The Topline: Amazon, but for Amazon HQ

With its radically open bidding process for its second headquarters, Amazon is doing to economic development what it did to retail.

Amazon, the company that disrupted bookselling and then the selling of most everything else, has thrown economic development agencies for a loop with the bidding to host their second headquarters. From the start, Amazon’s process has been out in the open — so open, in fact, that Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash learned about the opportunity not from a meeting or administrative channels, but from a newspaper headline.

That’s a far cry from the last big corporate headquarters that Ash helped lure to Massachusetts. The deal to bring General Electric to Boston was conducted quietly behind closed doors. No one outside of a handful of city and state officials knew about GE, or even that GE was looking to move, until the deal was close to complete. “Typically what happens,” Ash told the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, “is that somebody in a suit and tie makes an appointment with me and makes me sign 12 forms before they tell me what they are up to.”

There have been critics of that deal, and Boston voters in a recent WBUR poll were split on the tax breaks the city and state gave to GE. But by working behind closed doors, at least Boston officials were able to hammer out a deal without tipping their hand to other potential hosts.

By announcing their intentions widely and loudly, Amazon turned the tables on economic development officials. The HQ2 process has played out more like the competition to host an Olympic Games than a corporate headquarters, with city’s making big announcements and headline-grabbing gestures. Tuscon, Arizona sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a 21-foot cactus. The Empire State Building and other New York skyscrapers lit themselves Amazon orange in support of the bid.

Closer to home, Worcester, which has an annual city budget of $630 million, pledged $500 million in tax breaks. New Hampshire, meanwhile, trashed its southern neighbors in its bid, pitching itself as “having all the benefits of Boston without the headaches.”

Before the cacti and the cash and the trash talking, at least, Boston voters were on board with the city throwing its hat in. Two-thirds in the WBUR polls favored Boston bidding for HQ2; only 20 percent were opposed. A new WGBH poll also finds the prospect very popular. As on GE, they were split on whether the city should offer tax breaks, and by a 2-to-1 margin they wanted the bid made public. On that last point voters got their wish.

And so Boston finds itself in a no-holds-barred financial bidding war, with all its cards on the table. To beat out other cities, which Boston voters want, the city is under pressure to give Amazon more than other cities are willing to, which may amount to more than voters will stomach. And all this will unfold under the withering glare of a media spotlight, and countless tens of people on Twitter.

Public officials are walking a tightrope. They have to put their best foot forward while everyone is watching, knowing full well FOIA requests are coming and the public is waiting for a mistake. But they also need to come out fighting if they want a chance in the continent-wide hunger games Amazon has set off.

All this radical transparency may align with voters’ expressed desires, but the net effect is to tilt the process in favor of Amazon and against the bidders. There is no room for negotiation or nuance when every offer is being scrutinized in real-time.

Throwing things completely open may have already hurt Massachusetts. There are multiple cities and regions pursuing separate and overlapping bids, and the state’s own bid lists 26 different sites, from A to Z. That could be a smart way to hedge bets and give Amazon options. Or it could cause Amazon to pass over the tangle of Bay State bids entirely – but not until after cherry picking the best incentives to demand from its eventual host.

Amazon will likely have dozens of competing bids to sift through and compare. All that information gives it tremendous power to find the best deal. What Amazon has delivered to its customers shopping online it’s now figured out how to get for itself shopping for a new home.

— Hannah Chanatry and Rich Parr

MPG ICYMI: We have a podcast!

MPG’s new podcast, The Horse Race, is five episodes in, covering everything from the Boston mayor’s race, to the Third Massachusetts Congressional District, to special elections and Massachusetts trivia. In today’s episode, “One For the Money,” Democratic campaign fundraising guru and MassINC board member Sean Curran walks us through the newly released third-quarter FEC reports, and MPG president Steve Koczela plugs the plethora of polling in Massachusetts.

Subscribe and listen on iTunes, SoundCloud, and TuneIn every Friday morning.

With the State Senate debating criminal justice reform next week, it’s worth looking back at our polling on the issue, which found very low support for mandatory minimum sentences.

Our Boston mayoral poll for WBUR found a bit of a contradiction: Mayor Marty Walsh has a commanding lead, but voters are less than satisfied with many issues facing the city. The cost of housing topped voters’ list of issues, but crime and transportation were also seen as problems.

The Crosstabs

A new WGBH poll found that despite major concerns such as housing costs, likely voters enjoy living in Boston; 91 percent of voters would recommend their neighborhood to a friend, and 84 percent believe Boston to be a place “where hopes and dreams can be achieved for people like me.” The poll also echoes our mayoral race findings for WBUR.

Gallup’s three-day rolling average finds Trump’s disapproval at 59 percent, approval at 36 percent.

Gallup also finds Congress at its lowest approval level since July 2016. Independents in particular (10 percent approval) have soured on Congress over the course of this year.

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll finds 46 percent of voters think the media fabricates stories about the Trump administration.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds 64 percent of Americans say sexual harassment is a major problem; that’s a jump of 17 points since 2011. The poll also finds 54 percent of women say they’ve received inappropriate advances inside and outside their workplace; 58 percent of women who have experienced workplace harassment say they did not notify a supervisor to the incident.

HuffPost Pollster also did a post-Weinstein poll, finding that three-quarters of Americans think workplace harassment is a serious problem.

An early October Quinnipiac poll finds support for gun control at an all time high: 60/36 percent. Voters also support a ban on modifications that make semi-automatic weapons fire at automatic rates; this includes 67/29 percent in households that have a gun.

An October report released by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that Massachusetts has the highest percentage of inmates in the country over the age of 55.

A new Washington Post/UMass Lowell poll puts data behind a phenomenon we’ve all observed: sports fans can get a little…intense. The poll finds 35 percent of respondents yell at the television when watching sporting events most or all of the time.

Also in sports: TheUpshot finds Donald Trump’s flap with the NFL has turned the league into a deeply divisive brand almost overnight.

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The Topline: We’ve got a podcast!

