Markey Slips on Obama’s Banana Peel

The latest Suffolk University poll still has Ed Markey ahead of Gabriel Gomez but the lead has shrunk to seven points from seventeen in early May. What could be causing the decline in Markey’s position? The Suffolk University poll points to one man and it isn’t Ed Markey or Gabriel Gomez: it’s Barack Obama.

Back when I posted Predicting the Markey-Gomez Outcome I noted that one variable that affects a senate race is the president’s job approval rating. In early May 63% approved of the job President Obama is doing and 32% disapproved. In early June we see a 57%-37% job approval. Not devastating, but a troubling slip.

I’ve also written that the known-knowns in the race favor Markey and that for Gomez to have a chance he would need to benefit from one or more unknown-unknowns. Two prospects for unknown-unknowns, I posited, would be the Boston Marathon bombing and the three (working on four, but the latest surveillance issue was not in the poll) Obama scandals. The Suffolk poll suggests that the erosion in Obama’s standing in Massachusetts is related to the scandals.  So let’s move the scandals to the known-unknowns category. We know it could be a problem, but we don’t know the dimensions.

What we know is that when asked if they think the president is being truthful in denying prior knowledge of the IRS targeting conservative groups, 39% say not truthful; 50% say he is being truthful. When asked if the Obama administration deliberately misled the public concerning the attack on our embassy in Benghazi that killed four Americans including the US ambassador, 43% said yes, 50% said no.  Unfortunately when asking about the Justice Department’s subpoenaing of the phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press, Suffolk did not ask a similarly probing question.

Going back to the model developed by political scientists Kedron Bardwell and Michael Lewis-Beck that I used as a rough model in Predicting the Gomez-Markey Outcome, the factors of national economy, quality of the challenger, and money haven’t changed but the president’s job approval has. An additional unknown-unknown is the impact of the revelations about government surveillance of Americans. That is likely to hurt the president’s standing as well.

We can expect Gabriel Gomez to pound away at the Democrats new-found weakness and national Republicans may once again sense a chance to damage the president in an off-year special election in the bluest state. Ed Markey will resurface and at least hope to be seen as a better candidate than Martha Coakley. The Democrats also have the comfort that even after the recent slide, the president is still highly regarded in the state. The major factor though will not be the candidates and their campaigns but the worrisome erosion of the president’s job approval rating.

It isn’t what we know we know that is closing the gap for Gabriel Gomez; it’s what we know we don’t know. Ed Markey does not want to see any more unknown-unknowns in the next two weeks.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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