Q1 Trend Monitor: MA consumer confidence edges upward; still strong reservations about national economy

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Massachusetts residents’ economic confidence is edging upward again after the toll taken by bruising partisan battles late last year, according to The MassINC Polling Group’s MassPulse Quarterly Poll, released today. This quarter’s reading is 75.8, up from 67.3 in October of last year.

Massachusetts residents are starting to feel better about their own economic prospects, and are 16 points more likely to say they expect a positive financial situation (28 percent) than a negative one (12 percent). At the same time, though, just over half of Massachusetts consumers say bad economic times are ahead for the nation as a whole, while 32 percent expect good times. Unlike the other four measures, all of which have improved since last quarter, consumers’ views of national economic prospects are unchanged.

“While we are seeing a hiatus in the partisan budget warfare, many Massachusetts residents believe there is more to come,” said Steve Koczela, President of The MassINC Polling Group. “This is holding down the overall confidence measure from more substantial improvement.”

Confidence also continues to be unevenly felt across demographic subgroups, with Democrats far more optimistic than Republicans, and an even larger gap between those at opposite ends of the income spectrum.

Other highlights from the poll:

  • Majority think Massachusetts heading in right direction: 55 percent of resident think the Commonwealth is headed in the right direction, compared to 31 percent who think it is off on the wrong track. This represents the largest positive margin since MPG began asking the question in 2010.
  • More think Ed Markey should be replaced than re-elected: 43 percent think it’s time for a new junior senator from Massachusetts, compared to 30 percent who think the Malden Democrat has earned re-election based on his brief stint in the Senate.
  • Warren stays strong: Massachusetts’ senior Senator Elizabeth Warren is viewed favorably by a majority of registered voters (53 percent) and unfavorably by 29 percent.
  • Hope springs eternal for Patriots Nation: 43 percent of resident think the Pats will make the Super Bowl next year; 35 percent think they will win the big game.

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MPG Quarterly Poll: More say Senator Ed Markey should be replaced than re-elected

Senator Ed Markey was only elected to the Senate last summer, but voters are already contemplating his replacement. More Massachusetts voters now think it is time to give someone else a chance (43 percent) than think Markey deserves re-election (30 percent), according to The MassINC Polling Group’s MassPulse quarterly poll. Twenty-seven percent did not offer an opinion. (Topline, crosstabs.)

In another potentially troubling sign, Senator Markey’s name recognition has actually slipped backward slightly since his election. Now, 34 percent view him favorably, and 24 percent view him unfavorably compared to July 2013, when these figures were 38 percent favorable and 31 percent unfavorable.

“Massachusetts voters haven’t developed a strong attachment to Senator Markey,” said Steve Koczela, President of The MassINC Polling Group. “His initial election was in a low wattage affair with historically low turnout, and many voters apparently haven’t connected with him since.”

Markey may also be suffering from a broad, national anti-incumbent sentiment. The public has long held a low opinion of Congress in general, but usually voters look more favorably on their own representatives. Last week, Gallup found that a record low percentage of registered voters nationally favor re-electing their own congressional representative. Still, the 46 percent who think their representative should be re-elected is higher than the 30 percent Markey received.

But if Markey is being affected by a national anti-incumbent mood, his colleague in the Senate, Elizabeth Warren, seems to be immune. Half (53 percent) of registered voters have a favorable opinion of Warren, compared to 29 percent unfavorable. These figures are very similar to her poll numbers from April 2013, indicating the durability of Warren’s favorability with voters.

Of course, Markey’s vulnerability is only hypothetical unless he draws a challenger. His previous opponent, Gabriel Gomez, has announced he is not seeking elected office this year. Were he to change his mind, he would have to reintroduce himself to the electorate, as 33 percent of registered voters now claim to have never heard of him.

Markey defeated Republican Gabriel Gomez in a June 2013 special election to fill John Kerry’s senate seat, a contest that drew record-low turnout. Because Kerry’s term ended in 2014, Markey must run for re-election this fall.

These findings were part of MPG’s quarterly poll. Additional results of the survey will be released later this week.

What’s trending in the Senate race, part two: what issues matter most to voters?

Read part one

Read our piece for Commonwealth Magazine’s Back Story

The horserace question – who’s winning and by how much – gets the biggest headlines in any election poll. But beneath the headline are findings that help to explain what issues are most important to voters in choosing a candidate.

Based on our poll this week for WBUR, voters seem to be saying that policy issues are more important to them than more general, personal qualities such as likability, time in Washington, and willingness to compromise. This is presents a significant challenge for Republican Gabriel Gomez, who has campaigned largely on these qualities and on more general issues like changing the culture in Washington.

