Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Senate candidates desperately struggling for name recognition

Markey still on favorable trajectory

The primary for the Massachusetts Senate Special Election to replace John Kerry is about a month away and only one candidate has enough name recognition to warrant an opinion from the majority of prospective voters.

The new poll from WBUR and MassINC shows that each candidate is recognized by slightly more people than earlier this month, but the Democratic candidates are hovering around 50% and the Republican candidates around 20%, in terms of voters that hold an opinion.

The latest numbers from the poll show the following favorability breakdown.

Chart: Senate Candidate Favorability

We can also look at at the percentage of voters that hold an opinion, and those that have not yet formed an opinion.

Chart: Has Opinion, Recent

If we compare these opinion numbers to the ones in the WBUR/MassINC poll of February 11-13, and the UML poll from March 2-5, we see small increases for all of the candidates except Dan Winslow. Republican Michael Sullivan was not included in the February WBUR/MassINC poll.

Chart: Has Opinion over time
Graph: Has Opinion over time
Steve Lynch shows the fastest rise this month, but is still below Markey in both having an opinion (55-49%), and in head-to-head voting numbers (35-24%). The bright spot for Lynch is the number of persuadable voters that are left, but it is unlikely that there is enough time, enthusiasm and grass roots support to out-work and out-organize Markey's growing ground grame.

The most disappointing number has got to be for State Representative Dan Winslow who started at 10% of voters with an opinion in February, went slightly down at the beginning of March to 8%, and is only back up to 10% again nearing the end of March. Historically speaking, it is incredibly hard to win a Senate election without a larger platform than State Representative.

It may be that this lack of name recognition will lead to volatile and rapid changes in the final weeks before the primary as David Bernstein mentions in his recent blog post. It is more likely, however, that trajectories of the candidates will remain the same with comfortable wins by Markey in the primary and general election.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Senate candidates struggle for name recognition

Only Markey breaks 50 percent mark in poll

The special U.S. Senate primary election is a little over 50 days away and a new UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll shows that Congressman Ed Markey is the only candidate for whom the majority of voters have formed an opinion.

While most commentators are discussing the top-line numbers showing Markey with a 29.5 point lead of 50.0% to 20.5% over Congressman Stephen Lynch, it is again worth noting that voters have not even heard of most the primary candidates.

The candidates that have collected and certified enough signatures to qualify for the April 30th primary are Democrats Markey and Lynch, and Republicans Gabriel Gomez, Michael Sullivan, and Dan Winslow.

The UML poll gives the following results for the favorability/name recognition questions:

Chart: MA Sen. Favorable/Unfavorable

It is hard not to get captivated by the Favorable/Unfavorable numbers, but it is instructive to combine Favorable and Unfavorable into a Has Opinion category, and combine Never heard of and Heard of/Undecided into a No Opinion category. This give us the following chart, sorted by Has Opinion:

Opinion/No Opinion
Chart: MA Sen. Opinion/No Opinion

Markey has crept up to the point that half of the voters in Massachusetts have formed an opinion about him, while all of the other candidates are well below 50 percent. Only 40 percent of voters have formed an opinion of Lynch, and the highest percentage for a Republican is 20 percent for Michael Sullivan. Only 15 percent of voters have an opinion of financial businessperson Gabriel Gomez, and a minuscule 8 percent of Massachusetts voters have an opinion of State Representative Dan Winslow.

What does this mean? It means that we are too early to come to definitive conclusions about who will win the primary on April 30th or the general election on June 25th. However, it does give us some idea about which candidates have a longer row to hoe. At this point in the election cycle, the name recognition factor can play a large factor in the willingness of volunteers to get involved and in donors being willing to make donations. While ideology is definitely at play when choosing a candidate to support, viability can be critical factor as well.

The candidates' signature gathering efforts seem to roughly correspond to the polling recognition levels. While reports vary as to the actual number of signatures gathered by each candidate, the popularly reported numbers below follow the same sort order as the UML Opinion/No Opinion numbers:

Chart: MA Sen. Number of signatures

The fact that Gomez and Winslow primarily used paid signature gathering firms also indicates they have some work to do to generate enthusiasm and volunteer support.

While no candidate has a lock on the Massachusetts Senate primary or general race, Markey has the easier path in the Democratic primary, and the Democrats will have an easier, but not inevitable, path to victory in June.