Joseph P. Kennedy III’s famous family ties have handed him a huge early lead in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a new UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll reveals.
Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, trounces Republican Sean Bielat in a general election trial heat by a 60-28 percent margin, even though the Brookline Democrat has yet to officially announce his campaign, the poll shows.
The UMass Lowell/Herald poll — the first to test the younger Kennedy’s appeal in the newly configured 4th Congressional District — shows no evidence of “Kennedy fatigue.” More than two years after the death of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, nearly three quarters of voters in the district have a favorable opinion of the Kennedy family — including 42 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents.
The survey of 408 registered voters in the district was conducted from Feb. 2-4 and Feb. 6-8 and has margin of error of 6.4 percent.
While the 31-year-old Kennedy has a commanding lead now, the race is far from over. The former Middlesex prosecutor has never run for office and has yet to make a single campaign appearance. He’s expected to formally announce soon.
Kennedy is also being helped by the fact that Bielat remains largely unknown by voters, even though the Republican waged a close but unsuccessful campaign against Frank in the old 4th District two years ago.
Fifty-five percent of voters in the new district say they haven’t heard of Bielat, according to the poll. Just 13 percent say they have a favorable view of Bielat, while 13 percent have a negative view.
The younger Kennedy, not surprisingly, has wide name recognition in the district, and 51 percent say they have a favorable opinion of him, while just 17 percent have an unfavorable view. And just 22 percent say Kennedy lacks the experience to be in Congress, while nearly half say the 31-year-old has enough experience.
The “Kennedy fatigue” issue has long been the major question in the congressional race. In the 2010 special election for Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley despite a late push by the Kennedy family to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
Joseph P. Kennedy III bowed out of a congressional run two years ago partly due to polling evidence showing a lack of support for the family, according to sources.
But the new UMass Lowell/Herald poll indicates that the Kennedy family could be ready for a political comeback. Twenty-eight percent of voters say they are more likely to vote for Kennedy because of his family name, while just 15 percent say they are less likely to support him.
There is only a slight hint the Kennedy family name could present a problem. The poll shows 34 percent of voters agree that the Kennedys have “too much influence” in Massachusetts politics.
Kennedy may also be benefiting from some early voter confusion over the family name. About a quarter of the poll respondents initially confused the younger Kennedy with his father, but were told during the interview that he is the son of the former congressman.
Joseph P. Kennedy II, the former congressman, also remains popular in Massachusetts, with 55 percent of voters having a favorable opinion of him, and just 17 percent expressing an unfavorable view.