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Murky as the Charles: Mass. Voters Unclear as Primary Approaches

As kids return to school, MA Democrats wax nostalgic for Gov. Baker and ponder a national party without Biden

Faceless cartoon people holding Vote signs

09/01/2022

Media contacts: Emily Gowdey-Backus, Emily_GowdeyBackus@uml.edu; Nancy Cicco, Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

Detailed poll results and analysis are available at www.uml.edu/polls.

With less than a week to go, nearly one quarter of likely voters in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary remain undecided on multiple counts, according to the latest findings of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion.

At this time, said John Cluverius, director of survey research for the Center for Public Opinion: “The turnout picture is as hazy as apple cider.”

While more than one in five queried likely voters answered undecided in each of the four races, the CPO found the following support for statewide candidates:

  • Lieutenant Governor: Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll leads with 33%, state Sen. Eric Lesser trails at 23%, and state Rep. Tami Gouveia is in third at 13% while 30% of voters reported being undecided and 2% ticked the “another candidate” box. 
  • Attorney General: The race between former Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell (32%) and attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan (30%) is close. The two remain ahead of U.S. Dept. of Commerce attorney Quentin Palfrey who stands at 11% while one quarter of voters remain undecided and 2% chose “another candidate.” Cluverius said of the evolution in the attorney general contest: “This represents a significant tightening of the race from our previous poll in March, where Campbell led by a large margin.”
  • State Auditor: Former Assistant Secretary of Transportation Chris Dempsey has opened a significant lead over state Sen. Diana DiZoglio since the most recent CPO poll in March, which found the candidates were roughly even. The August figures found Dempsey leading 37% to DiZoglio’s 23%. However, the highest count of undecideds (37%) was recorded in the state auditor race and 3% of respondents chose “another candidate.” 
  • Secretary of State: Bill Galvin, the incumbent, leads with 56% while Tanisha Sullivan has 21%, 22% of respondents stated they were undecided on the match. One percent of voters chose “another candidate.”

“We have some indication of who is leading and who is behind, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in my time polling Massachusetts primaries, it’s to expect the unexpected,” said Cluverius. 

If Maura Healey wins the governor’s race and current poll leaders Driscoll and Campbell win the lieutenant governor and attorney general positions, respectively, in addition to unopposed treasurer Deb Goldberg, four of the Commonwealth’s constitutional offices would be simultaneously held by elected women – a first for the Bay State.

“Since 2018, women have done better overall in open-seat Democratic primaries,” said Cluverius. “The possibility of an all-woman ticket shouldn’t be discounted and represents the next success in the long-term Democratic party project to recruit and uplift women.”

Waxing nostalgic

One thing Democratic Massachusetts voters have made their minds up about is their support of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker – who publicly stated he would not seek another term in 2024 and is not on the Nov. 8 ballot. Among likely Democratic primary voters for this September’s election, he enjoys an 82% approval rating – slightly higher than President Joe Biden (77%) and one of the highest ratings in CPO history. In previous polling, the CPO found Baker was more popular among Massachusetts Democrats than Massachusetts Republicans.

“He would be a formidable general election candidate, but it may have become increasingly difficult for him to contest a Republican primary,” said Cluverius. “Baker remains, despite war, inflation, pandemic, and polarization, above the decay, in the moderate wing of the Republican party in New England, and outside the normal rules of partisan politics.”

Mass voters’ outlook on national politics

While more than three quarters of likely voters in the Massachusetts Democratic primary support President Biden, the leader of the party, more than half (59%) say he should probably or definitely not seek another term as commander in chief.

When asked if Biden did not seek a second term in 2024 who they would rather see vye for the highest office, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was the candidate with the highest net desire to run at 53%. The following suggested names also garnered high interest:

  • Vice President Kamala Harris: 51% should run, 38% should not run
  • U.S. Sen. Cory Booker: 38% should run, 25% should not run
  • Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams: 36% should run, 27% should not run
  • U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar: 38% should run, 26% should not run
  • Gov. Charlie Baker: 45% should run, 37% should not run

“The party’s voters are ready for Biden to pass the torch,” said Cluverius of the resounding findings. However, he added: “Any political scientist will tell you that the best strategy for any party in power to win re-election is for its incumbent president to run again.”

Back-to-school season

Three key school issues were also polled in the latest CPO study: COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates as well as school board candidate regulations.

Largely popular, 81% of respondents supported a vaccine mandate for youth to attend school. However, many drew the line there with support for a mask mandate falling to 52%.

“This close divide has persisted as long as the CPO has been polling this question in Massachusetts,” said Cluverius.

In addition, more than half (58%) of respondents favor requiring candidates running for school committee to have children enrolled in local public schools as a pre-requisite. This figure includes nearly all (74%) voters aged 18-44, and 72% of non-white voters. 

To read the full questionnaire, topline results and access the detailed methodology disclosure, please visit uml.edu/polls. The poll was conducted among 800 Massachusetts Democratic primary likely voters between Aug. 16 and Aug. 25. It has a +/- 3.9% percentage-point margin of error. Editor’s note: The poll was conducted before Palfrey dropped out of the race for attorney general and endorsed Campbell.

About the Center for Public Opinion

The Center for Public Opinion presents events and polling on political and social issues to provide opportunities for civic engagement, experiential learning and real-world research. The center is a member of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) Transparency Initiative.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 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