We’re pleased to announce the launch of “The Horse Race”, a new podcast hosted by MPG President Steve Koczela and Politico’s Lauren Dezenski. As the name suggests, we’ll be focusing on campaigns and elections, particularly here in Massachusetts. We’ll also look at how developments in Washington could impact politics in the Bay State.

We’re two episodes in, so click below to get up to speed:

Episode 1: We previewed the Boston mayoral preliminary election and discussed the early entrants to the Third Congressional District. We also looked at the Republican challengers to Elizabeth Warren in 2018 and Charlie Baker’s lobbying against the Republican health care plan.

Episode 2: Our inaugural guest Gin Dumcius, who literally wrote the book on the 2013 Boston Mayoral election, joins us to recap the Boston preliminary race. Then, Steve and Lauren discuss the mayoral elections in Framingham and Lawrence, a surprisingly close City Council race in Boston, and how Amazon and Puerto Rico could rile #mapoli. Finally, the first edition of Horse Race trivia!

New episodes will be released on Friday mornings and can be found on iTunes or SoundCloud.


In Steve’s first-ever piece as a CNN contributor, he looked at the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity”, aka, the voter fraud commission, on the eve of its meeting in New Hampshire.

In an associated piece for CommonWealth Magazine, we dive into the response of Massachusetts party officials who are baffled by the commission’s fraud claims.

The Crosstabs

Boston went to the polls this week, and the results surprised nobody. Mayor Marty Walsh finished far ahead of his three challengers, piling up a 24-point margin over the second place finisher, Boston City Councillor Tito Jackson. Walsh and Jackson advance to the final election November 7.

Click through for interactive version.

The Boston Globe takes a look at Governor Charlie Baker’s persistent popularity, drawing familiar conclusions.

The FiveThirtyEight tracker finds an average of 39 percent approve of President Trump’s job performance, 55 percent disapprove.

Republicans continue to search for palatable alternatives to replacing Obamacare, and voters continue to frown on them. Quinnipiac finds the latest proposal draws 19 percent support, and just 11 percent approve of way Republicans are handling the issue.

The national debate over healthcare is mostly focused on GOP plans, but the issue of single-payer is waiting in the wings. A new Politico/Morning consult poll finds that among Democrats more support the concept than oppose it.

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds most voters see NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem as a protect directed either at police violence (48 percent) or Trump himself (40 percent), far more than those who think they are protesting the flag itself (12 percent).

In the wake of hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, a new Morning Consult/NYT poll finds that only 54 percent of Americans know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. And knowledge of citizenship status was associated with approval of aid. Eight in 10 Americans who are aware of the citizen status support aid, compared to only 4 out of 10 of those who are unaware.

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As is his wont, MPG Research Director Rich Parr has made beautifully detailed maps of the Boston Mayor’s Race. Click through for the interactive versions to see how your neighborhood voted. Or, in the case of Allston, didn’t vote. We’re looking at you, BU students on the “Isthmus of Apathy” between the Charles River and Brookline, where a whopping 12 votes were cast, for barely 1 percent turnout.

Click through for interactive version.

The Topline: Massachusetts voters fear their own Harvey.

Houston hadn’t even begun to wring itself out from Hurricane Harvey when Irma, now the most powerful storm on record in the Atlantic, began churning towards the Caribbean. Before Irma finished laying waste to the islands, Hurricane Jose lined up behind on a similar track. While it is not expected to follow Irma to Florida, it appears likely to hit some of the same islands. It’s also now a Category 4 storm. Meanwhile, Category 2 Hurricane Katia churns in the gulf right off the coast of Mexico.

L-R: Katia, Irma, Jose. Credit: CIRA RAMMB

Once-in-a-century weather events are now happening with regularity, and scientists say warming seas are supercharging storms. It’s hard to say climate change is causing these storms, but it appears to be making them worse. As usual with climate change issues, voters are not on the same page and there is a sharp partisan divide. A HuffPost/YouGov poll post-Harvey found a plurality thought climate change played a role in the Texas flooding including 77 percent of Clinton voters. About a third thought it played a not very important role or no role at all, including 76 percent of Trump voters.

Closer to home, voters are eyeing the local impacts of climate change with increasing alarm. A WBUR poll from this summer found 82 percent of voters say they are concerned that Massachusetts will experience more severe storms in the next 10 years because of climate change. Almost as many expect sea level rise and coastal flooding over the same period.

The idea of a warming planet is now almost universally accepted among the state’s voters. And for the first time, over two thirds say we are already feeling the effects of global warming. Each of these figures has grown considerably since prior polls conducted over the last 6 years.

The WBUR poll was conducted before these hurricanes, so these figures may have changed further given the constant stream of alarming news stories. But even then, Massachusetts voters perceived the growing risk of climate change; 40 percent said global warming poses an even greater long term threat to the United States than terrorism. Future polls will tell us whether these storms make climate change seem like even more of a threat.

National polling shows a similar trajectory. A March Gallup poll shows concern over climate change in the U.S. is at a three-decade high. An April Quinnipiac poll finds 66 percent of Americans are very or somewhat concerned climate change will affect them or a family member personally. 56 percent say there has been more extreme or unusual weather in recent years.

So as Houston dries out and Floridians clear out, residents of Boston and other coastal cities are left wondering if they will be next.

The Crosstabs

FiveThirtyEight has Donald Trump’s approval rating 38.5 percent in their weighted average. Gallup has him at 36 percent, up a couple points after hitting a record low of 34 percent last week.

HuffPost’s Ariel Edwards-Levy writes about a new crack in Donald Trump’s base: Obama voters who voted for Trump are much more likely to now regret their votes.

In an unexpected twist, President Trump sided with the Democrats in a vote to raise the debt ceiling through December. FiveThirtyEight’s Congress Tracker has the vote breakdown, while a HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that a majority of Trump voters would side with Trump over the congressional GOP.

Despite the conflicting messages about DACA’s future, the program remains popular with voters. An NBC/SurveyMonkey poll released days before the Trump administration announced it would rescind the program found 64 percent of Americans support it. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found 58 percent think so-called “Dreamers” should be allowed to stay, and under certain qualifications become citizens. YouGov finds that 57 percent of Trump voters want the program ended.

