Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Polling Averages for 2014 Massachusetts Governor's Race

Including averages for name recognition, the Democratic primary race, and select general election match-ups
by BRENT BENSON

Last updated 8/28/2014

There has been regular polling of the 2014 Massachusetts Governor's Race to replace two-term Governor Deval Patrick, including the three Democrats—Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steve Grossman, and healthcare advocate Donald Berwick, de facto Republican nominee Charlie Baker, and Independent candidates Jeff McCormick and Evan Falchuk.

Looking at a range of polls collectively and combining their results through averaging helps to reduce uncertainty and provide more robust results. The averages in this article cover name recognition of the major candidates, the Democratic primary—the slate has been set since the Democratic State Convention in June, and three iterations of the possible general election match-ups between each of the three Democrats, the Republican, and two Independents. I include all of the non-partisan, public polls since the convention which include these match-ups. There is one WBUR/MassINC Polling Group poll and one from the Boston Herald and Suffolk University, with the remainder being commissioned by The Boston Globe and conducted by SocialSphere.

Name Recognition

The number of people that know and have an opinion of the major candidates remained virtually constant through the months of June and July, while showing signs of a small uptick for the lesser-known candidates in August. Attorney General and former U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley enjoys name recognition of 90 percent of likely voters. Former Weld administration official and investor Charlie Baker is known to close to 70 percent of voters. Treasurer and convention winner Steve Grossman finally broke through to 50 percent of the electorate in August, and healthcare reformer and former Obama administration official Don Berwick is struggling for name recognition and is approaching 20 percent.

MA Gov. Name Recognition Graph

MA Gov. Name Recognition Table

Democratic Primary

Attorney General Coakley has led in every poll of the Democratic primary, but her share has fallen from above 50 percent, to the mid-40s in the more recent polls. The number of undecided voters has finally started to fall in August and Grossman and Berwick have started to make inroads with those undecideds. Both Steve Grossman and Don Berwick's percentages have moved above the undecided share in the most recent Suffolk poll, which featured a very tight likely voter screen. Grossman has moved within 12 points of Coakley in the Suffolk poll, but the time-weighted polling average (which gives more weight to the most recent polls) is more cautious with a gap of 18 points. The most recent Herald poll shows Coakley's share dropping slightly. Berwick is doing very well with voters who recognize his name, but he still has a wide name-recognition gap to overcome in the few days before the primary.

MA Gov. Democratic Primary Polling Graph

MA Gov. Democratic Primary Polling Table

General election match-ups: Martha Coakley vs. Charlie Baker

Martha Coakley held a lead in every poll in a head-to-head matchup with Charlie Baker until the most recent Globe poll which had Baker up by one point. The averages still give Coakley the edge, but it is clear that the hypothetical matchup is tightening. Independent candidates McCormick and Falchuk show no sign of catching fire, with low-single digit averages. The number of undecided voters has been as high as 27 percent in the WBUR poll, and as low as 16 percent, averaging out to 20 percent.

MA Gov. Coakley vs. Baker graph

MA Gov. Coakley vs. Baker table

Steve Grossman vs. Charlie Baker

There has been less consistency in the Grossman/Baker pairing, but the recent polls show Baker ahead of Grossman by a few points. The 7/29 SocialSphere poll showed almost equal percentages of respondents choosing Baker, Grossman, and Undecided (31, 30, 31). The time-weighted average shows Baker up 3 points on Grossman.

MA Gov. Grossman vs. Baker graph

MA Gov. Grossman vs. Baker table

Don Berwick vs. Charlie Baker

While Don Berwick's numbers had been rising when positioned against Charlie Baker in the general election, the trend may have reversed and Baker has consistently held a lead of over 10 points over Berwick in the hypothetical matchup.

MA Gov. Berwick vs. Baker graph

MA Gov. Berwick vs. Baker table

Polls

Monday, July 28, 2014

Revere tornado is first in Suffolk County since 1950

A look at the frequency of tornadoes in Massachusetts counties
by BRENT BENSON

The coastal city of Revere was hit by a rare tornado Monday morning, leaving a great deal of damage to trees, houses, and cars, but thankfully no serious injuries or deaths.

A look at tornado history data collected from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and presented by the Tornado History Project shows that, until today, not one tornado has been reported in Suffolk County, which contains Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. The only other Massachusetts County that has not reported a recent tornado is the island county of Nantucket.

MA tornadoes by county since 1950

Worcester County in Central Massachusetts has the highest number of tornadoes, followed by Franklin and Hampden counties. The other counties with the fewest tornadoes are the coastal and island counties of Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket.

