The Topline: Runoff Your Ossoff

For a brief moment last night, it looked like Democratic candidate and Han Solo cosplayer Jon Ossoff might just clear the 50-percent-plus-one-vote hurdle to win the Georgia’s 6th Congressional district outright. Instead, he topped the 18-candidate field with 48.1 percent of the vote, setting up a June runoff election against second place finisher Republican Karen Handel.

Ossoff’s voteshare is pretty close to the 46 percent he was polling in the surveys conducted closest to election day. So while pundits parse the meaning of the result, pollsters can take a small and much needed victory lap, after doing very well at pegging the candidate order and overall performance.

President Donald Trump, who tweeted and robo-called himself into the final news cycle of the race took credit for victory. But it’s not at all clear that holding a Democrat to 48 percent in this specific district is a positive outcome for Trump and the GOP. How exactly to measure the outcome depends on your yardstick. Compared to the last congressional race, Ossoff’s performance looks terrific. Now-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price won the Georgia 6th by more than 20 points in November 2016, and by 32 points in 2014. But Trump won the district by just 1.5 points, so comparing yesterday’s outcome to presidential vote totals makes it seem less surprising.

All that together with another special election adds up to what appears to us to be a good sign for Democrats. Republican Ron Estes won the Kansas 4th Congressional district, which Trump won by 27 points, by only 7 points. Now-CIA director Mike Pompeo won the seat in November by 31 points, and in 2014 by 34. But special elections are not fully predictive of how the midterms could shape up. And the split nature of the Georgia and Kansas results — big Democratic gains compared to past congressional elections, but still falling short of the goal — gives both sides rhetorical ammunition.

The next tea leaves will come out west, in next month’s special election for Montana’s At-Large Congressional seat, which was vacated when Ryan Zinke became Secretary of the Interior, and then in the Georgia runoff in June. If Democrats manage a win in one or both of those seats, it would be a surer sign of a blue wave building. But for now, chalk the Georgia 6th up as a likely hopeful sign for Democrats, but with enough ambiguity to keep cable news talking heads busy for months.


Our latest poll for WBUR came out last week. It focused in on the 50 towns in Central Massachusetts won by Donald Trump, and his voters there, at least, are still with him:

“The survey found that 42 percent of all voters in these towns view Trump favorably, while 45 percent view him unfavorably. Those numbers might not sound great for Trump, but they’re a lot better than his national numbers. And Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the WBUR survey, says they reflect strong support from those who voted for him in these towns.”

Better Worse.png

WBUR: Charlie Baker is more popular with Democrats than Republicans.

From the same WBUR poll:

“Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is no stranger to popularity, or to bipartisanship. But the numbers in the new WBUR poll are unique — even for him. In the survey of Republican-leaning towns in central Massachusetts, Baker is viewed more favorably by registered Democrats than by members of his own party.”

CommonWealth: Repeal challenge: Republicans love Obamacare

“Republicans appear to be preparing another run at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. The New York Times reported Tuesday that a new version of the wildly unpopular American Health Care Act may be in the works. The initial bill was pulled last month after it lost support on both the right and left ends of the Republican caucus. The last poll before the Republican bill went off life support showed just 17 percent of voters supported the proposal. If the new bill is anything like what the Times report suggests, it may be just as much of a political loser.

“That’s because Republicans love Obamacare.”

WBUR: Sales Tax Ballot Question Could Make 2018 Elections More Interesting — And Puzzling

“The sales tax proposal puts Democrats in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, lowering a regressive tax like the sales tax (lower income people spend a larger share of their income buying consumer goods) while raising taxes on the wealthy would make the state’s tax code more progressive, a cause often favored by Democrats. But rebalancing the tax code is only a secondary goal of the campaign for the millionaire’s tax. Instead, the leaders of the “Fair Share” campaign have focused on the need for new revenues to bolster education and transportation spending.”

Finally, MPG President Steve Koczela testified this week before the Massachusetts State Legislature on letting regions put transportation measures on the ballot for voters to approve. The concept remains very popular with voters.

The Crosstabs

Charlie Baker is once again America’s most popular governor, according to a new Morning Consult poll. Chris Christie… not so much. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are in the middle of the pack among senators.

