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New Mass. Poll: COVID-19 Dominates Views on Politics, Daily Life

Voters weigh in on state, federal handling of pandemic and presidential, Senate race

White face mask with Massachusetts state seal on it

05/07/2020

Contact: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 (o), 978-758-4664 (c), or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu or Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu.

LOWELL, Mass. – The COVID-19 pandemic dominates views of government, politics and virtually all aspects of daily life, according to a new poll of Massachusetts voters released today. 

The poll by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion of 1,000 Massachusetts registered voters found that a majority like the state’s response to the pandemic and dislike how the federal government is handling it. Eighty-one percent said they approve of Gov. Charlie Baker’s job performance and although he is a Republican, his approval is highest among Democrats (89 percent), compared to independents (77 percent) and Republicans (67 percent). His net favorability rating with voters is +57 (72 percent favorable, 15 percent unfavorable).

“One of the persistent threads in this survey is that many of the results about the current pandemic have been captured by what has become an all-too-predictable pattern of partisan-motivated reasoning. And yet, here we have Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who seems to exist on a different plane when it comes to partisanship. The state is given high marks for its response to coronavirus and for Baker’s job performance, but most remarkably, his approval rating with Democrats is higher than it is among Republicans,” said Joshua Dyck, director of the Center for Public Opinion and associate professor of political science. 

Eighty percent of voters said they are satisfied with the Commonwealth’s response to COVID-19, compared to 37 percent who expressed satisfaction with the federal government’s response. However, 82 percent of Republicans polled said they are satisfied with the federal response, compared to 18 percent of Democrats. 

Only 32 percent of registered voters approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance while 68 percent disapprove. Seventy-three percent of registered voters polled said they think the country is on the wrong track, compared to 27 percent who said it is on the right track. Seventy-four percent of Republicans said the country is headed in the right direction, compared with 6 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of independents surveyed. 

The poll also found that 4 in 10 Massachusetts registered voters said they know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and 1 in 5 said they know someone who has died from the virus. Less than half of those polled (40 percent) said they are confident they could get a coronavirus test if they want one and those that are not confident are more likely to be from lower income brackets: 31 percent of those from families that earn less than $50,000 a year said they have no confidence they could get a test compared to 22 percent among those earning $100,000 or more annually. Sixty-one percent of voters said they are confident they could get a ventilator if needed, but 23 percent of non-white poll respondents said they have no confidence they could get a ventilator compared to 9 percent of white respondents. 

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic appear to have exacerbated structural inequalities in ways that should concern public officials. Those at the lowest income levels are more likely to express no confidence that they will be able to access a test if needed, while people of color and those younger than 45 are more likely to say that they have lost income since the closure of non-essential businesses in Massachusetts. Furthermore, people of color are more than twice as likely to believe they will not have access to vital medical services like ventilators if hospitalized, reflecting realized anxiety over a history of unequal health service delivery,” said Dyck.

Fifty percent of Massachusetts registered voters believe the state’s social distancing measures – closing non-essential businesses, limiting gatherings of people and recommending people stay at home – will be lifted no later than July 4. Thirty-three percent said between July 4 and Labor Day, 11 percent said between Labor Day and New Year’s 2021, and 5 percent said the order would stay in place into 2021.

“Despite repeated warnings from health officials that the return to our pre-pandemic lives will take years, not months, Bay Staters remain confident that social distancing orders will be lifted in time for them to enjoy the summer. Massachusetts voters have a good idea of what’s going on now, but are in for a shock about what’s to come. The question is, will voters lose faith in the officials they view favorably as the pandemic and the pain that comes with it drags on?” said John Cluverius, associate director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion and assistant professor of political science.

The economic impact of COVID-19 is being felt in Massachusetts, with 23 percent of those polled saying they have lost their job since the start of the pandemic. Of those who lost jobs, a majority said they are furloughed and believe they will be able to return. Thirty-one percent said their income has decreased.

The survey also asked registered voters several other questions about how COVID-19 is affecting their daily lives. Findings include:

  • 55 percent have conducted social activities via video chat, but some said they have made exceptions to social distancing practices, such as visiting a family member (22 percent) and attending gatherings with neighbors (8 percent); 
  • 36 percent have changed spending habits in response to how employers have treated their employees during the pandemic; 
  • 83 percent have increased/improved their handwashing;
  • 63 percent have stocked up on food and 51 percent on consumer products like toilet paper;
  • 25 percent have learned a new skill at home.

Detailed poll results – including analysis, topline and methodology – are available at www.uml.edu/polls. The independent, nonpartisan poll was conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion using the latest technology and highest standards. The center is a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative and presents events and polls on political and social issues that provide unique opportunities for civic engagement, experiential learning and research. 

Looking at the presidential race, 58 percent of Massachusetts registered voters said they would vote for former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to Trump, who has the support of 30 percent of registered voters. Seven percent of those polled said they will vote for another candidate and 4 percent said they are undecided. 

Biden has a +17 net positive favorability rating (52 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable) with registered Massachusetts voters, compared with -34 negative favorability rating (30 percent favorable, 64 percent unfavorable) for Trump. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force has a +57 net positive favorability rating (67 percent favorable, 10 percent unfavorable). Former President Barack Obama has a +42 net positive favorability rating. Vice President Mike Pence has a -29 net negative favorability rating and presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is at a -44 net negative rating. More on public figures’ favorability ratings from the poll is available at www.uml.edu/polls.

The poll also asked 531 likely voters in the Massachusetts Democratic primary, set for September, who they would vote for in the race for the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate. The survey found a close race, with challenger Joe Kennedy III with 44 percent of support among likely voters and 42 percent supporting incumbent U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, while 10 percent are undecided. A poll by the Center for Public Opinion conducted in February of likely Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary voters found a similarly close race, with only 1 percentage point separating the candidates, but at that time, 23 percent of voters said they were undecided. 

In the poll released today, Markey leads among likely voters who identify themselves as liberals (54 percent to 39 percent), while Kennedy is ahead among moderates (55 percent to 25 percent).

“It seems like so far, undecided voters are flipping a coin between the two candidates. It’s a trench fight and both sides are dug in and holding their own,” said Cluverius.

A majority of registered voters surveyed (72 percent) said they would vote in person if the election was held now and no remote option was available. Seventy-four percent said they support allowing voting by mail in any future Massachusetts election. 

Massachusetts registered voters were also surveyed on a range of other topics and findings include:

  • Dunkin’ has a +63 net positive favorability rating (73 percent favorable, 10 percent favorable) with Massachusetts registered voters from all parties, which is even higher than the +52 it received in a poll of likely Massachusetts Democratic primary voters in February;
  • Market Basket is even more popular than Dunkin’, with a +64 positive net favorability rating;
  • Despite leaving New England for Tampa Bay, Tom Brady has a +35 positive net favorability rating (56 percent favorable and 21 percent unfavorable) and Rob Gronkowski, who is coming out of retirement to play with Brady, has a +41 net positive favorability rating;
  • Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has a +36 net positive favorability rating;
  • MassHealth also has a strong positive rating at +48 (59 percent favorable and 11 percent unfavorable).

The poll surveyed 1,000 Massachusetts registered voters and 531 likely voters in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary. The poll was designed and analyzed by the Center for Public Opinion and fielded by YouGov from April 27 through May 1. The adjusted margin of error for registered voters is plus or minus 3.6 percent and for likely voters, plus or minus 7.8 percent. Full poll methodology is available at www.uml.edu/polls.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu