Monday, April 29, 2013

Polls show college-educated voters more aware of Senate election

And also more likely to vote for Markey

A new poll from MassINC shows that voters with a college or graduate degree are more aware of the imminent Massachusetts special election to replace John Kerry. A previous poll from MassINC showed candidate Ed Markey doing significantly better with this same demographic, providing another very positive sign for Markey's chances in tomorrow's primary against Congressman Stephen Lynch.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has said that absentee ballot request numbers indicate the likelihood of an extremely low turnout for tomorrow's special primary for U.S. Senate—under- or over-representation of certain demographic groups could make a noticeable difference in the outcome.

A newly released poll by the MassINC polling group shows that about 60% of college and graduate-educated voters are aware that the election for Senate is imminent, while the numbers for those without a college degree are much lower (36% for high school or less, 43% for some college, no degree). This could mean a higher turnout in college and graduate educated voters in Tuesday's election.

The poll surveying candidate preference released by MassINC on March 26 showed that Congressman Ed Markey significantly outperformed Congressman Stephen Lynch among more educated voters, while the race was much closer among those without a college degree.

While these results need to be taken with a grain of salt given the small sample sizes, they are another positive sign for Markey going into tomorrow's election. If voters with a college or graduate degree show up to the polls in higher numbers, it will most likely be to Congressman Markey's advantage.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Collins and Forry outraise Dahill in First Suffolk race

The Democratic candidates for the First Suffolk State Senat race have filed their pre-primary campaign finance reports in preparation for the April 30 election to replace State Sen. Jack Hart. State Rep. Nick Collins and State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry have raised more than four times as much—and spent six times as much—as political newcomer Maureen Dahill. Rep. Forry started and ended the filing period with significantly more money than either of the other candidates, holding close to $100,000 available to use in the final days of the campaign.

Here are the top-level amounts for beginning balance, money raised, money spent, and ending balance.

First Suffolk OCPF Summary

First Suffolk OCPF Summary Chart

Rep. Nick Collins began the period with $6,327, raised $135,205, spent $111,783, and ends the period with $29,748.

Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry began the fundraising period with almost ten times as much money as Collins, $60,822, raised slightly more, $136,270, spent slightly less, $99,185, and finished with three times as much, $97,906.

First-time candidate Maureen Dahill started with an empty campaign account, raised $33,470, spent $16,990, and has $16,479 remaining to use before the primary.

Expenditure Summary

There isn't anything surprising in the spending summaries of the candidates. Both Collins and Forry spent between 30-40% of their money on printing and postage and around 20% on consulting and salaries. First-time candidate Dahill spent 75% of her money on consulting, which is high from a percentage point of view, but comparable to the other candidates as an absolute amount—Dahill's consulting costs were $12,764.

First Suffolk Expenditure Summary


Both Rep. Nick Collins and Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry have met or exceeded expectations in the amount they have raised and spent in their bid for the First Suffolk State Senate seat. In my overview of the race I gave Rep. Forry the edge in this primary race, despite the history of the First Suffolk Senate seat going to a South Boston native State Representative. I believe Forry now has an additional advantage of having significantly more cash on hand going into the last days of the race.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Polling average shows Markey with strong chance to win April 30 primary

The Democratic primary for the Massachusetts U.S. Senate special election is one week away and Congressman Ed Markey has led Congressman Steve Lynch in every poll conducted. While recent polling data may indicate a tightening trend, it is unlikely that Lynch can overcome Markey's consistently strong lead to win next Tuesday.

The latest poll from Western New England University shows Markey with a 10 point lead of 44% to 34%. (As a side note, when respondents to the WNE poll were asked who they thought would win the election, regardless of how the respondent would vote, Markey led 38% to Lynch's 15%—recent research by economists David Rothschild and Justin Wolfers indicates that this type of expectation question has been more predictive than an intention question, possibly because it extends the reach of the survey to the respondents' group of friends, relatives, and acquaintances.)

While the low turnout numbers for special primaries makes polling for these type of races particularly difficult and error-prone, averaging many polls together greatly increases their sample size and statistical accuracy. Markey's lead is an average of 17 points when looking at all polls conducted for the primary match-up. The simple average of each candidate's voter share across the polls shows Markey with 44% and Lynch with a 27% share.

Here is a table with the summary of all public polls surveying the MA Senate Democratic Primary match-up between Markey and Lynch—the polls span late January through mid-April.

MA Senate Democratic Primary Polling Summary Table

While there is a large range of results for each candidate over this time period—from 52-35 for Markey and from 34-19 for Lynch, it is notable that the ranges do not overlap—Markey's lowest polling number of 35 percent beats Lynch's highest polling number of 34 percent.

The polling numbers do not show a completely consistent trend for either candidate, but there seems to be a some weakening and then recovery of Markey's numbers in March, while Lynch's trend has been mostly upward, albeit from a lower starting point.

MA Senate Polling Data Chart

The following graph shows the point margin of Markey over Lynch for each of the polls. The trend line shows a tightening in the race, but the flattening just above a 10 point lead does not bode well for Lynch.