Bill O’Reilly is reportedly out at Fox News after advertisers ditched his program in response a growing list of accusations of sexual harassment. A recent Morning Consult poll shows over half of respondents think Fox should drop the program. But HuffPost/YouGov finds that 65% of O’Reilly viewers still have a favorable view of him.

 ———————Nerd Alert Tear Line ——————-

Nyet! Springfield MA, which for years has hosted what they unofficially called the World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, has had the title officially stolen by Russia who served up 12,716 “crepes.” According to our elaborate and infallible statistical analysis, crepes are not pancakes and should not be treated as such by the judges. Even so, if it comes down to patriotic consumption of pancakes to restore Springfield’s title, we at The MassINC Polling Group are ready to do our part. And so is state government.


MPG President Steve Koczela testifies on regional ballots for transportation

Below is MPG President Steve Koczela’s testimony about public support for regional ballot initiatives to fund transportation projects in Massachusetts. Steve testified before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue on April 10, 2017.

Chairmen Kaufman and Brady, members of the committee, good morning. My name is Steve Koczela and I am the President of The MassINC Polling Group. I am here to discuss public support for the idea of allowing regional ballots for transportation funding, as proposed in House Bill 1640.

I’ve previously testified to this committee about public support for this idea, which is strong compared to other revenue options for transportation. Since then we have polled the idea another time and found similarly strong support. We have now asked voters about regional ballots for transportation five times since 2012, all as part of research projects funded by the Barr Foundation. Each of the surveys contained several other revenue-related topics and ideas, so we have a variety of revenue mechanisms to compare.

We asked about regional ballots in statewide polls using two different question wordings in 2012 and 2013, before the legislature took up the question of funding for transportation. In 2015, after the MBTA’s winter breakdown, we again asked about the idea in two separate polls, one conducted with voters inside Route 128 and one statewide. In late 2016, we asked about it and other revenue ideas to fund transportation in a statewide poll.

Through all this research, we have found a remarkably widespread and stable level of support for the idea. Across the five polls, between 70 and 81 percent of voters support the concept of giving cities and towns or regional planning agencies the authority to place transportation funding measures for their areas on the ballot for voters to approve or reject. Between 42 and 52 percent strongly agree with the idea. The most recent poll, from November 2016, showed the highest level of support and the lowest opposition.


Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 3.25.17 PM.pngWe also explored the idea of regional financing for transportation during focus groups held across the state in 2012. Focus groups can help move beyond the raw numbers to understand what voters may think about a proposal. These particular focus groups offer some insight into the challenges of communicating this issue to the public Some participants questioned how a regional funding system would be implemented. Others worried their region would end up worse off if left only with funds it could raise on its own. This underscored the need for some level of public communication and education, if such an approach were to be taken. Nonetheless, the polling from this period shows that, despite these questions, the idea enjoys strong support.

Regional ballots for transportation also have a strong track record of success in other parts of the country. According to the Center for Transportation Excellence, from to 2013 to 2016, 70 percent of local and regional ballot measures related to transportation were successful – meaning voters approved new funding or rejected an attempt to scale back existing funding.

It’s important to stress that our poll results do not necessarily mean that voters across the state would vote to raise their own taxes for transportation projects in their area. It only means that they support the idea of having such questions put to them on the ballot and allowing others to do the same. The success of a specific local or regional ballot question would depend on many factors, including the type of tax being raised, the project or projects which the new revenue would be used to build or maintain, and of course the effort and resources put into supporting or opposing the ballot measure. Our research suggests that providing voters with a list of specific projects on which funds will be spent and assuring voters that funds will only be spent on those projects each help to increase support for new funding.

In conclusion, our polling suggests the potential for strong support for regional ballots for transportation as laid out in House Bill 1640. I’m happy to answer any questions from the committee regarding our research into this issue. Thank you.


The Topline: The Art of Repeal

Health care bills moves votes. They cost seats. They start waves. The Democrats’ two runs at health care reform ended with Republican gains of 54 seats in 1994 and 63 seats in 2010. In the latter case, Massachusetts was the canary in the coal mine, as health care helped propel Scott Brown past Martha Coakley and into Ted Kennedy’s (errr, the people’s) seat in the Senate. That was the beginning of the red tide which has rolled across the country in the years since, with Republican electoral wins piling up at all levels of government. Certainly, other factors were at play, but health care played a major role.

