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).


New MassINC Poll: Voters embrace end to mandatory minimum sentencing, support second chance reforms

Voters See Prison Contributing to Recidivism, Support More Aggressive Criminal Justice Reforms

Click here for the topline results.

BOSTON – Massachusetts voters strongly favor judicial discretion over mandatory minimum sentencing and broadly support more aggressive reforms to the criminal justice system than are now being considered by legislators, a new MassINC poll shows.

The poll and two new policy research reports on the state’s criminal justice system will be discussed at the annual Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Summit, Monday May 15, 8:30-11:30 AM at the Omni Parker House in Boston. The summit brings together 300 leaders from around the Commonwealth interested in comprehensive reform. Speakers include Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, and Marc A. Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice & Right on Crime.

“Massachusetts voters across the political spectrum see the need for major change to the criminal justice system,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the poll. “This poll finds strong support for a range of reforms among Republicans, Democrats, and independents.”

By a nearly two-to-one margin (53 percent to 27 percent), voters think Massachusetts prisons currently do more harm than good, making inmates more likely to commit new crimes rather than preventing future crime. A plurality (42 percent) think there are too many people in prison in Massachusetts, while 23 percent say the number is appropriate. Just 10 percent say there are not enough.

Prisons are just one of component of the criminal justice system where voters support major changes. Voters see potential improvements from the front end, before sentencing, to the back end, after former inmates are released.

The biggest policy change explored in the poll focuses on reforming sentencing practices. As MassINC found in a 2014 poll, very few say mandatory minimum sentencing is preferable to giving judges more discretion in sentencing. Just 8 percent of voters prefer mandatory minimums, including 6 percent of Democrats and 8 percent of Republicans. This discomfort with current sentencing policy was one of many similarities between this wave of polling and the 2014 MassINC poll. The new poll found no apparent change due to the national political climate or an increased focus on crime and public safety.

On a key issue affecting sentencing, 60 percent said the state’s felony threshold should be raised to $1,500 from its current $250 level while 36 percent opposed the change. Massachusetts has the third-lowest threshold in the country, and has not raised the dollar amount in decades.

Voters also see room for considerable change in focus in prisons. They rate job training for inmates as the most effective way of preventing future crimes, followed by education and connecting inmates with community groups as their release date approaches. Around 9 in 10 voters say each of these would be effective in reducing future crime.

After release, voters support changes that would allow former prisoners to move on with their lives more quickly. Sixty-two percent support for sealing misdemeanor records after 3 years instead of 5, and 65 percent support for reducing the time to seal a felony record from 10 to 7 years. By a narrower margin (50 percent to 43 percent), voters say former inmates should not be responsible for supervision fees if they cannot afford them.

“Reform is on Beacon Hill’s agenda. This poll shows voters would support the state legislature taking a broad comprehensive approach to reform,” said Ben Forman, Research Director for MassINC. ”The other research we’ll be discussing at the event further makes the case for going big in reforming the criminal justice system.”

These findings are from a new MassINC poll of 754 registered voters in Massachusetts. The MassINC Polling Group oversaw the poll, which was conducted from April 27 to May 1, 2017 using live telephone interviewers and registration-based sampling.

ABOUT MASSINC: The Massachusetts Institute for the New Commonwealth (MassINC) is an independent think tank and the publisher of CommonWealth magazine. Our mission is to stimulate nonpartisan debate, shape public policy and advance a public agenda that supports the growth of the middle class. MassINC’s achieves its impact through independent research, journalism and civic forums that promote jobs and economic security, sustainable communities, and government accountability.

ABOUT THE MASSINC POLLING GROUP: MPG is a full-service survey research company offering public opinion research to public, private, and social sector clients. We offer the highest quality research products based on the very best research methodologies and the most rigorous analysis. Our partnership with WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, is the longest and most successful media polling relationship in Massachusetts. Our reputation for excellence and accuracy gives our research a high level of trust in the policy community.


WBUR and The MassINC Polling Group renew partnership

BOSTON – May 9, 2017 – 90.9 WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, and The MassINC Polling Group (MPG) are pleased to announce the renewal of their public opinion research partnership through June 2018. The renewal continues the longest and most successful polling relationship in Massachusetts.

The WBUR Poll, conducted by MPG, came within a point of the final margin in the 2016 presidential elections in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In 2015, the WBUR poll generated international headlines tracking opinion on Boston’s unsuccessful bid for the 2014 Summer Olympics. In 2014, it was the most accurate poll of the races for Massachusetts governor and U.S. Senate. Beyond political races, the WBUR Poll has consistently brought the public’s view to debates on key policy issues facing Massachusetts residents and leaders.

“Polling gives the public a voice on important issues where they might not be heard otherwise,” said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group. “It also offers insight into how citizens are experiencing elections, and how their opinions about prospective political leaders are formed. We’re very happy to continue our work with WBUR to bring public opinion into decisions affecting the future of Boston and Massachusetts.”

“The WBUR Poll helps inform our reporting with insights and data, and this is a critical time as we focus on the new administration and its impact here in Massachusetts, as well as other local and regional government leaders and policies,” said WBUR General Manager Charlie Kravetz. “Our partnership with MassINC Polling Group fits perfectly with what WBUR does best, which is provide context to the news.”

MPG will also continue to contribute political analysis of its polls and other issues for WBUR on air and at WBUR.org. MPG president Steve Koczela has emerged as one of the most trusted explainers both of state and local politics, as well as the science and methods of public opinion research.

About The MassINC Polling Group (MPG): The MassINC Polling Group is a full-service opinion research company serving public, private, and social sector organizations. MPG started in Boston with a local and state-level focus and now serves a national client base. MPG conducts and releases more public opinion research on Massachusetts than any other polling organization. MPG President Steve Koczela has written extensively on public opinion and data analysis for both media and academic publications.

About 90.9 WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station: Founded in 1950, WBUR began broadcasting NPR programming in 1970, offering NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered along with local news programming. One of the nation’s most successful public radio stations today, WBUR produces national NPR programs On Point, Here & Now, Only A Game and Car Talk, as well as a local daily newsmagazine, Radio Boston. Located on Commonwealth Avenue at Boston University, WBUR has the largest radio newsroom in New England, dedicated to covering topics that matter in Boston and across the nation. The work produced at WBUR can be heard on 90.9 WBUR, Boston; 89.1 WBUH, Brewster, Cape Cod; and 92.7 WBUA, Martha’s Vineyard. Follow WBUR at www.wbur.org, or on Facebook and Twitter, @WBUR.


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.