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.
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4 Responses to Early Guv Race Polls Survey the Wrong Population

  1. Tim says:


    Are any of the “dark horse” Democratic candidates such as Berwick, Kayyem, or Avellone viable at this point. In the past underdog candidates that have been successful such as Deval Patrick have broken out by now. Clearly there is the example of Robert Reich who broke out late but then again Reich wasn’t actually “successful.” My personal feeling right now is Don Berwick is probably headed down the same road as Reich at this point while Kayyem is probably using this race as a launching board for something else in politics.

    • jerold says:


      Your personal feelings are very intutively plausible.

    • Christopher says:

      Berwick is getting a lot of traction among the very progressive. Avellone is the one most likely to not get past the convention. The campaigns all agree that Grossman is leading among elected delegates, but the add-ons could change things up. We may be in for some surprises at convention.

      • Tim says:

        But is their room for both Kayyem AND Berwick. While I would say Kayyem is not nearly as progressive as Berwick the two of them are effectively splitting up the left of center/outsider part of the party preventing even the level of unification Robert Reich got. See, for example Kayyem getting the endorsement of the College Democrats a group that conceivably Berwick would have wanted an endorsement from too.

        I also have to wonder if Berwick’s candidacy was on such a great track going forward why did his campaign manager leave. My biggest personal objection to Berwick notwithstanding the face I actually do like and respect him personally is the face he is very much in the mold of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin who I am not sure is a viable political mold for Massachusetts.

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