The polling on the GOP’s American Health Care Act suggests that Republicans run similar risks in 2018 over their repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The original plan — repeal an unpopular bill and replace it “with something terrific,” to be announced later — seemed like a winner for the years Republicans were voting over and over again for symbolic repeal measures. More voters opposed Obamacare than supported it from 2009 to late 2016, so opposition seemed safe.


Credit: Huffington Post Pollster

But a curious thing started to happen right around Election Day 2016: Obamacare started getting more popular, even as Republicans finally came within reach of ending it. It now averages 48 percent support in recent polls, with 43 percent opposed. By contrast, the GOP replacement is averaging a -16 percent net approval, and it may be heading even lower. The latest poll, from Quinnipiac out yesterday, found that only 17 percent Americans support the new legislation. That is a lower support level than any of the 498 national polls taken on Obamacare since 2009.


Credit: Huffington Post Pollster.

President Trump’s efforts on behalf of the bill do not appear to be helping. Just 29 percent approve of his handling of health care, according to the Quinnipiac poll; 37 percent approve of his job performance overall, compared to around half for Obama on the eve of the Affordable Care Act. Crucially, Quinnipiac found that Trump is now losing the support of his base: white voters without a college degrees. Trump net favorability with these voters dropped a remarkable 19 points from their last poll,  and only 22 percent of non-college whites approve of the GOP health care bill.

The friction that could burn Republicans is between appeasing independent voters to win reelection versus winning the vote of the House’s most conservative members to pass the bill. Support for the bill among independents is a paltry 14 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. Moderate Republicans in competitive districts need these independents to win reelection, and moving the bill further right could make these numbers even worse. But a big chunk of the opposition in the House is from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative members of Congress who want to the bill moved exactly in that direction.

Among Republican voters, an unimpressive 41 percent support the bill, and 24 percent oppose it. So even while irritating independents, the bill does little to excite the base. And if it were to pass, it may make things worse. As TheUpshot showed, the bill disproportionately hurts voters who supported Trump in 2016. Adding to the dismal math, the intensity is all in the opposition, with 43 percent strongly disapprove of the GOP bill, compared to just 6 percent who strongly approve. November 2018 is a ways off, but with support weaker even than Obamacare was, it’s easy to see how this could work against Republican gains in 2018.

It’s hard for Trump to twist many arms on such an unpopular bill when his own approval numbers are so low. Indeed, Trump seems already to be distancing himself from the effort, and throwing House Speaker Ryan under the truck. Trump has given Congress an ultimatum: vote today, or be stuck with Obamacare. Polls show the public may prefer the latter.

The Crosstabs

Trump’s approval rating is still historically low. Here’s Gallup (39 percent), and the Huffpollster average (43 percent).

This neat tool from The Crosstab lets you compare Trump’s approval to that of past presidents at the same point in their terms. Here’s what that looks like right now.


Credit: The Crosstab

More from that Quinnipiac poll: A majority of voters in each party say no, Trump should not keep tweeting from his personal account.

That same poll shows that 70 percent of Americans do not believe Trump’s so far unsupported wiretap claims. Republicans are split nearly evenly on the matter.

Pew finds that 91 percent of the 115th congress describe themselves as Christian, and a majority of states have delegations that are entirely Christian. Fun Fact: What do you get when you bring together two Buddhists, one Hindu, and a Jew? The Hawaiian congressional delegation.

Pew also finds a growing ideological gap between generations; Millennials and Gen Xers have large numbers of liberal Democrats, while Boomers and the Silent Generation lay claim to the most conservative Republicans.

Researchers at Yale have developed a model that estimates public opinion on climate change down to the state, congressional district, and county levels. The New York Times took this data and pulled out six very colorful maps detailing how Americans feel about climate change.