Sixty-four percent of Americans think immigration strengthens the United States, but there is a large partisan split.

Football season has started; sorry Pats fans! A Washington Post/ UMass Lowell poll finds that among people whose interest in football has declined, the most common cause is protests during the national anthem.

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Say what you will about Twitter — harassment swamp, giant timesuck, potential spark for nuclear war — but it has provided political and social science researchers with a wealth of new information. A study out this week looked at over half a million tweets about gun control, same-sex marriage, and climate change, and found that tweets that contained “moral-emotional” language were more likely to spread through social networks, but only among like-minded folks, as shown in the graph below. As one Twitter wag observed, maybe retweets really do equal endorsements.


Virginia voters divided on blame for Charlottesville violence

The poll of Virginia registered voters was conducted August 15-19, 2017 by The MassINC Polling Group.  (Topline, Crosstabs)

About half see at least equal blame for violence at the Charlottesville white nationalist rally. Many Virginia voters (47 percent) believe the counter protesters in Charlottesville deserve at least equal blame for the violence at last week’s white nationalist rally. President Donald Trump’s comments on this question set off a wave of condemnation from political and business leaders. But when Trump said “I think there is blame on both sides,” nearly half of Virginia voters agree with him.

Just 40 percent of Virginia voters agree that the white nationalist rally-goers were mostly to blame, nearly identical to the 41 percent who pointed to both sides. Another 6 percent mostly blame the counter-protesters, bringing the total who assign at least equal blame to the counter-protesters up to 47 percent.

Many agree with Trump on blame, but still decry his handling of Charlottesville. Though more voters agree with Trump on assigning blame for violence at the rally, just 30 percent approve of his overall handling of the incident. This includes 66 percent of Republicans, 33 percent of independents, and 3 percent of Democrats. A new ABC national poll offers some insight into this disconnect, with voters saying Trump elevates neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The ABC poll finds that 42 percent believe Trump has been “equating neo-Nazis and white supremacists with those who oppose them,” and another 23 percent are unsure. Another poll found a growing number of Americans (now 38 percent) believe Trump supports white nationalism and another 20 percent are unsure. Probably needless to say, other polls have found these groups to be politically toxic, making any such ambiguity a potentially major political liability.

Most voters are fine with keeping Confederate monuments. Virginia voters are far more likely to see Confederate monuments as symbols of Southern heritage (52 percent) rather than racism (25 percent). In keeping with this view, just 28 percent say they should be removed from public property, while 51 percent believe the monuments should stay. This is nearly identical to a recent national poll from Reuters and another from The Economist. On this issue, Virginia voters hold very similar views to the nation as a whole.

As with nearly every issue these days, views are divided by party. Democratic voters would like the statues removed (52 percent to 20 percent).  But Republicans are far more unified in saying they should stay (81 percent), and a majority of independents (57 percent) agree with them. This highlights the political hazard for Democrats of going after monuments as part and parcel of condemning white supremacists–opinion on the two issues differs greatly.

About the Poll: These results are based on a survey of 508 registered voters in Virginia. Interviews were conducted August 15-19, 2017 by live telephone interviews via both landline and cell phone using conventional registration based sampling procedures. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/- 4.4 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.


The Topline: As Tsongas bows out, does the GOP have a shot in the Third?

Massachusetts Congresswoman Niki Tsongas announced yesterday she will not run again for the seat she has held since 2007. Past election results show her seat in the Third Congressional District may be less safe for Democrats than it first appears. Though Tsongas cruised to reelection in her own recent matchups, Charlie Baker won the district by 9 points in his 2014 election, one of several Republicans to fare well there recently. With voters in Tsongas’ district showing they are open to voting Republican, her retirement adds another layer of potential intrigue to the 2018 elections here in Massachusetts.

Even apart from Baker’s success, results in other recent statewide elections suggest the open seat in the Third could be the most attractive target for the GOP in a field of longshots. Gabriel Gomez won the Third narrowly during the 2013 special election that sent Ed Markey to the Senate. Markey won it in 2014, but squeaked by with less than a 2 point margin, making it his third worst district. Even Elizabeth Warren lost it narrowly to Scott Brown in 2012, a year with presidential turnout. Both Baker and Warren will be on the ballot again next year, so their influence may shape the race in terms of turnout and the key issues of the campaign.

The Cook Political Report has declined to move the seat from its “safe D” column, underscoring the challenge facing a would-be Republican candidate. Tsongas won reelection in 2016 by 38 points, outperforming Hillary Clinton’s healthy 23-point margin there. Midterm elections tend to favor the party out of power, and Democrats have held strong leads in generic Congressional ballots going into 2018.

The Tsongas announcement has lit the political hot stove, or turned on the air conditioner, if that’s the more seasonally appropriate metaphor. Which state legislators would be willing to risk their current seats to run for a seat in a legislative body with a 16 percent approval rating? Who would trade the lack of friction in the private sector for gridlock in Washington? Nobody knows for sure, but the Beacon Hill rumor mill is churning out names faster than we can write them down.

With Tsongas leaving, there is a chance that Massachusetts’ female representation in Congress could dip even lower. Currently, it stands at an all-time high of three members (Tsongas, Warren, and Katherine Clark in the Fifth). Democrats may feel pressure to nominate a woman to carry on where Tsongas left off.

We agree with the Cook political report that early odds are the Third will remain in Democratic hands, continuing their streak of 110 Massachusetts Congressional elections since 1996 (Senate excluded). But recent elections suggest the right candidate, seizing on the right issues, could make it an interesting race.

The Crosstabs

A new poll out today is stirring controversy. Two researchers writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog found that half of Republican voters would support President Trump postponing the 2020 election over concerns about voter fraud. A similar percentage think Trump won the popular vote. (He did not.)

Monkey Cage has a good reputation for wonky social science research, but critics have noted that preceding questions about voter fraud may have “primed” respondents to answer the way their did.

A CNN poll shows 62 percent of Americans consider North Korea a very serious threat, a jump of 16 points since March.

A CBS poll finds 61 percent are uneasy about Trump’s ability to handle the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program.

