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.
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.