates for governor. When asked to state in their own words the most important issue in determining whom to support, 31 percent said the economy, jobs or unemployment. Education was the second most cited issue (14 percent), followed by concerns about government spending and taxes (11 percent).

Issues identified by supporters for Coakley and Baker reflected the varying emphases of the campaigns. Among Coakley’s supporters, 25 percent said the economy and 23 percent said education. Thirty-nine percent of Baker’s supporters cited the economy, while 17 percent pointed to taxes and government spending.

In contrast to the race for governor, the contest for the United States Senate provided little suspense in the latest survey. Markey, a Democrat who won a special election in 2013 to serve the remainder of John Kerry’s term when Kerry was named secretary of state, maintained a comfortable lead over Herr in the survey. Markey led Herr, a former Hopkinton selectman, across almost all demographic and geographic categories. Herr drew even with Markey only on the North and South Shores, 47 percent to 47 percent, and led among Republicans and voters with some college.

The casino ballot question also drew a lopsided response from likely voters. Fifty-nine percent said they would vote against repealing the law authorizing casinos, while 35 percent said they would vote in favor of the ballot initiative. The gap has grown since the September survey, when 52 percent of likely voters said they would vote no and 41 percent said they would vote yes.

The survey found some variation by religious denomination and observance. Clergy have urged members of their congregations to vote to repeal the law. That appeal appears to have resonated with Protestant likely voters, with 51 percent saying they would vote no and 46 percent saying they would vote yes. Among Protestant likely voters who attend worship services at least once a week or almost every week, 55 percent favor repeal and 45 percent oppose it.

Catholic likely voters, meanwhile, oppose repeal by a margin of 62 percent to 32 percent. But the gap is narrower for Catholics who attend mass once a week or almost every week, with 54 percent opposed and 37 percent in favor.

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.