MA tornadoes by county chart

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Globe article underestimates voter support for Governor Patrick's plan to house immigrant children

Support of 50% to 43% is a sizable advantage, even with 4.9% margin of error
by BRENT BENSON

The Boston Globe and SocialSphere released a poll of 404 likely voters on July 23, which showed 50% of the respondents supporting Governor Patrick's plan to house 1,000 immigrant children on Massachusetts military bases, 43% of the respondents opposing, and 8% with no opinion.

The accompanying article stated the 50% to 43% margin is "within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points," with implications that that this margin is not robust and the sentiment of Massachusetts's voters is not clear.

However, a closer look at the statistical implications of the 4.9% margin of error shows the chance is less than 5% that more voters oppose Governor Patrick's plan than support it.

A margin of error of 4.9% implies a standard error of 2.45%. We can visualize the probability distribution around the 50% support number using a probability density graph. The total area under the probability density curve is 1 and we can look at the area under various subsections to estimate likelihoods. There is a much higher likelihood—more area under the curve—for support percentages close to the survey result of 50%, with smaller and smaller probabilities as support levels get farther away from the measured value.

If we look at a support level of 46% (around where an even split between support and opposition might occur—a somewhat generous interpretation) we measure the area under the curve to the left and see a probability of 5% that the actual level of support is less than 46%. There is a 95% chance the level of support is above 46% and that more voters support the plan, than oppose it.

Probability density of support level
Care should be taken when interpreting sampling error in poll analysis to not over- or underestimate the uncertainty it implies. The 4.9% margin of error in the Globe/SocialSphere poll does not diminish the strong indication of voter sentiment in favor of Governor Patrick's plan.

Update (7/25/2014) - MassINC Polling President Steve Koczela noted that there is an interaction between support percentage and opposition percentage that leads to a slightly more complicated ballot lead calculation. The result is not much different, with a probability of 92% that supporters outnumber opposers.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Latest Massachusetts gubernatorial poll shows a sharp uptick in name recognition for lesser-known candidates

But candidates still have a significant ground to make up
by BRENT BENSON

The Massachusetts gubernatorial race to replace Governor Deval Patrick has been characterized three tiers of candidates—a very well-known candidate: Attorney General Martha Coakley; two candidates with some degree of name recognition: Treasurer Steve Grossman and former GOP candidate Charlie Baker; and three virtually unknown candidates: Juliette Kayyem, Donald Berwick, and Joe Avellone.

There has been very little movement in the lesser-known candidates' name recognition until the release of the latest Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll on June 9, which now shows a fairly sharp uptick in most of the candidates' name recognition numbers. The chart and graph below show the movement of the "never heard of" numbers for all of the candidates, except Attorney General Coakley.

The sharp drops in the "never heard of" numbers in the chart and graph show the start of positive movement in name recognition for these candidates. The least-known candidates—Berwick, Kayyem, and Avellone—show the largest increases in name recognition, with Kayyem showing the largest improvement of 14 points over the MassINC/WBUR poll of May 22.

Gov. candidate name recognition chart

Gov. candidate name recognition graph

While they still have a great deal of ground to make up, the candidates with lower levels of name recognition have some evidence that likely voters are starting to play closer attention to the race, and the Democratic candidates can work towards leveraging a strong performance at Saturday's convention into healthier levels of recognition before the September primary.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An overview of the 2014 Massachusetts State Senate races and candidates

About half of the 40 State Senate seats have challengers in 2014
by BRENT BENSON

On Thursday, May 29, the Massachusetts Secretary of State released the list of County and District candidates who qualified for the primary or general election ballot in 2014. This article breaks down that list and gives a high-level overview of the races and candidates for State Senate, which will be followed by an overview of the races for State Representative in an upcoming article.

There are 40 State Senate seats in Massachusetts, currently held by 36 Democrats and 4 Republicans. For this election cycle, 74 candidates have qualified for the ballot, made up of 49 Democrats, 22 Republicans, and 3 independent or unenrolled candidates. There are four sitting State Senators not seeking re-election and nine seats that have at least one major party primary.

There is an increase in contested races in 2014 over 2012, with 19 out of 40, or 48% of the State Senate seats having at least one challenger this year, compared to 16/40 (40%) in 2012. The following chart shows each State Senate district, the sitting incumbent, whether the seat is open (i.e. the incumbent is not running for re-election), and the number of candidates from each party that has qualified for the ballot. The uncontested races are shaded blue for Democratic incumbents and red for GOP incumbents.

MA State Senate Races, 2014

No candidate has qualified for the Worcester & Middlesex District represented by Senator Jen Flanagan, after a large number of Sen. Flanagan's nomination signatures were disallowed because the nomination papers were missing the candidate's city of residence. Flanagan is planning to run a sticker campaign for the primary and should have no problem getting 300 primary votes to qualify for the general election ballot.