Overall, Trump’s approval numbers continue to sag. FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracker has his most recent rates at 37 percent approval, 57 percent disapproval.

FiveThirtyEight is now tracking the generic ballot for the 2018 Congressional elections, applying the same weights and adjustments they use in their Trump approval tracking.

A new Quinnipiac poll shows white voters without college degrees, a key demographic in Trump’s election, disapprove of the job he is doing, (50 percent to 43 percent approve). As his poll numbers have dipped, Trump tweets have slammed polls even harder than usual.

Survey Monkey took this a step further and asked why people answered the way they did, then broke the open-ended comments down by party and education level.

The American people support allowing transgender soldiers to serve (68 percent, versus 27 percent oppose), including 55 percent among military families.

A HuffPost/YouGov poll taken immediately after the resignation of Anthony Scaramucci finds 52 percent of Americans think the number of senior officials who have lost or left their jobs is unusually high.

Pew finds that Democrats and Republicans are split on the watchdog role of the media, a dramatic change from last year. In 2016, there was little partisan split, with three-quarters of Democrats and Republicans approving of the media playing such a role. Now, only 42 percent of Republicans approve, compared to 89 percent of Democrats.

Gallup has similar findings on a broader scale, noting that public opinion on a number of issues – not just the traditional hot buttons of immigration, gun control, and climate change – is becoming more and more polarized.

Pew finds Americans pretty evenly split as to whether life in America is better for people like them now compared to 50 years ago. But Republicans are feeling more optimistic since last year, and Democrats less so.

In a separate survey, Pew finds American Muslims proud to be Americans and believing in the American dream, but increasingly concerned about discrimination and the President’s view towards them.

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The opposite of a pollster is a carwasher, per a nifty and hilarious tool from TheUpshot. Apparently we pollsters don’t need “trunk strength.” Time to deadlift some crosstabs. Or curl them. Or whatever you do to increase “trunk strength.” OK, yeah, that’s why we’re pollsters and not car washers. On the other hand, doing face-to-face interviews is a great way to boost your step count.


The Topline: No magic pill on repeal and replace

Let’s just say it. There is no popular replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Republicans in Congress have railed against Obamacare since its passage in 2010, and held frequent votes to repeal it in the intervening years. But after 6 months of unified control of the House, Senate, and White House, one thing is crystal clear. To pass a replacement package, they will need to do a larger version of what Democrats did in 2010: ignore the polls.

On the day Obamacare was passed, polls showed an average of 42 percent support, with 50 percent opposed. Some polls dipped as low as 30 percent in favor. One could argue the bill cost cost the Democrats a Senate seat even before it passed, when Scott Brown shocked the world by beating Martha Coakley here in Massachusetts in January 2010. Post-election polls found Bay State voters rated health care as the most important issue in deciding their vote.

Source: Huffington Post Pollster

Republicans are facing a similar challenge, though arguably more severe as their replacement proposals have so far been even less popular. Even in the midst of the battle to pass Obamacare, the ACA never plumbed the murky depths of fetid public distaste where the GOP replacements are currently fermenting. Polls covering various iterations of the repeal and replace proposals have found support ranging in the teens and twenties. A new poll shows Americans are ready for Congress to drop repeal altogether and move on.

But the solution is the same, if Republicans believe their proposal is either good policy or destined to become more popular. Democrats put their shoulder to the plow, and passed a bill with weak public support. And in the intervening years, the public has grown to like the bill more, especially in terms of the specifics. People have become accustomed to the new realities the bill brought about. Strong majorities like the key provisions such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, the Medicaid expansion, and others, even if they didn’t understand them at first.

If Republicans believe in their proposals, they face a similar challenge of voting for a bill which will only pay off down the road. The alternative explanation is not flattering — that  they are looking for a replacement simply for a political win and to fulfill a campaign promise, though the underlying policy is bad.

Another possibility is Republicans pare back their ambitions to only repealing unpopular parts of the law with no replacement package. The so-called “skinny repeal” would do away with the mandates for individuals to buy insurance and for companies to provide insurance to their employees. (It would also repeal a tax on medical devices.) Removing these mandates may be popular in the short term, but doing so would undercut the other popular elements of the Affordable Care Act and appears likely to damage the insurance market.

Skinny repeal would deal with the tradeoff between good policy and popular policy by making policy that is both bad and likely to end up unpopular. While the individual mandate has always been the least popular part of the ACA, it is the glue that holds the rest together, as representatives of the insurance industry and a bipartisan group of governors have pointed out.

If Republicans are confident Americans will grow to love the Obamacare replacement, or that it is better for other reasons, they should take a stiff drink, put their grownup pants on, and prepare to vote for an unpopular bill. Or, if they think skinny repeal will remain popular as its effects are more broadly felt, they can vote for that too. There are plenty of instances where ignoring the polls is the right decision. Substituting elected leaders’ judgment for voters’ whims is fundamental to a representative democracy.

Voters will have their say later in 2018 and 2020, just as they did in 2010 after the ACA passed. The Democrats found themselves on the wrong side of a 63 seat swing in the House of Representatives. There were other major factors, for sure, but it’s clear reactions to health care reform played a starring role in the electoral wipeout. Democrats who voted for the ACA in 2010 lost between 5 and 15 points of support, depending on the estimate.

We don’t know if a final bill will ever take shape or what it might include. As of press time, it appears skinny repeal in the Senate may be a starting point for negotiations with the House rather than the final policy target, though even that is not clear. Whatever the final proposal, if replacing the Affordable Care Act is the chosen course, it will take backbone. There is no magic solution waiting to be discovered.


Non-white voters in Massachusetts and across the country are much more concerned about climate change. Steve Koczela digs in for WBUR.

The Crosstabs

Gallup shows President Donald Trump with 39 percent approval, while 56 percent disapprove of the job he is doing, for a -17 net approval rating.

FiveThirtyEight has a nifty tool that tracks how Trump’s average approval rating compares with past presidents. Here is what they are seeing.

Source: FiveThirtyEight

Huffpollster’s Ariel Edwards-Levy points out that, in a rarely seen pollster eclipse, right leaning Rasmussen Reports shows Trump a whisker more negative than Gallup, with a -18 net approval rating.