Huffpollster rounds up the polling on the French presidential election, which shows Marine LePen winning the first round but losing in the run-off.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, pollsters did pretty well in catching populist Geert Wilders’ late slide in support — a drop some linked to the unpopularity of Donald Trump.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, moderate Republican whose numbers have echoed Charlie Baker’s, is showing weaker reelection numbers against a generic Democrat. There has not been any public polling on Baker since February, so we don’t know if the trend will hold here.

Welcome to Pollsters: The Next Generation featuring Ms. Porter’s second grade class. Sadly this survey is now closed (but not before this writer determined she is a soup/lion/non-farmer…)

—————————Nerd Alert Tearline————————-

Because we know you haven’t had enough health care yet: Nate Silver at 538 has estimated support for the GOP’s American Health Care Act down to the congressional district level. Using figures derived from a YouGov poll, he found only 80 out of the 435 districts where modeled support for the bill led opposition. At the end of the article is a searchable, sortable table of estimated AHCA support in each district. Surprising nobody, estimated opposition greatly outpaces support in all 9 Massachusetts congressional districts.

Credit: FiveThirtyEight



The Topline: Massachusetts is #1, but not for everyone

We’re the best. Number one. The greatest of all time. That’s what the US News and World Report told Bay State residents last week, naming Massachusetts the  best state in the union in their first annual Best States rankings. The news prompted Gronk-level football spiking up on Beacon Hill this week, as well as scattered hilarity on social media.

But before we hoist another in an increasingly tiresome string of championship banners, there are a few things to discuss. Not surprisingly, Massachusetts was ranked #1 in education and #2 on health care, and that helped push us to the top spot overall. But Massachusetts is terrible in a lot of other areas. Like, Colts fake punt, bottom-of-the-barrel dreadful. The things we are bad at are related to one another, and are hitting some of us worse than others. They add up to a picture of a state where lots of people are doing very well at a lot of things, but many are being left far behind with little chance of catching up.

Particularly on issues of equality and racial justice, we are near the bottom, placing 45th on income inequality and 40th in terms of racial income gaps. The data on Boston helps illustrate why. In the most unequal city in America, the median white family has amassed $265,500 in assets, compared to $700 for black households, and less than $15,000 for Hispanic households. Gleaming office and condo buildings rise downtown, but prosperity is not evenly shared. The average income for the top fifth of households is 18 times higher than of the lowest fifth, and getting worse.

The story is no better in the state’s other urban areas. In the state’s Gateway Cities, home to a large share of the state’s minority population outside of Boston, the figures are sobering. Together, they are home to 30 percent of the state’s poor, 45 percent of welfare cases, half of incarcerated youth, and 71 percent of students attending “chronically underperforming” schools. Put the Boston and Gateway Cities data together, and the yawning gulf of racial inequality comes into focus. The rankings bear it out. US News ranked Massachusetts 31st in educational equality by race, 19th in employment equality, and 46th on racial equality in juvenile jailings. We failed to crack the top 15 on any items related to racial equality.  

Massachusetts is also behind when it comes to basic quality of life and cost of living issues that touch all residents. Our transportation network is rated 45th out of 50, pulled down by our 47th-place rankings for both commute time and road quality. There are racial disparities here, as well. Black bus riders in the Boston area spend, on average, 64 more hours a year commuting than white bus riders, and 31 hours more on the subway. We are ranked ranked 47th for affordability — 45th for cost of living and 44th for housing costs. Given the racial inequalities in wealth and income, these cost issues are also closely tied to race issues.

Voters know where the overall problems are. Our January poll for WBUR found that most Massachusetts voters were satisfied with the state of education and the economy, but far fewer were happy with the transportation system or the cost of housing.


So while lawmakers are taking their victory laps, they should be aware that voters think there’s more work to be done. And for many Massachusetts residents who aren’t feeling the boom, #1 is just a number on a website.

The Crosstabs

Snap polls taken after President Trump speech to Congress Tuesday were largely positive, prompting a rare praise bit of praise for CNN from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Important caveat: Huffpollster points out, most presidential speeches to Congress poll well, in part because fans of the President speaking are more likely to watch therefore and to appear in the poll samples.

Trump may be happy with the polls, but he’ll likely be upset that the ratings for his speech failed to match those for Barack Obama’s first address to Congress.