This interactive map shows uncontested races in blue and red and uses darker shades of green for contested seats with larger numbers of candidates.



Open Seats

Four sitting State Senators are not running for re-election. Sen. Barry Finegold is running for State Treasurer, Sen. Gale Candaras is running for Hampden County Register of Probate, Senate President Therese Murray has been term-limited out of the Senate presidency and has decided not to run, and Senator Stephen Brewer is retiring.

State Senate Open Seats, 2014

An open seat creates an ideal opportunity new candidates to run for office, and also offer a much stronger chance for the non-incumbent party to flip the seat, so it is not surprising that 23% of the State Senate candidates are running for the 10% of the seats that are open. Each of these races features at least one Democrat and Republican, and two of the races also have third party candidates (America First and Libertarian).

State Senate Open Seat Candidates

The Second Essex & Middlesex seat features a three-way Democratic primary, including former State Representative Barbara L'Italien, who lost very close races for State Representative in 2010 and 2012.

The First Hampden & Hampshire District of Gale Candaras has the distinction of having seven candidates, the most of any State Senate race this year. There is a five-way Democratic primary, including former Obama White House Aide Eric Lesser. The race has a single Republican, and also an America First candidate, Mike Franco, who has run in the past as a Republican and does not currently live in the district.

There is no primary battle for Senate President Therese Murray's Plymouth & Barnstable seat, as there is a single Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian candidate. The Democrat is former State Representative Matt Patrick, and current GOP State Representative Vinny deMacedo is leaving the House to vie for this State Senate seat.

State Senator Stephen Brewer's Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire & Middlesex District has the longest district name, and is the only open race to feature a Republican primary between current and former Tantasqua Regional School Committee members James Ehrhard and Michael Valanzola. State Representative Anne Gobi has had success in a similarly conservative State Rep. district and is the only Democrat in the race.

Race with incumbents and primaries

We have already looked at the three opens seats that feature contested primaries, but there are an additional six seats that have both an incumbent and a primary. Three of the seats have a primary between non-incumbents, and three have the incumbent facing a primary challenge.

State Senate seats with primary battles

Additional contested primary candidates

Two Republicans, Ronald Beaty and Allen Waters, are facing off in a Republican primary to challenge incumbent State Senator Dan Wolf in the general election—Wolf gave up his bid for Governor after the State Ethics Commission raised issues with his ownership of Cape Air. In a similar fashion, there are two Democrats facing off in both the Second Hampden & Hampshire and Norfolk, Bristol & Middlesex District primaries in order to challenge GOP State Senators Donald Humason and Richard Ross.

Three incumbent Democrats are facing primary threats. State Senator Kathleen O'Connor Ives is being challenged by fellow Democrat Jessica Finocchiaro, a School Committee Member and Massachusetts Young Democrats activist. State Senator Harriette Chandler faces a primary challenge from two Democrats, William Feegbeh and union candidate Sean Maher. State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz is facing a primary challenge from Roy Owens, who is basing his candidacy on his opposition to abortion, giving him no chance to win in this incredibly liberal district. It has traditionally been very difficult to unseat a sitting state legislator in a primary without extenuating circumstances like a scandal, which we haven't seen in these races.

All Candidates

Here is the complete list of State Senate candidates who qualified for the ballot.

All qualifying candidates for State Senate

Supporting materials

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

An updated partisan ranking of Massachusetts State Representative districts

Including a model of Democratic margin and win probability
by BRENT BENSON

There are 160 State Representative Districts in Massachusetts—127 of the seats are held by Democrats, 29 are held by Republicans, and 4 are vacant. This article provides a ranking of all 160 districts from the deepest blue Democratic 6th Suffolk District of Russell Holmes in Boston, to Rep. Brad Jones's GOP stronghold in the 20th Middlesex District. I also provide a regression model that does a good job of explaining the vote margin between Republican vs. Democratic match-ups, using the Obama vote share in the district, and whether there is a Democratic or Republican incumbent in the race.

In my first partisan ranking of State Representative districts, I took a simple average of Democratic vs. Republican margins in the district for statewide candidates to determine the ranking. The ranking was somewhat limited by lack of precinct-by-precinct results for all districts. A finer-grained analysis of the Massachusetts towns and districts is made possible by the outstanding election statistics site published by the Massachusetts Secretary of State and built by Adam Friedman, which provides precinct-by-precinct results for Massachusetts elections. I was able to look for relationships between historical State Rep. race results, statewide candidate vote margins, and other factors, and found that the best predictors of State Rep. results were President Obama's margin in the district, combined with the State Rep. incumbency status. The resulting regression model allows for rough predictions of vote margins and win probabilities in contested Democrat vs. Republican State Rep. races.

