Early Guv Race Polls Survey the Wrong Population

As far as I’m concerned the public polls to date on the Massachusetts governor’s race are little more than practice sessions for the pollsters, who use these preliminary surveys to fine tune their operations. Nothing in these polls is (or should be) impacting the game plans of any of the viable candidates in the race. As predictors of performance, I’d say these early polls are probably about as useful as the seeding’s in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The race for Governor of Massachusetts has not yet entered the stage in which campaigns concentrate on ordinary voters. None of the candidates, including Steve Grossman, are expending much energy trying to increase their name recognition so as to close the present gap in the polls because doing so would be a waste of resources at this point. This election is in the organizational ramp up phase. Candidates are getting their ducks in a row right now.

The Democrats are focused on party activists and a tactically useful showing at the party’s June convention, while Charlie Baker is ramping up his campaign infrastructure for the fall campaign, Mark Fisher’s legal maneuvers notwithstanding. The relatively unchanging pecking order revealed in the polls to date tell us that the sitting Attorney General and the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee have decent statewide name recognition. These polls are not reliable measures of “the state of the race” because where there is a race at present (i.e. for Democratic nomination) the polls are surveying the wrong population. To measure the present state of the race among the Democratic candidates, we would have to measure relative support among Democratic Party activists and insiders. Obviously, the media polls to date are not doing that. In fact, they aren’t even surveying the population that will decide the nominations or the fall election yet because it’s much too early for pollsters to be able to accurately screen for “likely voters.” Some polls, like the latest UMass poll, don’t even pretend to be able to do that, polling “registered voters” instead, while others report that they are surveying “likely voters” but fail to mention how unreliable such an approach is this far out. Polling “likely voters” this early may, however, help pollsters refine their likely voter screening questions so they are ready for action in the late summer and early fall, when it counts, so to speak.

That Charlie Baker is within striking distance, on name recognition at least, with the highest visibility Democrat in the race is entirely unremarkable and Martha Coackley’s large lead in the polls belies the reality that State Treasurer Steve Grossman is out performing the AG in the state convention phase of this campaign. The first meaningful data we will have in this governor’s race will be revealed in June at the Democratic Party’s state convention. Until then, there is little reason to anticipate any meaningful change in the public polling numbers.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
This entry was posted in Mass Politics, Political Analysis in the Media and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *