Extraordinary poll numbers for Coakley

Yes, it’s early, name recognition, blah blah.  Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by these poll numbers, just released by WBUR (poll taken May 16-18, 504 likely voters, MOE +/- 4.4%, 95% confidence – toplines, crosstabs).  I’ve added the favorable/unfavorable and “never heard of” (NHO) number in parens.

Democratic primary:
Martha Coakley: 51% (fav/unfav = 54/24; NHO = 4%)
Steve Grossman: 7% (fav/unfav = 23/7; NHO = 36%)
Juliette Kayyem: 4% (fav/unfav = 11/5; NHO = 67%)
Don Berwick: 3% (fav/unfav = 8/2; NHO = 72%)
Joe Avellone: 1% (fav/unfav = 5/4; NHO = 67%)

There is an important caveat on these numbers: of the 504 “likely voters” included in the WBUR survey, only 262 of them said they were likely to vote in the Democratic primary.  So the margin of error for the horserace numbers is more like +/- 6%, and 262 is a pretty small sample by normal polling standards.  (In contrast, the fav/unfav and NHO numbers are from the full 504 respondent sample.)  Still, obviously Coakley is way ahead even with the larger margin of error in the horserace numbers.

Also of interest: the crosstabs show that Coakley’s fav/unfav numbers are strong across the board.  In addition to an impressive 72/12 among registered Democrats, she’s at 47/24 among unenrolled voters, 48/31 among men, and 59/17 among women.  Her strength among unenrolleds and men – traditionally more difficult territory for Democrats – is perhaps due to her law enforcement background, and is certainly a big asset.

I’d say there are a couple of takeaways from these numbers, aside from the obvious fact that almost everyone in the state (95%) knows who Martha Coakley is.  First, the divide between Democratic party activists and likely Democratic primary voters is enormous.  Everyone basically agrees that Steve Grossman won the caucuses and stands a decent chance of getting the convention endorsement next month by racking up over 50% of the votes there.  Yet Grossman is in single digits, and trails Coakley by over 40 points, in the polling.  Furthermore, of the roughly two-thirds of MA likely voters who have heard of Grossman, over half of them don’t know enough to have either a favorable or an unfavorable view of him.  So he’s not exactly making a big impression on the public at this point.  And this despite the fact that he, unlike the other candidates, doesn’t really have to worry about the convention, and therefore could be casting a wider net.

Second, and some of you may disagree with me on this, it seems to me that the 15% rule is hurting less well-known candidates’ ability to penetrate the public’s consciousness.  Obviously, the biggest thing on the minds of Avellone, Berwick, and Kayyem at this point is getting on the ballot, and to do that they need 15% of the delegates at the June convention to vote for them.  With five candidates running, and Grossman expected to get way more than 15%, the math is not favorable for all of them to make it, so the stakes are high.  But this means that the non-Grossman candidates can’t make much effort at this point to go beyond the tiny percentage of voters who will show up in Worcester next month.  So, on the one hand, it’s not surprising that the numbers are as poor as they are for the three candidates who are not presently statewide office holders.  But on the other, if candidates didn’t have to spend all their effort on scraping together something like 750 delegates to back them at a convention, maybe more likely primary voters would have a clue who is actually running.  And if that were the case, maybe the horserace numbers wouldn’t be so lopsided, and maybe the narrative of the race would look somewhat different.  Narratives can change, but the longer the race looks like this, the harder it will be to make that happen.

Third, our primaries should be much earlier (several states just held theirs, so it is actually possible).  A situation where most voters have no clue who most of the candidates are until September is unhealthy.  But you probably knew that.

So, yes, it’s early, and things can and will change.  But Team Coakley has to be happy about this poll, and I can’t imagine the other campaigns are too psyched about it.


38 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Impressive

    If that’s really the case, it will be interesting to see what happens if one or two of the candidates can’t make 15% at the convention and we have more of a head to head.

  2. Crazy low sample size

    Doesn’t mean the poll is “wrong,” or invalid, but that is a crazy low sample size for the D primary.

  3. Money talks

    In my view, this poll demonstrates the extent to which money — big money — controls public opinion, the electorate, and therefore our government. Martha Coakley has been in the public eye for a long time, going all the way back to the Fells Acre case. She has been in favor with the Globe for that entire time (and has carefully worked to preserve that). She has been very accomplished at grooming the right connections and ignoring the wrong ones, both within the Massachusetts Democratic Party and within the smaller circle of big-money donors to the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

    Corporations wouldn’t invest in television advertising if it wasn’t effective. For better or worse, Martha Coakley has successfully maneuvered herself to the top of list of candidates preferred by the big-money players in the Massachusetts Democratic Party. I say this as an observation, not a criticism.

    It seems to me that the question of which candidate is more likely to be a better governor is not necessarily the same as any of the questions asked in or measured by this poll.

    I don’t dispute the accuracy of the poll, or its implications. To the contrary, I think it presents today’s electoral reality in clear and stark terms. The cynicism of my children (all of whom are now registered voters), and their rejection of the entire political process, is harder to reject in the face of this stark reality.

    • How much money has been donated to, and spent by, each candidate so far?

      Do we know?
      Tom above makes a point regarding the influence of money on governance. However, support isn’t always for sale. Several weeks ago it was reported that Berwick had already spent over $700K – and yet he’s still at 3%.

      • We do know.

        OCPF has a really nice site set up here that tracks this kind of thing.

        • Missing from the OCPF site ...

          An embarrassingly large number of Probation Department jobs were awarded solely on the basis of their political connections. The chief argument of the defense (including our own EB3) seems to be that such patronage, even if corrupt, is not illegal.

          What was the cash value, to Martha Coakley, of steadfastly ignoring the astronomical scale of the Probation Department patronage mill? Where does that that cash value appear in the OCPF site?

          How much was it worth, in dollars, to Martha Coakley to bury the apparent violations of Michael Kineavy — if you recall, he was the City Hall operative who was by all accounts the City Hall end of the venal corruption that landed Diane Wilkerson in jail (not by Martha Coakley, by the way). He was the same official who “double-deleted” ALL of his email, in flagrant violation of relevant laws. I will never forget Martha Coakley laughing contemptuously about those allegations, and of course pursued NO action against him.

          What is the cash value, as reported on the OCPF site, of the inaction towards the dozens of high-priced lawyers, doctors, and lobbyists who keep the Boston police and fire pension and disability racket going?

          There are ENORMOUS sums of money changing hands every week. There is a relatively small group of players who profit from those exchanges. That small group of players has similarly enormous influence on public opinion. That is the simple reality of Massachusetts government today. In my view, that is the takeaway from polls like this.

          I’m glad that groups like the OCPF exist. I think they disclose only the smallest, nearly microscopic, portion of the money that’s really at stake in a gubernatorial election.

        • Thanks for the link to OCPF

          Here is what the fundraising numbers look like (minus candidate personal loans).

          • Direct vs. Indirect

            These are direct contributions as reported on OCPF. I’ll let you all continue arguing whether they have any value. I would think if anyone is going to get grassroots momentum going then it would be seen here. We’ll see if Berwick is starting some kind of trend or if 5/1-5/15 was just a temporary bump up, with the end of month numbers.

      • Just the tip of the iceberg

        The Boston Globe has been publishing laudatory stories about Martha Coakley for more than a decade, at least since her involvement in the handling of the Fells Acres case. That long history in the Globe is an enormously important factor in her recognition factor, as evidenced in this poll, and none of that will be reported on any of the various campaign finance sources.

        I’m not suggesting that support was “for sale”, exactly. I’m saying the Boston Globe, along with the rest of the mainstream media in MA, is controlled by a handful of wealthy individuals. It isn’t that those individuals are “for sale” or that Martha Coakley (or any other candidate) is “for sale”.

        Instead, I think it means that a handful of people can and do have enormous influence on public opinion (surely Rupert Murdoch is exhibit A). That handful of people were not randomly chosen — the most important factor that joins them is their control of enormous wealth.

        I suggest that, among other things, it is no accident that the candidates most popular among that group are the candidates who are least likely to challenge the wealth concentration of the top 1/2%. We see this in Barack Obama (sadly after, rather than before, his election), we see it in Steve Grossman and Martha Coakley, we see it throughout the upper echelons of state and federal government.

        The conspicuous outlier is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Ms. Warren did not receive the enthusiastic support of the Globe in the way that Ms. Coakley does — the “heritage” question would have died in one news cycle had the subject been Martha Coakley.

        Ms. Warren accomplished her success in spite of the resistance of outlets like the Globe. In my view, she did that because she was courageous enough to remain faithful to her convictions, because she understands precisely how the very wealthy use their wealth to exploit the rest of us, and because she was willing and able to connect to the real passion of the 99%.

