By Jim EllisAug. 13, 2020 — A new University of Massachusetts statewide Democratic primary survey posts Sen. Ed Markey (D) to a surprisingly large lead over four-term Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton) in their impending US Senate battle. The poll has methodology flaws, however, as the high error factor suggests.
The UMass survey (July 31-Aug. 7; 50 registered Massachusetts voters, 199 likely Democratic primary voters, 163 Independents saying they will choose to vote in the Democratic primary) posts Sen. Markey to a 50-32 percent first question ballot test lead, and 51-36 percent margin when those who say they are leaning to one candidate or the other are added.
The self-stated error factor is 5.9 percent for all registered voters and a whopping 7.0 percent for those likely to cast a Democratic primary ballot. Asking the ballot test and individual candidate profile questions to only the likely voters limits the sampling universe to 362; hence, the high error factor because the segmentation is too low for a statewide campaign in a place with a population large enough to fill nine congressional districts.
Even when taking into account the high error rate the new Markey advantage is beyond doubt, and it appears the senator’s campaign may be peaking at the proper time considering the primary is Sept. 1 and early voting begins Aug. 22.
Recently, Sen. Markey has been on an aggressive upswing. He’s receiving outside support from strong environmental groups that are delivering a seven-figure independent expenditure; he earned an endorsement from the largest state teacher’s union; and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) is narrating his closing ads. The moves forced another group of unions and the Kennedy Family to counter by announcing a $1.6 million independent expenditure effort on the Representative’s behalf.
The UMass questionnaire asked the entire sample if they would describe the two candidates with one word apiece, and the results suggest Rep. Kennedy has a more negative image than Sen. Markey. While not all the top one-word answers were favorable to the veteran office holder – “old” was one of the most often mentioned terms, for example – he received more positive descriptions than negative. The top responses were, “progressive, good, dedicated, liberal, smart, and experienced.” Negative terms about Markey included “useless, unknown, and unsure.”
For Rep. Kennedy, we see a different picture. The top three words describing him were, “entitled, young, and ambitious.” Other major descriptors were, “opportunist, privileged, arrogant, and fake.” On the positive side, Kennedy was characterized as, “good, smart, energetic, and honest.”
Sen. Markey also dominated the issue area responses when people were asked who they believed would do a better job representing them regarding a particular policy topic. The senator maintained double-digit advantages over Rep. Kennedy when the sampling universe responded about the economy, healthcare, taxes, education, and the COVID-19 crisis.
The spread was closer but still in Sen. Markey’s favor when considering climate change, dealing with President Trump, and transportation. Rep. Kennedy was only preferred, and by just two percentage points, in the area of race relations.
When asked who would better represent segmented groups of people, Rep. Kennedy fares better. He was favored for women, racial minorities, young people, and Catholics. Sen. Markey has the edge with the middle class, working class and labor unions, along with small business owners. The incumbent also does better with progressives, veterans, and those who live in western Massachusetts.
It is likely we will soon see a countering poll from Rep. Kennedy. If not, then it would be a confirming signal that Sen. Markey has significantly expanded his lead and may become the first person to defeat a member of the Kennedy family in their home state.