Trump’s joint address to Congress does not appear to have moved his job approval numbers, at least as tracked by Gallup. But Gallup also notes that, historically, Presidential addresses to Congress do not move job approval numbers very much. Indeed, other trackers have not seen much of a bump post-speech.

Politico/Morning Consult finds support for the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) is on the rise as Republicans draft its repeal and replacement somewhere in the Capitol.

Obamacare might be up, but the Democratic Party’s ratings are down. Democrats have been seen as more favorable than Republicans for several years, but that margin has now all but disappeared.

Gallup finds that Republicans and Democrats have flipped positions on NAFTA, while the NBC/WSJ poll finds similar movement on the broader question of free trade. The Pollsters podcast has a good discussion of this trend this week.

A YouGov/Huffpost finds that the world is a scary place –  nearly two-thirds of the public are at least somewhat scared about the state of the world. Those numbers are actually down from last fall, and a Democrats and Republicans have flipped in terms of which party is “very scared”.

Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who are worried ticking upward, driven by a 9-point spike among Democrats.

Pew finds a huge gap between Trump voters and Clinton voters on whether a free press is essential to democracy, but more agreement on other features tested.

– – – – – – –  – #NerdAlert Tearline – – – – – – – – – –

FiveThirtyEight launched their Trump approval rating tracker yesterday. In a Twitter exchange, Nate Silver said they will be adding approval poll data for every President going back to Harry Truman. Once that happens, we’ll be unavailable for a while while we geek out on decades old polling, so don’t bother calling. Seriously.

While we’re on the subject, we have a small issue with the way FiveThirtyEight grades pollsters. But if we get to look at approval numbers for Dwight Eisenhower, we’ll let that slide.


New poll: Here’s how many Massachusetts voters know their top lawmakers voted to raise their own pay

Gintautus Dumcius writes:

If the lawmakers were hoping to fly under the radar as they rammed through the raises amid Trump’s flurry of controversial executive orders and the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory grabbing headlines, they weren’t completely successful. At least, that’s according to a new poll from the MassINC Polling Group.

Read the whole article on MassLive.


The Topline: Winter Storm Trump hits Massachusetts

Welcome back to The Topline! Now that we’re through Election 2016, we decided to reboot the newsletter. Every two weeks we’ll round up the latest in national and Massachusetts polling, politics, and data.

Non-presidential years are usually about state and local politics. We have a Mayor’s race in Boston this year, and next year Governor Charlie Baker and Senator Elizabeth Warren are both up for reelection. It’s likely that a proposal to increase the state’s income tax on incomes over $1 million will also go before voters in 2018.

But the state and local concerns risk being snowed under by a blizzard coming up from Washington D.C. Three weeks in, it seems that local politicians’ reactions to the Trump administration may matter as much, or even more, than what they are doing for the Commonwealth.

To that end, this week we asked registered voters to rate several Massachusetts political figures’ reactions to Trump: are they being too critical of the new administration, not critical enough, or have they been pretty much on target so far? Our WBUR poll in January showed 41 percent think Trump will have a negative impact on the state, with just 20 percent seeing positive impacts. It may be hard to avoid confrontation if his policies start showing local impacts.


Voters are split on Governor Charlie Baker’s approach to handling Trump.  A plurality of voters think Charlie Baker has threaded the Trump-GOP needle pretty well so far. But a quarter overall, and a third of Democrats, think he hasn’t been critical enough. Another 19 percent are undecided, meaning these numbers could continue to shift as their complicated relationship unfolds.

Voters have been divided on Elizabeth Warren even since they got to know her in the 2012 campaign.  As would be expected, three-quarters of Republicans think she’s going too far in her dealings with Trump, while 61 percent of Democrats approve of her hardline stance. Warren’s #ShePersisted moment happened while this poll was in the field, so these figures don’t capture the fallout, positive or negative, of that moment.

Attorney General Maura Healey and Congressman Seth Moulton’s reactions to the Trump administration have not registered to the same degree. Far fewer express an opinion on their actions, despite the Healey joining a lawsuit against Trump’s travel ban, and Moulton calling Trump a draft dodger. It won’t stop insider speculations about who’s positioning themselves for what and when, but these acts of resistance haven’t broken through to the same extent as Baker and Warren’s actions (or lack thereof).