MA Senate Markey/Lynch Margin Chart

Given the variability in polling firms, methodology, questions, and sample sizes between each of the polls, it is not clear how confident we can be in each individual poll and the resulting tightening trend. It would not be surprising if the trend were real, which will surely give Lynch backers hope, but Lynch will also need to hope that the trend is happening at a faster rate than currently indicated by the data.

Rather than looking at each polling data point separately, a simple average of all of the polls gives a much larger sample of possible voters and a higher level of confidence in the Markey lead (44% to 27%, leading by 17 points). With the resulting average margin of over ten points, we can have fairly strong confidence that Markey is the favorite to win with only one week to go until the election.

Polling Data

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A look at the First Suffolk State Senate race

State Senator Jack Hart's unexpected decision to step down from his First Suffolk Senate seat has lead to a Democratic primary scramble including Fourth Suffolk House District Representative Nick Collins of South Boston, Twelfth Suffolk House District Representative Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester, and political newcomer Maureen Dahill of South Boston.

The candidates provide an interesting window into the diverse district, with Collins and Dahill hailing from the more conservative South Boston part of the district, while Forry's district includes parts of the more liberal neighborhoods of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park.

I will look at where the Collins and Forry districts sit in relationship to the First Suffolk Senate District boundaries and look to see if there is a natural advantage for any of the candidates.

The First Suffolk Senate District

The seahorse-shaped First Suffolk Senate District starts with the well known, tight-knit, and relatively conservative South Boston neighborhood, precedes southward through Dorchester and Mattapan, and finishes with part of Hyde Park, the southernmost neighborhood of Boston.

Senator Jack Hart, a South Boston native, held the First Suffolk seat from 2002 until 2013. He was preceded by current U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch, a South Boston native who held the seat from 1996 to 2001. Lynch was preceded by South Boston native and Senate President William Bulger who held the seat for 25 years from 1971 through 1996.

First Suffolk Office Holders

For the last 40 years the First Suffolk State Senate seat has been held by a former State Representative from South Boston. Does that mean that Maureen Dahill does not have a chance because she is not a State Representative, or Linda Dorcena Forry cannot win because she is not from South Boston?


Let's look at which State Representative districts overlap the First Suffolk Senate district and then look at the recent election results from those districts.

There are 6 State Representative districts that overlap with the First Suffolk Senate District to some degree.

First Suffolk Rep. Districts

The 4th Suffolk District of Nick Collins is the only district fully contained within the borders of the First Suffolk Senate District. Linda Dorcena Forry's 12th Suffolk District has two precincts that fall outside the First Suffolk boundaries, a possible disadvantage in terms of the number of people that have seen her name on a ballot before. It does not seem, however, to be enough of an advantage to guarantee a South Boston candidate with an automatic win of the First Suffolk Senate District. Let's look at some actual voting numbers to better understand the district.

Electoral Results

What is the distribution of Democrats that will vote in the April 30 primary in the district? Is it true that South Boston is much more conservative than Boston as a whole?

Here is a heat map of the First Suffolk Senate District showing the Democratic or Republican strength of each First Suffolk precinct. The darker the blue, the more Democratic, and the darker the red, the more Republican, based on an average of the 2012 Presidential election results for President and Senate.

This map makes it clear that South Boston is a somewhat Republican bastion in a sea of Boston blue. There are six Southie precincts that voted between 1-10% more Republican than Democratic, and the 9th Precinct of Ward 6 at the Pleasure Bay end of South Boston voted 12% more Republican than Democratic in 2012.

The numbers for the rest of the district tell a different story. The eastern parts of Dorchester extending towards Quincy definitely fall in the Democratic camp, but not nearly to the extent of western Dorchester and Mattapan where some precincts only saw a handful of Republican votes in 2012.

We can also calculate the number of Democratic votes for President contributed by each of the State Rep. districts to the overall number for the First Suffolk Senate District.

Obama votes by Rep. district

While one hundred percent of Nick Collins's South Boston 4th Suffolk District is within the senate district, only 20% of the district votes for Obama came from his district, while 26% of them came from Linda Dorcena Forry's 12th Suffolk District. That is somewhat surprising give that not all of Forry's Rep. district is within the senate district. This likely means that Forry is not at a disadvantage to Collins in terms of district overlap.


History would seem to indicate that Nick Collins is at a strong advantage in the First Suffolk Senate race—the last three winners of the seat were State Representatives from South Boston. The electoral numbers tell a different story. Only 20% of the Democratic votes from the election are likely to come from South Boston, and the deeply Democratic parts of the district in Dorchester and Mattapan are very likely to support Linda Dorcena Forry who has a more progressive voting record and reputation than Collins.

Maureen Dahill is the wildcard in the race, but it is unlikely that a political newcomer can gear up fast enough to out-organize Collins and Forry. Primary elections, especially special primary elections, are all about voter contact and ground game, and experience and name recognition make a big difference.

South Boston has had an outsized influence on Boston and Massachusetts politics. Candidates like Billy Bulger and Steve Lynch took their working-class stories from Southie to the national stage. It is likely, however, that the continuing move of Boston's voters towards more progressive leaders will lead to a strong showing by Linda Dorcena Forry on April 30.

Maps and Data Sets