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Early Polling Finds Democrats In Command In Massachusetts

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2015 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

Voters give positive marks to Clinton, Sanders and take a dim view of Trump

With the presidential election still more than a year away, Massachusetts voters hold favorable views of the leading Democratic candidates and give them healthy advantages in hypothetical matchups with some of the leading Republicans, according to the latest poll from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 425 registered voters, conducted Oct.1-8, found that roughly half of voters held favorable views of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Voters tended to express negative views of Republicans Donald Trump and former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, while appearing to be fairly evenly divided about retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former computer industry executive Carly Fiorina.

In hypothetical general election match-ups, the survey found that Clinton led Trump, Bush and Fiorina by anywhere from 27 to 37 percentage points. Sanders, an independent senator who is seeking the Democratic nomination, also posted similar leads in the match-ups against Trump, Bush and Fiorina.

Voters, however, were not uniformly satisfied with the field of presidential candidates that has emerged to date. Fifty-two percent of voters said they would like to see someone else enter the race, while 44 percent said they were satisfied and four percent said they did not know or declined to answer. Democrats were slightly more inclined to say they would like to see someone else enter the race (56 percent) compared to Republicans and unenrolled voters (49 percent in each group). 

Among voters who said they would like to see someone else enter the race, when asked for a name, 55 percent could not identify a potential candidate. Nineteen percent said they would like to see Vice President Joe Biden run, while six percent said Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, and three percent said U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.  The remaining 17 percent of voters offered a wide variety of names ranging from television personality Jon Stewart to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Forty-nine percent of voters said they are extremely enthusiastic or very enthusiastic about voting in next year’s election. The survey found a gap in enthusiasm that currently favors the Democrats, with 56 percent of Democrats saying they are extremely or very enthusiastic, compared to 36 percent of Republicans. Among unenrolled voters, 48 percent said they are extremely or very enthusiastic. 

Economic concerns appear to top the voters’ agenda heading in to 2016. When asked to name the most important issue to them in deciding whom to support, 28 percent of voters cited the economy, jobs, unemployment or income inequality. Ten percent pointed to the character of the candidate, nine percent listed illegal immigration and six percent said defense or the war on terror.

“With just under four months until the first primaries and caucuses and 13 months until the presidential election, we are still early in the cycle,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University. “But voters have well-developed views on some of the candidates and are beginning to form opinions of others. People are tuning into the race.”

The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points, found that Clinton, Sanders and Biden all were in positive territory in terms of favorability ratings. Fifty-two percent of voters viewed Clinton favorably. But she had the highest unfavorability rating among the three, at 41 percent. Forty-eight percent of voters viewed Sanders favorably, with 23 percent viewing him unfavorably. Biden’s numbers were 56 percent favorable and 28 percent unfavorable, similar to his favorability the last time the Polling Institute measured it in September 2012. Sanders is the least known of the three, with eight percent of voters saying they have not heard of him, and another 20 percent saying they have heard of him but could not offer an opinion of him. 

On the Republican side, Trump fared worst of the four GOP candidates tested in the survey. More than two-thirds of voters – 68 percent – said they have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 22 percent said they have a favorable view. Large majorities of Democrats (84 percent) and unenrolled voters (65 percent) expressed negative views of Trump, while Republicans were roughly split at 43 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable. Among women, 72 percent expressed an unfavorable view of Trump, and 16 percent were favorable. Sixty-four percent of men had an unfavorable view, while 29 percent were favorable. 

Bush’s numbers also tilted toward the negative, but in less dramatic fashion, with 53 percent of voters holding an unfavorable view and 28 percent expressing a favorable view. Voters were fairly evenly divided over Carson (28 percent favorable and 31 percent unfavorable) and Fiorina (29 percent favorable and 29 percent unfavorable). For both Carson and Fiorina about 40 percent of voters either had not heard of them or could not offer an opinion of them. 

In hypothetical general election matchups Clinton and Sanders held sizable leads over Trump, Bush and Fiorina. Clinton led Trump by 37 points (64 percent to 27 percent), Bush by 27 points (58 percent to 31 percent), and Fiorina by 32 points (61 percent to 29 percent). Sanders led Trump by 35 points (63 percent to 28 percent), Bush by 27 points (57 percent to 30 percent), and Fiorina by 30 points (59 percent to 29 percent). 

Democrat Barack Obama won Massachusetts by 23 points in 2012 and 26 points in 2008. The last Republican presidential candidate to win the state was Ronald Reagan, who carried Massachusetts by three percentage points in his national landslide victory in1984. The last Democrat to win Massachusetts by more than 30 points was Bill Clinton, who defeated Republican Bob Dole by 33 points here in 1996. 

“Needless to say, there hasn’t been a lot of suspense when it comes to presidential politics in Massachusetts in recent cycles,” Vercellotti said. “Even so, the leads in our hypothetical matchups in this survey are certainly going to fluctuate as the campaign proceeds, and as we shift from looking at all registered voters to looking at likely voters. The early take-away, however, is that Sanders appears to enjoy levels of support comparable to Clinton in general election match-ups in Massachusetts, at least for now.”  

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. The Institute is a charter member of the Transparency Initiative, sponsored by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. The Transparency Initiative supports greater openness in the reporting of survey research methodology. Additional information about the Polling Institute is available from Dr. Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute, at polling@wne.edu.