Not all state-level politics have been buried by Trump news. Nearly two-thirds of voters know that lawmakers voted to increase their pay. Republicans (82 percent) are particular tuned into this issue. This high level of awareness suggests that voters have not been completely distracted by the Trump administration. So there’s some hope that local issues will emerge from the snow and matter over the next couple of years.


This poll was conducted by The MassINC Polling Group. Live telephone interviews were conducted February 6-8, 2017 among 704 registered voters in Massachusetts. Click here for crosstabs..


Speaking of Trump, Steve Koczela argues in Commonwealth that, despite misses in 2016, polling matters now more than ever. It’s a conduit for the voice of the people, and brings those voices to powerful people in ways nothing else can match.

Our latest poll for WBUR, keyed to the inauguration, found that Massachusetts voters were not very confident in the new president, and looked ahead to Baker and Warren’s prospects for reelection.

And last month, as Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson announced his run for Mayor, we examined his prospects for unseating Mayor Walsh.


The Gallup daily tracker has Trump still underwater; 43 percent approve of his job performance, while 52 disapprove. That’s the worst start of any president where comparable polling exists.

Despite railing against them, it turns out Trump can’t quit polls – even, to quote Sean Spicer, “the whole crosstab thing.”

HuffPollster notes there’s considerable variation across different pollsters, but overall Trump’s approval numbers are getting worse, not better.

There’s variation on Trump’s travel ban as well, driven largely by how the question is worded. POLITICO’s Steve Shepard looks at how these different polls are being used by both sides in the debate over the policy.

Americans view Islam less negatively than they did a year ago. “Last March, Americans were 42 points more likely to view the religion negatively than they were to view it positively. That gap dropped to 33 points by June, and to 20 points in the most recent survey, the lowest it’s been since HuffPost/YouGov surveys first asked the question nearly two years ago.”

Gallup finds that two-thirds of Americans think other world leaders don’t have much respect for the new President.

On the other hand, the London-based Chatham House finds a majority of Europeans would “support a Trump-style ban on further migration from mainly Muslim countries”.

Master troll-pollster Public Policy Polling is out with their latest national poll. One highlight: 51 percent of Trump voters think that the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre is a good justification for the Trump administration’s travel ban.

According to a recent Washington Post poll, 25 percent of adults are intending to become more involved in politics. Thirty-five percent of Democrats, and 40 percent of Democratic women, say they will increase their involvement.

The closely watched Onion Poll finds that at least the cockroaches think things are moving in the right direction.

——————Nerd Alert Tearline: SCOTUS Special Edition—————–

Politicians live and die in the court of public opinion. So can SCOTUS nominations.

A recent Forbes article looks at how Ronald Reagan’s failed nomination of conservative Robert Bork marked a turning point in the use of polling around Supreme Court nominations.

Morning Consult and POLITICO find 59 percent of registered voters believe Supreme Court nominees should be required to receive 60 votes to be confirmed. The sentiment was strongest among Democrats (72 percent) is also shared by 45 percent of Republicans.

CNN finds that 49 percent of Americans think Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch should be confirmed. That’s just below the 52 percent that blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland received when his name was put forward.


Polling matters now more than ever

(via Creative Commons/Flikr by Gage Skidmore)

Polling is a form of political resistance.

This is the argument Steve Koczela makes in the wake of Trump calling negative polling “fake news” – a mild insult, Koczela says, compared to what other power players have thrown at him. Acknowledging the need of pollsters to rebuild their credibility following failures in a few key states during the election, Koczela emphasizes the power of polling to collect the public voice and push back against the political trend of voter disenfranchisement.

Read the whole article on Commonwealth Magazine here.


How Many Marched?

The massive Women’s March protests on Saturday swept through cities across the country, and professors from the University of Connecticut and University of Denver are trying to get a head count – the best estimate currently ranges from 3.3 to 4.6 million.

Rich Parr, Research Director here at MPG, turned the data into a map showing the relative size and locations of the protests.

Check out the interactive version here.