Globe Poll: So Much Data, So Little Context

Conflict and controversy are marketable media commodities and stability is just plain boooooorrrring. Thus we have Sunday’s Boston Globe story based on the newspaper’s poll showing that if Martha Coakley loses to Charlie Baker in November it might be attributed to disloyal Democratic followers of Steve Grossman.

It might be more informative to explore why some races (2014 primaries thus far, Patrick-Baker contest in 2010) are so stable but as I said, stability is boooooorrrring.

Where an election post-mortem has always been a ritual around here the weekly Boston Globe poll now gives us the opportunity for election pre-mortems. The Globe’s Sunday theory is that if Charlie Baker overcomes Martha Coakley’s persistent lead in the polls, Baker should thank Democratic candidate Steve Grossman, whose voters seem primed to vote Baker over Coakley.

At least Grossman gets blamed this time, and not Coakley’s purported poor campaigning skills. Whoops. No, her campaigning mistakes from 2010 are being partly blamed for the defection of Grossman voters. Let no campaign narrative go reported without returning to the Myth of Martha’s Mistakes.

There are other contexts that go unreported though. Why has the Democratic primary race been so stable? This seems hugely disappointing to some in the media who would like to break up the lazy hazy crazy days of summer with a dramatic primary. (Not to mention Democratic delegates whose strong feelings for Grossman and Berwick as yet go unnoticed by the Democratic electorate).  Is the Globe story an indication that the paper of record has given up on the primary and is turning to the general already?

On the topic of stability, could Coakley’s persistent 2014 advantage over Baker be like 2010, when Governor Deval Patrick held a stable lead over Baker throughout the year? Do the frustrated Democrats who are Baker’s target usually return to their partisan home?

In May 2010 Patrick was ahead of Baker and never gave up that advantage, though it did close somewhat; all that despite some fairly gruesome job approval and direction of the state numbers. Why?

As I’ve mentioned before, Professor Dan Hopkins work on gubernatorial races in recent years has found them as partisan as presidential contests within the states. In other words, a Democrat (like Patrick) has a bigger advantage in a Democratic state than previously recognized, as does a Republican in a GOP state.

Who are these potential Democratic and Independent voters for Baker anyway? Are Grossman voters really going to abandon their party for Baker? Well, one function of campaigns is to remind partisans why they prefer their party to the other. In the October 24, 2010 Globe poll Patrick was winning only 71% of Democrats, in a MassInc Polling Group post-election poll 79% of Democrats reported voting for the Governor. In the Globe’s October 29, 2014 poll Elizabeth Warren was being backed by 72% of Democrats. According to exit polls, 89% of Democrats voted for her. Should Coakley prevail in the primary it is likely that Grossman, a true party man, will immediately endorse her and turn on Baker.

According to the MPG post-election poll in 2010, Baker received the votes of 50% of Independents. Brown got 59% in the 2012 exit poll. So the Independent vote is important but we don’t know much about it. For instance, nationally in presidential elections, Independent leaners vote nearly as partisan as party registrants, and only about 10% are truly independent Independents. That doesn’t seem to track here, but we just don’t know. It would seem reasonable to expect that some percent of Independents always vote Democratic here, some vote Republican, and some are true independent Independents. But how many, and who are they?

If you have read this far you might be thinking, this guy has many questions and few answers. Booooorrring. If so I promise an upcoming post in which I predict that Martha Coakley’s November defeat will be caused by John Silber.



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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