LOWELL, Mass. – The Kennedy family’s hiatus from Capitol Hill may be a brief one if Joseph P. Kennedy III decides to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in Massachusetts’ newly redrawn Fourth Congressional District, according to a new UMass Lowell-Boston Herald poll.
The poll, the first to measure Kennedy’s potential impact on the congressional race, found that Kennedy, a 31-year-old Democrat, leads by 2-to-1 – 60 percent to 28 percent – over Sean Bielat. Republican Bielat, 36, ran against Democratic incumbent Barney Frank in the old Fourth Congressional District in 2010. In that race, Bielat received 43 percent of the vote to 54 percent for Frank, who is not seeking re-election in 2012 after 16 terms.
Nearly three out of four voters in the Fourth District who were surveyed by the independent, nonpartisan poll said they view the Kennedy family favorably overall. And being a member of the Kennedy family appears to net Joseph Kennedy III some votes – 28 percent of respondents said that makes them more likely to vote for him, 15 percent said it makes them less likely and 56 percent said it doesn’t really make a difference.
Kennedy – son of former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II and grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy – announced plans last month to form an exploratory committee to consider running for the seat. Bielat, 36, officially declared his candidacy on Jan. 17.
While 73 percent of those polled view the Kennedy family favorably, 34 percent said they think the Kennedys have too much influence on Massachusetts politics. Forty-nine percent said the family has “about the right amount of influence” and 8 percent said they do not have enough influence. Close to a fifth of those who said his family has too much influence would vote for Kennedy anyway. If he runs, Kennedy would be the first of his generation of the family to run for Congress. Until 2011, when Patrick Kennedy left office, there had been a Kennedy in Congress since 1947 when future President John F. Kennedy began his first term in the House of Representatives.
The new Fourth District – reshaped under a redistricting plan announced last fall that reduces the number of congressional districts in Massachusetts from 10 to nine – tilts Democratic. By self-described party identification, Democratic-leaning voters outnumbered Republican leaners 55 percent to 31 percent. Fifty-three percent of respondents in the poll expressed positive views of Frank, compared to 35 percent who were unfavorable and 6 percent who had no opinion.
Other findings from the poll include:
- Kennedy’s overall favorability among those surveyed is 51 percent, compared to 17 percent unfavorable. Only 7 percent haven’t heard of him and the rest said they didn’t know enough about him to give an opinion.
- Fifty-five percent of respondents said they haven’t heard of Bielat, 13 percent viewed him favorably and another 13 percent see him unfavorably.
- The Fourth District survey also found extremely low name recognition for Elizabeth Childs, who is running against Bielat for the Republican nomination, and Paul Heroux, an announced Democratic hopeful; in both cases fewer than 10 percent of voters knew enough about those candidates to offer an opinion.
- The poll also tested overall views toward other political figures and found these favorable/unfavorable splits – President Barack Obama, 59 percent favorable/38 percent unfavorable; U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, 53 percent favorable/33 percent unfavorable; Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, 36 percent favorable/19 unfavorable (29 percent said they hadn’t heard of her); and Frank, 53 percent favorable/35 percent unfavorable. Those were within range statistically of results in a UMass Lowell-Boston Herald poll in December 2011 of registered voters across Massachusetts.
- Although Kennedy is 31 years old and has never held elected office, 48 percent of voters in the new congressional district said the former Middlesex County assistant district attorney has the kind of experience to serve effectively in Congress; 22 percent said he does not.
- The survey attempted to measure possible voter confusion between Joseph Kennedy III and his father. When asked their overall opinion of the son, a quarter of respondents made a reference to or asked about the father. Poll interviewers, asked for an assessment at the end of each interview, estimated that 14 percent of respondents were confused about the difference between the younger and older Kennedy. However, the results of the poll indicate that any possible confusion does not hurt Joseph Kennedy III in voter preference.
“In a presidential election year, a few U.S. House races will receive national attention. Barney Frank announcing he will leave Congress was a national story and a fourth-generation Kennedy’s anticipated entry is, as well,” said political science Prof. Frank Talty, director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion.
The poll was conducted for the Center for Public Opinion and Boston Herald under the direction of independent survey researcher Mike Mokrzycki – former head of polling for the Associated Press whose other clients include NBC News, where he manages the network’s exit poll operation, and the Pew Research Center.
The UMass Lowell-Boston Herald poll was conducted Feb. 2 through Feb. 4 and Feb 6 through Feb. 8 (skipping Super Bowl Sunday) among 408 Massachusetts registered voters in the new Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District reached randomly by landline and cell phone. Data collection and tabulation was conducted by SSRS/Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa. To correct for known demographic discrepancies, results were weighted by age, race, gender, education, number of adults in household and telephone usage. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 6.4 percentage points for the full sample, larger for subgroups; surveys are subject to other, potentially greater, sources of error, such as from question wording and order.