Donald Trump announced via Twitter this week that transgendered people would no longer be able to serve in the military. There is very little polling on this specific issue, but this is likely to change soon. Specific rights for transgendered people is an issue much less settled than same sex marriage and one where fewer people have direct experience. In a 2016 CNN poll, just 14 percent reported having a family member or personal friend who is transgendered, compared to 58 percent who said the same of gay or lesbian people.

The Pew Research Center released their 2017 survey of American Muslims. Definitely read it. “U.S. Muslims Concerned About Their Place in Society, but Continue to Believe in the American Dream.”

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Tip of the hat to The Pollsters podcast for flagging Gallup’s annual poll on Americans’ favorite alcoholic beverages. But whereas Margie and Kristen focused on the demographic gaps between wine and beer drinkers, our eyes were drawn to the sharp uptick in the preference for hard liquor. This year, 26 percent of Americans said they turn straight to the hard stuff, up from 20 percent in 2016. We can’t help but wonder: have some outside events driven the shift? Alas, Gallup doesn’t have breakdowns by political party, so there’s not an easy way to test our theory. Perhaps if someone from there is reading this, they can share the crosstabs. We’ll buy the next round.


The Topline: The Independence of Independents

Party leaders, consultants look for ways to win on new landscape.

The ranks of political independents continue to swell in Massachusetts, while the number of Democrats and Republicans remains roughly steady. Younger voters are choosing to remain “unenrolled” when they register to vote, rather than choosing a political party. The result is an increasing tilt toward the “unenrolled,” as they are called here, who now make up 55 percent of the state’s voter rolls. We looked at the numbers in “It’s not my party, but I’ll vote if I want to,” appearing in the new summer issue of CommonWealth.

Key people within the two major parties reacted with mostly ambivalence about the direction of the trend, largely focusing on the practical realities of winning in a state with fewer registered partisans. Both parties were quick to point out that campaigns have plenty of data other than party registration, allowing them to identify likely supporters.

“The MassGOP has invested heavily in data tools that allow Republican candidates to target voters and build winning coalitions using information that extends well beyond partisan identification,” said Terry MacCormack, a spokesman for the state Republican Party.

Robert Cohen, vice president of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts, also minimized the importance of a decline in party registration. “I don’t see it as an extreme problem,” he said. “I’ve seen people come out and support a candidate or work for a campaign, but be unenrolled. Whatever might in the past have pushed them towards a party now pushed them towards a set candidate.”

And when campaigns get underway, wishing for different numbers won’t change anything. “It’s the state of the world in which we live, and we will continue to make do with the facts in the world as they are,” said Jay Cincotti, a Democratic consultant who recently served a stint as executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. “My job as a campaign operative is to win a race in that moment. Gnashing my teeth about the decline in partisanship doesn’t help me win that race.”

Benjamin Rajadurai, chairman of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans, sees the rise of unenrolled voters as an opportunity for his party. “It helps us in Massachusetts,” he said. “Voters don’t need to identify with a party, but with a specific candidate. Even if they’re not enrolled, we can identify them. It’s not just about party ID. It’s about values and issues.”

A rise in truly non-partisan voters would likely be helpful to the Massachusetts GOP, given the Democrats’ advantage in party registration and self-identification. But the rise in unenrolled voters only means fewer are formally aligned with a party. Even unenrolled voters and who call themselves independents in a poll will reveal a partisan leaning when pressed, a point Cohen underscores. “We all know the trend has been ongoing, but people who are independent but lean generally vote the same way as people who are strictly partisan,” he said.

The exceptions to partisan voting habits are important, and have given the Republican Party a firm grip on the governorship since 1991, interrupted only by Deval Patrick. Other than in the corner office, the increase in unenrolled voters has brought little change to the party composition of the state’s elected officials.

Even so, Rajadurai remains hopeful that personality can overcome party leanings with younger voters moving forward. “Go into any classroom, you’ll see people on either side of the aisle, and they’re unenrolled,” he said. “I think if we’ve seen anything in the past few years, voters are fed up with the status quo, they think the system is broken. I think the party that can see this and capitalize on this will win, and continue to win.”

Massachusetts will be treated to a field experiment in the independence of independents in 2018, as the popular leaders of both parties seek reelection. Both will run up huge majorities in their own party, and will look to unenrolled voters to help carry them to victory. Sen. Elizabeth Warren can rely more on Democrats’ 3-to-1 advantage in voter registration, and just needs to keep the margin among independents from getting too wide. Gov. Charlie Baker has said he is targeting 60 percent of independents, as well as a healthy share of Democrats.

The upshot? If both Baker and Warren win reelection, it will be because some sizeable share of independents split their tickets, voting for the Democrat for Senate and the Republican for governor. You can chalk some of that up to the power of incumbency, but it will also show that a consequential slice of independents are not partisans in disguise but really are, as Cohen and Rajadurai assert, voting for the candidate and not the party.

— Steve Koczela and Hannah Chanatry

This article was also published on CommonWealth Magazine.


WBUR poll: Massachusetts voters concerns about climate change have increased sharply over the last few years.

WBUR poll: Governor Charlie Baker and Senator Elizabeth Warren both start strong, heading into their reelection campaigns.

MPG President Steve Koczela looks at the impact of both an income tax hike and a sales tax rollback both potentially making the 2018 ballot.


The Gallup daily tracker shows Trump at 40 percent job approval, with 55 percent disapproving, edging up slightly after coming close to all time lows. FiveThirtyEight (39-55) and Huffpollster (41-56) show similar figures.

Trump is doing less well globally. Just 22 percent of respondents to Pew’s 2017 Global Attitudes Survey have at least some confidence in Trump, up slightly from before he took office. In every country surveyed except Israel and Russia, views of Trump were more negative than President Obama at the end of his term.

Recent revelations about Russia haven’t changed many people’s minds about Trump, per polling from the Huffington Post. But these aren’t the most recent revelations, a perennial challenge facing pollsters in this era of the hourly news cycle.