Our latest WBUR poll asked voters how important eight issues were in deciding for whom to vote. Half were repeated from an October 2012 poll of the Warren-Brown Senate race, and half were new issues that have arisen in the course of this race. For the repeated issues, there was very little change of opinion between October 2012 and June 2013.

issues chart

 In both polls, sizable majorities of voters rated “which candidate will stand up for people like you” and “which candidate agrees with you on key issues that matter to you” as very important to their decision. Then there is considerable drop-off. Less than half of voters (44 percent) considered compromise with the other very important, and a candidate’s likability was not important to more than a third of voters in each poll. It appears that, when it comes to judging candidates on these four issues, the electorate is in much the same mindset as they were in 2012.

Voters had mixed opinions on the four new issues. Sixty percent of voters consider a candidate’s stance on women’s issues very important; 46 percent feel that way about environmental issues. A third (33 percent) feel it is very important that a candidate will vote with their political party – less than those who value compromise with the opposite party. Only 17 percent of voters felt that the number of years a candidate had spent in Washington was very important to their decision; a majority (51 percent) felt it was not important.

How do these factors translate into votes? On six of the eight issues tested, Markey has a lead among the voters who rated that issue as very important. And Markey leads on the issues that more voters consider important. Markey has a 26 point lead on Gomez among voters who value women’s issues, and a 30 percent lead with environmental-issue voters.

issue vote table

The only issues on which Gomez leads Markey are ones that less than a quarter of voters rate as very important. Gomez’s largest margin, 24 points, is among voters who care about candidate’s tenure in Washington, but those voters comprise only 17 percent of the electorate.

If he is to win, Gomez may have to consider shifting tactics to highlight specific issues on which he has more common with Massachusetts voters than does Markey. If the race is decided on the issues tested in this poll, Markey would seem to have the advantage. 

Gomez: No tea for me, thanks

Originally written for Back Story, a weekly email newsletter by Commonwealth Magazine.

In the 2010 special US Senate election, enthusiasm from the nascent Tea Party movement helped propel Scott Brown past Martha Coakley. In the 2013 special election, the Tea Party is nowhere to be found, and Gabriel Gomez isn’t exactly turning over rocks looking for it. To be sure, there is a whiff of Tea Party-style anti-establishmentarianism in Gomez’s plan to “Reboot Congress,” his digs at Markey’s decades-long tenure in Washington, and his Chevy Chase address. But Gomez’s  rhetoric about compromise is a far cry from Brown’s defiant promise to be the deciding vote against Obamacare in 2010.

Is Gomez missing an opportunity to rally the conservative base?  Perhaps, but our polling suggests openly courting the Tea Party in Massachusetts would come with a heavier political price this year than in 2010. The political dynamic has fundamentally shifted from 2010, when Brown was able to tap into Tea Party support without risking significant blowback from the unenrolled voters he needed to secure victory. Today, the Tea Party is a known (and largely disliked) quantity in Massachusetts, and by pursuing Tea Party support Gomez risks alienating the unenrolled voters and conservative Democrats he needs to catch Markey.

While not at its nadir (recorded in October 2012, during the presidential race), the Tea Party is far less popular in Massachusetts than it once was. The Tea Party is now seen favorably by just 22 percent of likely voters in the upcoming election, less than half the number who see the group favorably. This represents a sharp downturn from late 2010, when the movement was relatively new and less clearly defined as exclusively conservative.  At that time, slightly more Bay Staters held a favorable view (39 percent) of the Tea Party than unfavorable (38 percent). Among the all-important unenrolled voters, the ratio was 46 percent favorable to 33 percent unfavorable. In our new poll released this week, just a quarter of unenrolled voters view the Tea Party favorably, a 20 percent drop in just under 3 years.

tea party fav mass

tea party national fav

National polls on the question show a similar trend, and reach back a bit further. The earliest Tea Party poll on pollingreport.com was fielded the week before the Brown-Coakley election. It found a majority of registered voters nationally (58 percent) said they hadn’t heard enough about the Tea Party to form an opinion. With numbers like those, one could make the case that Scott Brown thrust the Tea Party into the national spotlight as much as the other way around.

Of course, ignoring the Tea Party and labeling oneself a new kind of Republican risks turning off other Republicans, and, according to our poll, Gomez may be doing just that. Only 80 percent of Republicans in our most recent poll plan to vote for him, on par with a series of other polls showing the same dynamic. By comparison, both Brown and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker carried 90 percent or more of the state’s Republicans in their respective elections.

If Gomez loses, he’ll be criticized by some in his party for failing to engage his base. But the polls suggest he may have little choice but to pursue his current strategy. The Tea Party in 2013 is simply not the Tea Party Scott Brown tapped into in 2010. And absent a groundswell of conservative enthusiasm and simultaneous support from unenrolled voters, it’s unclear how Gomez – or any Republican, including Brown – wins a statewide election in Massachusetts.

Update, June 24, 2013: Text and chart of Tea Party favorability in Massachusetts revised to include likely or registered voters from all polls.