        We all know we are being exploited. Some candidates (like Elizabeth Warren) are able to transform that knowledge into a winning campaign.

        I hope that Don Berwick joins that select group.

  4. My experience

    I’ve been out on the doors for a while and this poll is consistent with my experience.

  5. Wow

    She’s just walking away with it.

    The numbers for the others are devastating. Kayyem’s 11/5 fav/unfav ratio has to hurt. Grossman is better on that category but is stuck in single digits? Really?

    The Berwick camp has a bit of good news in the 8/2 ratio (which really is what I’d expect from a lesser known candidate — small, passionate support).

    But it is early.

  6. 15%-rule hypothesis

    Grossman is presumably confident of getting on the ballot and thus not distracted by need to get convention delegates.

    He does lead the non-Coakley pack, but only by 3 points.

    So is it really the 15% rule that is holding the challengers back, or something else?

    • Different question.

      They absolutely need 15% or it’s game over. The primary voters will choose among those who are on the ballot, though I do wish WBUR had polled likely primary voters. Grossman has a shot of beating Coakley for the endorsement and is virtually guaranteed a ballot spot.

    • This is a good question.

      My tentative response is that the 15% rule is definitely holding up Berwick, Kayyem, and Avellone. But Grossman’s obstacle seems to be himself, or the campaign he’s running. As you say, there’s no reason for him to be worried about the convention. I mean, he’s got tons of money. Maybe he should be on TV already, I dunno.

      • I interpreted trickle-up's question...

        …as wondering if the 15% rule is somehow keeping their name recognition down. As I said elsewhere I don’t think most voters are ready to pay attention either way, regardless of the timing, existence, or rules of the convention.

        • Not exactly

          I was responding to David’s hypothesis that the rule was keeping the lower-tier candidates from reaching the public by suggesting that Grossman, notaffected by the rule, is right in that tier as well.

          David’s response is certainly possible.

  7. Move the convention ahead

    What would happen if the convention were in April instead of June? There’d be 4-5 months until the primary instead of 3.

    It would also mean that candidates would have to work harder at lining up delegates before the caucus, not after. That would put a premium on early organizing and at having organizational support state wide. Methinks that would be a grass-roots kind of thing, and would reduce this problem David observes that Kayyem and Berwick are still going after delegates instead of primary voters.

    • You'd run into the same dilemma the GOP finds itself in.

      They have nominated and endorsed candidates who are having trouble getting signatures. Non-activist primary voters aren’t ready to pay attention this early and I don’t think moving the convention would effect that.

      • I hadn't thought about signature gathering...

        I wonder if there are enough Democrats in the legislature to move the signature gathering deadline up a bit in concert with moving the convention up a bit…

  8. Nice post.

    A good example of how blog journalism can be far superior to regular media.

  9. Really surprised at the Grossman-Coakley gap.

    They have both been statewide officers since 2011. I guess being a Senate candidate is really worth that much in the name recognition department.

  10. The 15% rule

    At least two of the three folks who are not currently constitutional officers will not make the ballot. (My prediction.) They lost the race in February.

    Deval Patrick and Robert Reich captured people’s imaginations before the caucus, and came away with enough dedicated delegates so they were confident of getting on the ballot. You cannot run as an outsider without a successful caucus strategy, and that’s why Avellone, Berwick, and Kayyem are spending time trying to convince reluctant delegates instead of making their case to primary voters.

    • Even the top tier candidates weren't doing alot pre-caucus.

      They were still looking for field staff during caucus season. Nancy Stolberg was Deval’s field director and she had a crew of regional field volunteers before the beginning of 2006 and as a result rocked the caucuses.

  11. Wow

    On the other hand, if there’s any politician in Massachusetts who could blow a lead like this, it’s her.

    sabutai   @   Sat 24 May 2:16 AM
  12. Happiest person about these poll results is:

    Charlie Baker.

    • Well,

      I don’t know about that. He doesn’t approach 40% against any Democratic candidate, including the ones that practically nobody has ever heard of.

      • Where was Scott Brown at this point in his race

        Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

        • Yeah, well...

          that was a special. So the timing is very difficult to compare. There were so many highly unusual features of the Brown/Coakley race that I really think there’s not much value in trying to draw broad, generally applicable lessons from it.

          That said, obviously horserace polling is of limited value at this stage. My point is simply that there’s not much in the poll that should make Charlie Baker happy.

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