Back in the states, Pew’s Center for People and the Press found sharp partisan splits in views of major institutions, including the media and higher education.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a 15 percent approval rating, in a poll conducted after “Beachgate”. That’s almost a record low for a sitting governor.

Come for the job approval, stay for the word cloud about Christie’s July 4th beach outing.

The Senate health care plan, is just as unpopular as the bill that passed the House. Huffpollster rounded up the polling.

Finally, SSRS surveyed Americans on their favorite ice cream habits: flavors, toppings, cup versus cone. A majority (55 percent) of you like ice cream in a bowl. Seriously. We at MPG are in the cone minority. Don’t @ us.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Nerd Alert Tearline – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

Steve found a conference even nerdier than AAPOR, and is headed to Marrakesh for the World Statistics Congress. He’ll be presenting “A systems thinking approach to addressing survey data fabrication,” a new angle on an issue he has written about in the past. Don’t hide your FOMO, we know.


The Topline: The Trump administration is not poll-driven

Say what you will about the Trump administration — and with disapproval in the Gallup daily tracker hitting 60 percent last week, people have a lot to say — but they are not committing that cardinal political “sin” of governing by poll. In fact, they frequently seem fully committed to the opposite: finding the popular route and going the other way.


Gallup daily presidential approval poll, 3-day average.

Ditching the polls has long been a key part of Trump’s brand and appeal to his base of voters, who see him as different than other politicians who talk in measured, focus-grouped soundbites.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump famously scoffed at others for hiring pollsters, although he later brought one in and made another (KellyAnne Conway) his third and final campaign manager. His poll cherry picking became so infamous that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull included it in his impersonation of Trump that leaked this week.

Since he became president, polls have not shown much good news for Trump, and he has mostly had little to say about them. But it’s in the arena of policy where the Trump administration’s apparent disregard for the polls is most apparent. A wide reading of the polls show Trump and his administration consistently taking the less popular path.

Medical marijuana – Recent polls have shown medical marijuana among the very few issues where Americans are nearly unanimous in their support. Polls have found support between 83 and 93 percent over the last few months. While Republicans are more likely than Democrats to oppose medical marijuana, they still want to keep it legal, by a margin of 70 percent to 26 percent in a recent Yahoo / Marist poll. Even on recreational marijuana, which Sessions has also targeted for increased federal enforcement, he is swimming against a growing wave of public sentiment in favor of legalization.

Healthcare – Opinion on the American Health Care Act is perhaps the most poignant example of going against public opinion. Trump pushed the House to pass the bill, and celebrated its passage in the Rose Garden, before telling Senators he thought it was “mean” and hoped the Senate version would be less so. As Senate Republicans work out their own version behind closed doors, support remains very low, averaging 29 percent in recent national polls. The New York Times’ Upshot estimates that opinion is tilted against the AHCA in all 50 states.


Climate change – On climate, polls have shown majorities of Americans believe climate change is real and at least partially man-made, and they oppose Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Budget matters – Voters perennially support cutting “wasteful spending,” but Pew polling finds that, when pressed, most don’t actually want to cut much other than foreign aid. Even so, the Trump administration approach to the budget has been more has been more meat ax than scalpel.

Twitter – A recent Morning Consult/Politico tracking poll shows 69 percent think Trump uses Twitter too much. Even many of his own supporters wish he would cool it.

Not governing by polls is a time-honored claim of politicians, even as they pour over crosstabs behind the scenes. There’s a reason they do: polls help politicians get reelected. They also help leaders understand the views and wishes of their constituents, even if they choose a less popular course. Whether Trump is truly ignorant of what polls say, or if he is aware but choosing to ignore it, his policy strategy seems to be to do the exact opposite of what the public says it wants.


CommonWealth MagazineDissecting Baker’s stance on millionaire’s tax.

“Governor Charlie Baker hasn’t formally said he’s against the so-called ‘Fair Share’ ballot question, but the totality of his public comments and statements from his office certainly suggest more opposition than support. He points to tepid, 1 to 2 percent income growth as evidence the state needs to ‘continue to live within our means.’

“But this argument, focused on the average growth rate, masks a major disparity between the highest earners, who would be subject to the proposed tax, and everyone else who would not. Income gains in recent years have been heavily skewed toward those at the top of the economic ladder.”



As mentioned above, Donald Trump hit a record 60 percent disapproval in Gallup’s daily tracker last week. Gallup’s Frank Newport notes he also hit a new low in approval in the poll’s weekly average.

WaPost’s Philip Bump looks at the latest polling and thinks it’s getting close to crisis mode for the Trump administration.

But Trump is holding Chris Christie’s beer as he plumbs the depths of terrible approval ratings. A recent Quinnipiac poll finds New Jersey voters disapprove of his performance 81 to 15 percent. Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight says this is the fifth worst poll of all time for a sitting governor.

Meanwhile, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds that Barack Obama’s approval numbers have gone up since he left office.

Last month, we ran a Topline looking at Jon Ossoff’s primary run. The runoff is next Tuesday, and  polls have him in a dead heat against Republican Karen Handel.

Your pastor is probably partisan, according to a new study. The New York Times report breaks down the findings by denomination, location, gender, and age.

Our polling partner, WBUR, has a new podcast! Ron Suskind and Heather Cox Richardson will look at the national political landscape through a historical lens in Freak Out and Carry On.

The snap elections British Prime Minister Theresa May called snapped back on her, resulting in a hung parliament. Nate Silver argues that the surprise result was not entirely surprising, in part because British polls have been so inaccurate in the past.

Online pollster YouGov had mixed results predicting the final margin, but their seat-by-seat model was one of the few to predict a hung parliament. Here’s their post mortem.

YouGov used a method called Multi-level Regression and Post-stratisfication (MRP), which uses statistics to predict local results from national polling and demographics. (It’s the same method The Upshot used for the 50-state health care poll cited in the lede above.) The Monkey Cage blog has an explanation of MRP, which showed promise in the 2016 presidential election, as well.

Finally, a disturbing number of Americans think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

——————————–NERD ALERT RIP——————————-

We come to bury Huffpollster, and to praise it.