The big takeaways from the model are that Democrats are doing better in GOP-leaning districts, than Republicans are doing in Democratic-leaning districts, and that incumbency means a great deal. An incumbent candidate of either party gets, on average, a 12 point increase in margin compared to a non-incumbent. An open race without an incumbent is the best way to flip a seat as we saw in the 4th Hampden special election on April 1, 2014, where Democrat John Velis was able to win in a district which had been held by Republican Donald Humason for 10 years.

The results are summarized in the following table ordered from most Democratic to most Republican. The table includes the expected Democratic margin in the district for each incumbency case, and then the probability of a Democratic win for each incumbency case.

There is a lot of blue at the top of the table and you need to get down to row 115 before find a district where the model shows a 50/50 race for an open seat—the 10th Worcester District of Democratic Rep. Dennis Rosa. Republicans Shauna O'Connell and Leah Cole have beaten the odds by getting elected in the Democratic leaning 3rd Bristol and 12th Essex Districts, which President Obama won by almost 18 points. On the other side of the coin, Democratic Representatives Colleen Garry, Josh Cutler, and Rhonda Nyman have defied the odds in districts where the President lost by around 8 points and where the model gives an incumbent Democrat a less than 40% chance of winning against a challenging Republican.


Let's take a look at incumbents who have succeeded in unlikely district. In 19 of the 160 districts the incumbent's party is predicted to have a less than 50-50 chance to win the district in an open race. Four of those incumbents are Republicans and 15 are Democrats. All of these Representatives have, at some level, beaten the odds to get elected in a challenging district.

Four of those incumbents—the already mentioned GOP Reps Shaunna O'Connell and Leah Cole, and three Democratic Reps Colleen Garry, Josh Cutler, and Rhonda Nyman—are actually in districts where the regression model predicts average incumbent of their party would lose to a challenger of the other party. It is clear that candidates can, and do, win in unfavorable partisan climates due to factors like a particularly strong campaign, a weak opponent, holding positions associated with the other party, or a particularly long service to the community, among other factors.

Incumbent Reps with opposite leaning districts

The following map allows for interactive exploration of the districts. The shading is based on the probability of a party's win in an open race.



Explanation and analysis

The identification of presidential margin and incumbency status as key predictors of State Rep. election results was done using regression analysis. This table shows the relationship between State Rep. race margin and Presidential race margin (normalized agains the Massachusetts average) for each incumbency status, and also shows the regression line which best approximates the relationship between the variables.

Contested State Rep margin vs. Presidential results

Each point on the regression graph is a line in the table below of the 2010 and 2012 State Representative races which had both a Republican and a Democrat. The analysis ignores third-party and independent candidates and looks only at the two-party vote share and margin. The table is sorted first by a classification as to whether there was a Democratic incumbent, no incumbent, or a Republican incumbent, and then by President Obama's margin in the district (negative for a loss), normalized by subtracting the President's margin for all of Massachusetts. This normalization allows for some kind of comparison between the 2008 results (which are used for the 2010 races) and the 2012 results (used for the 2012 races). The Predicted Margin column shows the State Rep. margin as predicted by the regression line.

Contested State Rep. Races 2010 2012

Supporting data

These online documents contain searchable, sortable, and downloadable data used for this analysis:

Friday, May 23, 2014

New poll in Massachusetts Governor's race shows little increase in name recognition

Only three candidates are known by a majority of the respondents
by BRENT BENSON

The MassINC Polling Group survey of 503 likely voters conducted from May 16 to 18 for WBUR showed no increase in the number of voters that had an opinion of the Democratic and Republican candidates for Massachusetts Governor when compared to previous surveys from this year. There was a very slight decrease in the percentage of respondents who said they had never heard of each candidate, except Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Here are the summarized results from the all of this year's public polls with the percentage of respondents that have a favorable or unfavorable view of each candidate. These numbers have been remarkably stable in the past five months. The candidates with single digit name recognition have a great deal of ground to make up in the next several months, presumably by a strong showing at the Democratic State Convention in June. However, these candidates have much lower name recognition than Deval Patrick had at a similar time in his first election cycle, a previous example of a candidate who made up a lot of name recognition ground very quickly.

Respondents with opinion of candidates (chart)

Respondents with opinion of candidates (graph)

If we look at the percentage of survey respondents who say they have never heard of each candidate—a slightly lower bar to get over than actually having a favorable or unfavorable opinion—there does seem to be a slight improvement for every candidate, except Attorney General Coakley. However, the never-heard-of numbers are decreasing at a very slow rate, not nearly fast enough to get the lesser-known candidates to where they need to be for the September primary.

Respondents who never heard of candidate (chart)

Respondents who never heard of candidate (graph)
Updated May 23 with fix to Coakley's never-heard-of percentage in latest MassINC poll.