Monday, June 10, 2013

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Will Obama's Improved Standing in Massachusetts Carry Ed Markey Over the Finish Line?

Obama''s campaign visit wasn't enough to lift Martha Coakley in 2010, perhaps because his job approval was low, even for a state as Democratic as Massachusetts. But the President will be in a much better position when he campaigns for Ed Markey Wednesday. Photo on left courtesty of Michael Dwyer/AP/Corbis, photo on right found here.

With the Massachusetts special senate race just over two weeks away, pollsters are providing us with a mini-avalanche of new data, a great deal of which appears conflicting at times. But one thing the pollsters seem to agree on this go 'round is the level of Massachusetts approval for the job President Barack Obama is doing in Washington D.C.

Despite having endured what many would refer to as the worst month of his Presidency (it started with the Benghazi whistleblower in early May, then moved to the IRS scandal, then the James Rosen Fox News Reporter dust-up, then the A.P. phone records scandal, followed by the NSA whistleblower, culminating in today's State Department scandal), Massachusetts still largely approves of the job he's doing. Obama manages an average 57% job approval rating in what is arguably America's bluest state. Just 39% of Bay-Staters disapprove of the job he is doing. See the chart below:

Several polling firms did not test Obama's job approval/disapproval rating.

With only one exception (the UMass/YouGov poll), Obama's net job approval rating is relatively high, certainly compared to his national average. It ranges from +31 in the first Suffolk survey, to a low of +1 in the YouGov poll. Compare that, however, to his job approval/disapproval rating in the 3 weeks before the 2010 special election between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley:

Only pre-election polls that surveyed Obama's job approval/disapproval rating are included in the above chart. Data compiled from Real Clear Politics and Huffington Post Pollster.

2010 "likely voters" were much more down on the job the President was doing then than they are now. His average rating is a net 10 points lower than it was in Massachusetts three years ago. His spread ranged from +1 to +16, though Rasmussen was the only pollster to show Obama's net approval rating as high as double digits. The rest found it in the low single digits.

 So while the numbers may vary somewhat in each election cycle, it's clear which one Gomez would rather be running in right now. His problem is that Barack Obama's job ratings have recovered from where they stood when Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley by 5 points. 

There are two small slivers of good news for Gabriel Gomez with regards to the data contained in the charts above. First, while it's clear Obama's job rating is higher today than in 2010, the most recent pollster to test the President's approval numbers (Suffolk) shows them dropping a net 11 points since last month. It's still an impressive job rating of 57/37%, just not as impressive as last month's 63/32%.

Second, there are 3 pseudo-exit polls of the 2010 Massachusetts Special Senate Race that somewhat conflict with pre-election survey findings regarding Barack Obama's job approval rating. The Washington Post, Rasmussen Reports (behind pay-wall), and McLaughlin & Associates (R) conducted election day telephone surveys of people that said they voted in the special election, with the exception of the Washington Post, which conducted their survey on Jan 20-21, 2010, the day following the election.

Both McLaughlin & Associates AND The Washington Post found special election voters were actually a fair bit more approving of the President's job performance than pre-election polling. Rasmussen Reports, on the other hand, was closer to the average (53/47%). The results of all 3 exit polls are seen in the 2nd chart above.

So maybe the Gomez campaign will get lucky and find that pre-election polls are incorrect regarding Obama's job rating. But they'd have to be very lucky. Because assuming 2010 exit polls were right, pre-election polling was UNDERSTATING Obama's job approval rating. Gomez certainly can't afford for Obama's job approval rating, per current polling, to be understated. They're already likely too high for him to win.


  1. Gomez needs an electorate charged as they were with Scott Brown to stop the passage of Obamacare. At this point voting for Gomez would only be another vote in favor of controversial legislation like Immigration reform, since Rubio and the party establishment are all cheerleading anyway. Compounding that, the electorate who managed to put Scott Brown in the Senate have all seen how difficult it is to keep the seat.

    I would say Gomez's best chance to win is the fact that there may be little motivation for Mass Dems to rush to the polls to secure a seat for the uninspiring Ed Markey. Perhaps the motivation to show support for Obama is the only thing that might compel Dems to the polls. Overall though, I'd bet this is a low turnout affair.

  2. I agree with all of the above. But I'm really curious about this turnout thing. Who would low turnout benefit in an MA special election. I would think that given the hugely Democratic bent of the state, it's hard to see how a Republican benefits in a high-turnout scenario in any situation. But then again, wasn't the 2010 special election a slightly higher turnout affair than expected? And the Republican won. So who knows.

    Either way, my assumptions could be totally wrong, but if it is a low turnout election, maybe Gomez would benefit. And like you mentioned about Obamacare, maybe Obama's May scandalpalooza will motivate the same sort of electorate to the polls as 2010. If so, the surveys don't seem to be picking up on it yet.

    1. I didn't think 2010 was high turnout but that was just an assumption on my part. As you said, I can't see how high turnout benefits R's in Mass ever. It would need to be low turnout with R voters highly motivated so they make up a big percentage of the vote.

      Are these polls showing likely voter models? It's hard to imagine anyone on the left but the most partisan activists being motivated to show up to vote for Markey. He is so boring.


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