The Huffington Post announced a round of layoffs this week, including one of the two remaining staff members working on the HuffPollster site. The remaining editor, Ariel Edwards-Levy, announced the site will stop aggregating poll data other than Donald Trump’s approval rating and the 2018 generic congressional ballot. Ariel will also continue to produce some polling and analysis, but this narrowed scope is a big blow for anyone who cares about polling and politics.

In its heyday, HuffPollster aggregated and tracked essentially every state and national race that had a decent amount of polling, and even many local races like the 2013 Boston Mayoral contest. The wealth of polling data this poll tracking produced was a boon to pollsters and researchers and spawned many research and news articles over the years, including some by your loyal correspondents. The site started as the Mystery Pollster blog in 2004, then became Pollster.com, and was acquired by The Huffington Post in 2010.

We hope Huffington Post will reconsider, or find a new home for the site, the terrific analysis for which it is known, and the reams of valuable data it houses.


The Topline: Left turn ahead? Team Baker looks to reshape coalition for re-election bid.

As Charlie Baker accelerates toward his re-election season, he may have just flipped on his left blinker. If the strategy he shared with donors in a recent meeting is any indication, his campaign may be an even more cross-partisan affair than his governing has been. The Boston Globe reports that in a meeting of his finance committee, “the governor said he must draw nearly a third of Democrats and almost 60 percent of independents.”

If Baker were to win a third of Democrats, it would be a legitimate political earthquake. That would represent nearly twice as big a share of Democrats as Republicans have gotten in recent contests. The target for Democratic support may have been set high, just like the reported goal of raising a staggering $30 million for the 2018 bid. In 2014, Baker won just 18 percent of Democrats in his winning bid, almost identical to Senator Scott Brown’s 17 percent in his 2010 special election. Win or lose, this tends to be the range competitive Republicans fall into in Massachusetts. Baker, in his unsuccessful 2010 bid for governor, and Gabriel Gomez in his 2013 senate loss to Ed Markey, also earned Democratic support in the mid-teens.

Baker’s target is ambitious, but it makes a certain amount of sense, given his poll numbers. Key to Baker’s consistently strong polling has been the strength of his cross-partisan support. A recent poll from The Novus Group showed Baker is just as popular among Democrats (66 percent favorable) as he is among Republicans (65 percent favorable). This echoes many of our own polls of late, some of which even show Baker doing better among Democrats.

Aiming more toward the center also compensates for Baker’s potential weakness on the right. Among the Massachusetts registered Republicans, Donald Trump is more popular (79 percent favorable) than is Baker. Baker has had a deeply uncomfortable relationship with Trump since the campaign, and has chastised the administration for policies at odds with his own.

Chasing Trump’s core supporters to improve his numbers among Republicans would be perilous for Baker. Just 35 percent of Massachusetts votes approve of Trump’s job performance, so there is relatively little to gain. And seeking to curry favor with Trump’s base would likely cut into the Democratic support Baker currently enjoys. There are more than three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans in Massachusetts. Winning close to a third of Democrats would mean Baker could lose a good chunk of Republican votes and still be successful.

It could be that Baker just wants a comfortable margin and is aiming above where he needs to be. Or it could be he is anticipating losing votes on the right, and needs to make up the difference in the middle. Especially if Baker faces a third party challenge on the right (not unheard of lately), he may need a larger chunk of the Democratic vote than Republicans typically receive.

The Democratic Party, for its part, is not doing much to prevent Baker from siphoning off their voters. In an interview already causing heartburn on the left, House Speaker Robert DeLeo would not commit to voting for the eventual Democratic candidate for governor next year. DeLeo told WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller over the weekend: “I think I want to see exactly who that nominee will be. I still think it’s a little bit early, in terms of thinking about next year’s race. So right now I just wanna see, wait and see attitude.”

Baker’s strategy of courting Democrats is not without risk. If the Democrats find a compelling candidate, or coalesce around one of the current challengers, Baker may find his coalition pinched on both the left and the right. Party alignment and identification have been powerful forces in recent election cycles. Reaction to the Trump presidency — and, potentially, Trump’s state co-chair Geoff Diehl on the Senate ballot — may reinforce partisan tribalism next year.

So keep an eye on how Baker does among Democrats in future polls. Those numbers will give a hint whether Baker’s brand of bipartisanship is enough to steer him around the obstacles he faces on the road to reelection.


MPG’s President Steve Koczela joined WBUR’s Morning Edition with Bob Oakes to talk Trump’s approval numbers and his core supporters at the beginning of Trump’s first trip abroad.

Writing for CommonWealth, Steve Koczela and Rich Parr looked at how Trump’s approval numbers stack up with Nixon’s during the Watergate scandal. Despite starting from a lower number than Nixon, Trump’s ratings may not sink as low, because the political and media landscape is so much more polarized today than it was in the 1970s.


Trump’s budget proposes deep cuts to programs like Medicaid. According to research conducted by Pew, despite sweeping claims of reining in budgets, Americans don’t like budget cuts when asked about the specific programs being affected.

A recent Gallup report shows that 25 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 plan to rely on social security when they retire. This is nearly double the percentage reported in 2007.

The Congressional Budget Office released their score of the American Health Care Act, projecting 23 million fewer Americans will have health insurance coverage. Polls have found the new version of the bill remains deeply unpopular.

FiveThirtyEight graphed the anticipated coverage loss, and compared it to projections for the current law.


Despite mostly negative headlines, Trump’s foreign trip didn’t change much in his polling. His approval ratings wither either steady throughout or even up slightly.

But Nate Silver looked a little more closely at Trump’s “strong approval” rating, and found evidence that his base may be shrinking. (We noted this phenomenon in our piece for CommonWealth last week.)

Push may have come to shove for Trump at his NATO meeting, but Pew finds the alliance is viewed more favorably, both in Europe and in North America.

Meanwhile, tourism to the US from foreign countries is down 11 percent since the election.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Jon Ossoff and the Georgia 6th Special Election. Ossoff won the first round by came just shy of 50 percent of the vote, triggering a runoff against Republican Karen Handel. The most recent poll shows Ossoff ahead by 7 points.

