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Democrats Maintain Advantage in Race for Governor

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, 2014 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

GOP's Baker trails Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman in latest survey

With the election for governor still seven months away, Democrats continue to hold an early lead in hypothetical match-ups in the race for the corner office, according to the latest telephone survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The survey of 424 registered voters, conducted March 31 through April 7, found state Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, leading Republican Charlie Baker by a margin of 54 percent to 25 percent. The 29-point gap between the candidates has grown since an Oct. 1-7, 2013 Polling Institute survey, in which Coakley led Baker by 20 points, 54 percent to 34 percent.

The survey, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points, also found state Treasurer Steve Grossman, a Democrat, leading Baker by nine points, 38 percent to 29 percent. Grossman’s advantage over Baker has narrowed slightly since the October 2013 survey, when Grossman led Baker by 13 points, 43 percent to 30 percent.

Coakley and Grossman are the two best known candidates in the field of five Democrats who are seeking the party’s nomination. The state Democratic Party will hold its convention in mid-June in Worcester, and candidates must receive support from at least 15 percent of the delegates at the convention to compete in a Democratic primary Sept. 9. Baker won the Republican Party’s nomination at a statewide convention held last month in Boston, but the results of the convention are the subject of a legal challenge from a competing Republican candidate, Mark Fisher of Shrewsbury.

Among the field of Democrats, the three candidates trying to catch Coakley and Grossman have made little progress in building name recognition among voters since the Polling Institute’s October 2013 survey. In the latest survey, about three-quarters of voters said they had not heard of Joe Avellone, a pharmaceutical executive and former selectman in Wellesley; Don Berwick, a former administrator for Medicare and Medicaid; and Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration. All three had favorability ratings in the single digits in the latest survey, reflecting little change since the October 2013 poll.

Coakley had a favorability rating of 51 percent, with 27 percent viewing her unfavorably, which was virtually unchanged from the October 2013 poll. Twenty-one percent of voters viewed Grossman favorably in the latest survey, and 14 percent viewed him unfavorably, also virtually unchanged since the fall. Baker, on the other hand, showed progress, with his favorability rating rising five points to 31 percent, and his unfavorability rating staying approximately the same at 13 percent.

The Polling Institute also measured name recognition and favorability ratings for independent candidates Evan Falchuk, an attorney and health care executive, and venture capitalist Jeff McCormick. Neither candidate scored above the single digits in terms of favorability ratings. But the survey results indicate they might eventually be factors in the race.

In a hypothetical match-up involving Baker, Coakley, Falchuk and McCormick, 54 percent of voters said they would either favor or lean toward Coakley, while 25 percent said they would favor or lean toward Baker, with Falchuk and McCormick each receiving support from three percent of voters. Coakley’s share of the vote in the latest survey was the same as in the October 2013 survey, which did not include the independent candidates. Baker’s share of the vote, however, fell from 34 percent in the October 2013 survey, when the independent candidates were not part of the match-up, to 25 percent in the latest survey, which included the independent candidates.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, said Baker’s changing share of the vote is not necessarily related to the inclusion of the independent candidates in the latest matchup. Candidate percentages also could fluctuate as a result of the margins of sampling error for each survey, or due to events related to the campaign.

But Vercellotti said the potential impact of the independent candidates bears watching as the campaign unfolds in the coming months. He noted that Baker, who ran unsuccessfully as the Republican nominee for governor against Democrat Deval Patrick and independent Tim Cahill in 2010, has experienced firsthand the effect that an independent candidate can have in a statewide race.

The match-up involving Baker, Grossman, Falchuk and McCormick in the latest survey also revealed the potential for an interesting campaign dynamic. Grossman’s share of the vote was 38 percent in the latest survey, compared to 43 percent in the October 2013 survey, while 29 percent of voters said they would back or lean toward Baker, down a point from October 2013. Nine percent of voters said they would back or lean toward McCormick, and four percent said they would support or lean toward Falchuk.

“While the fluctuation in support for Grossman could also be due to the margin of sampling error or other factors, the independent candidates could add some intrigue to the race,” Vercellotti said.

In the matchup against Grossman, Baker and Falchuk, McCormick drew support in the double-digits from voters in some demographic categories, including unenrolled voters (14 percent), women (11 percent), and younger voters between the ages of 18 and 39 (15 percent).

The survey also found that 50 percent of registered voters said they have a lot of interest in the governor’s race, while 33 percent said they had some interest, 15 percent said they had a little interest and two percent said they had no interest at all.

Interest was higher among voters who said they were registered as Democrats or Republicans compared to unenrolled voters. Fifty-four percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans said they have a lot of interest, compared to 45 percent of unenrolled voters. Interest also was higher among older voters, with 63 percent of those ages 65 and older saying they have a lot of interest, compared to 32 percent of voters ages 18 to 39.

Vercellotti noted that interest is likely to increase over the next several months. “Voters tend to take a while to tune in to races in non-presidential election years,” he said. “The numbers in this latest survey provide a benchmark to compare against in the fall. At the risk of stating the obvious, these results should not be construed as predictions about the outcome of the election.”

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.