Yahoo Sports looks at the aftermath of the Rio Olympics, where even the medals given out to athletes are falling apart. MPG’s polling for WBUR showed why Boston passed on the Olympics.

Chris Dempsey of No Boston Olympics and Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist have written a first-hand account of the Boston 2024 proposal. CommonWealth has an excerpt and a podcast, and the WBUR poll gets several extended mentions.

——————————————Nerd Alert Tearline ————————————————

MPG President Steve Koczela attended the main national  pollster convention (AAPOR) this year, which included a whole session on polling using voter lists rather than dialing random telephone numbers. We have been using this method for a considerable share of our polling since our founding in 2010. This year’s conference included much more content on so-called “registration-based sampling.” A total of 6 percent of battleground state polls used the method, and per the AAPOR chart below produced slightly more accurate estimates than the more random digit dial (RDD) method.




The Topline: Massachusetts voters ready for major changes to state criminal justice system

During his 1990 campaign, Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld famously declared he would “reintroduce prisoners to the joys of busting rocks”. That tough-on-crime stance was in keeping with the times. But now, Massachusetts voters are the ones ready to break new ground, calling for major shifts in the state’s criminal justice system. Most would like the system to emphasize prevention and rehabilitation; instead voters see the current system as focusing more on punishment, and making ex-inmates more likely to reoffend.

When Weld originally promised to make prison harsh and bleak, the nation was in the grips of a crime wave, and states were responding with long mandatory sentences for a variety of offenses. Just two years removed from the Willie Horton ad that some say helped sink Michael Dukakis’s presidential bid, Weld’s stance was politically smart.infographic

But good politics don’t always make for good policy. The public has seen the impact of the tough-on-crime era, and the tide of opinion has since turned. With those long mandatory sentences came a swelling prison populations, and corrections budgets soared. Even so, the policy shifts did little to prevent former inmates from reoffending when they got out. Massachusetts has seen its incarceration rate more than triple since 1980.

A generation later, many states are adopting a new approach the focuses more preventing crime, rehabilitating criminals so they don’t reoffend when released, and sending drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. Even the old prosecutor Weld now favors of the new approach; in 2015, he spoke in favor of diverting drug criminals to treatment at a reform rally on the National Mall.

A new MassINC poll out today shows Massachusetts voters are ready to implement similar reforms to what other states are doing. At every stage of the criminal justice system, from the “front end” where criminals are sentenced for crimes to the “back end” when they are released back into society, voters see room for improvement. That’s noteworthy because the leading legislation being considered on Beacon Hill focus mostly on the back end of the system, when ex-inmates are released. It does little to address the way they are sentenced.

Other key figures from the poll:

  • 62% support sealing misdemeanor records after 3 years instead of 5-year wait.
  • 65% support sealing a felony record after 7 years, instead of the current 10-year wait.
  • 60% support raising the felony theft threshold from $250 to $1,500 so that petty theft does not result in a long-lasting criminal record
  • 50% think people should not be responsible for supervision and court fees if they do not earn enough money to afford the payments.
  • Just 8% say mandatory minimums are preferable to other sentencing policies

Opinion on this extends beyond liberal drum circles. Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters all want major changes to the criminal justice system, and support a variety of reforms. Democrats are more enthusiastic than others on certain issues, but majorities of all 3 groups support most of the reforms we tested. Nearly  every issue splits along party lines these days, but on criminal justice there is room for common ground. Indeed, in other states, Republicans have led the way on criminal justice reform, looking for ways to save money.


The MassINC Polling Group and WBUR have renewed our partnership through June 2018. This continues the longest and most successful media polling relationship in Massachusetts. There will be a lot to do. We will be tracking public opinion on key policy issues and preparing for some major elections. It appears 2018 could be a blockbuster year in Massachusetts politics, with Senator Warren and Governor Baker facing reelection, and several potentially contentious ballot questions for voters to decide. Thanks to WBUR and their listeners; without their support, none of this would be possible.

Speaking of ballot questions, the 2016 election saw the defeat of Question 2, which would have lifted the state’s cap on charter schools. Representatives from both sides of the issue came together last Thursday to discuss takeaways in terms of communications and messaging. Steve Koczela talked about how public opinion shifted from strong support for the question early to a bigger-than-predicted loss.


President Donald Trump’s approval rating remains historically low.

Politico ran its fourth annual survey of the White House press corps. “While 68 percent of them think Trump is the most openly anti-press president in U.S. history, 75 percent said they see Trump’s attacks against the media as more of a distraction than a threat.”

Quinnipiac finds the “generic ballot” (pollster-speak for which party’s candidate you would support for Congress) is leaning to the left by an eye-popping 16-point margin. Most polls show a preference for Democrats on this question, but with narrower margins. Our advice? Check back in a while.

PRRI and the Atlantic find cultural anxiety and partisan identity among the white working class drove more votes to Trump than the much-discussed economic anxiety.

Voters have not warmed to Trumpcare (or whatever we’re supposed to call it) – a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll finds voters tilted against the provision that allows states to opt-out of requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.

The politics of repealing and replacing the ACA were already thorny, and are still getting harder. Following the vote, the Cook Political Report shifted their prognostications for 20 congressional districts to categories more favorable to the Democrats

In the wake of the March for Science, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that trust in science has, like everything in life, become a partisan issue. Fifty-four percent of Democrats have “a lot” of trust in science, compared to 13 percent of Republicans.

Internationally, Emmanuel Macron decisively won the French Election last sunday, by 32-percentage points. French pollsters got the results right but underestimated the margin.

The Pew Research Center has come out with its newest statistical portrait of immigrants in the United States.

—————————————————–Nerd Alert——————————————————–

Jazzfest, meet SPSS-fest. Next weekend the nation’s largest gathering of polling nerds will descend on New Orleans at the AAPOR conference to do what pollsters do in New Orleans: attend dozens of consecutive PowerPoint presentations and argue over the appropriate uses of non-probability sampling while other people party in other places. At least there will be “applied probability” (pollster speak for the annual poker tournament).