News Release 

New Mass. poll: Markey up 12 points in US Senate primary

Voters also surveyed on school reopening, absentee ballots amid COVID-19 pandemic, more

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Research News

LOWELL, Mass. - Incumbent Edward Markey has opened up a double-digit lead over challenger U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III one week before the Democratic primary in the race for U.S. Senate, according to a new poll of Massachusetts voters released today.

Conducted by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, the poll of 800 likely Democratic primary voters found that Markey leads the race with 52 percent of respondents supporting him, compared to 40 percent for Kennedy, with 6 percent of voters undecided and 2 percent favoring another candidate. The primary election is Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Voters' education factors into their choice and accounts for the largest divide among respondents, poll results show. Voters with a college degree prefer Markey by a 37-point margin, as 65 percent of these respondents would elect him, compared to 28 percent of voters who favor Kennedy. The congressman leads by 15 points among voters without a college degree, with 53 percent favoring him, compared to 38 percent for Markey.

Markey also holds double-digit leads over Kennedy among voters in key demographic groups. Among younger likely voters, 59 percent of respondents age 18 to 44 say they would vote for Markey, compared to 32 percent who would elect Kennedy, giving a 27-point lead in that demographic to the senator, who first won the seat in a 2013 special election to replace former U.S. Sen. John Kerry.

Among women, Markey leads by 18 points, as 55 percent of respondents said they would vote for him, compared to 37 percent for Kennedy. The senator holds a 24-point lead among voters with a family income of more than $100,000, favored by 57 percent of these respondents, compared to 33 percent for Kennedy. The candidates are tied, each with 46 percent support, among respondents who earn less than $50,000 a year. Markey is also besting Kennedy among white voters, as 55 percent of respondents prefer the senator, who holds a 16-point advantage over Kennedy, with 39 percent support. Among voters of color, Kennedy is up one point, 41 percent to Markey's 40 percent, which is within the margin of error.

"Perhaps the most peculiar thing about this race is that the incumbent has been embraced by the outsider wing of the Democratic Party and the challenger has been characterized as an insider. This insider/outsider dynamic comes through clearly in that voters who trust government are much more likely to support Kennedy and those that distrust government are more likely to support Markey. Should Markey hold on to win, his ability to avoid the out-of-touch-establishment-elite label will be the reason he was able to keep his seat," said Joshua Dyck, director of the Center for Public Opinion and UMass Lowell associate professor of political science.

The findings released today are a sharp contrast to the results of past polling by the Center for Public Opinion on the race. Survey results issued in May found a close contest, with Kennedy garnering 44 percent of support among likely Democratic voters and 42 percent supporting incumbent Markey, while 10 percent were undecided. At that time, Markey led among likely voters who identify themselves as liberals (54 percent to 39 percent), while Kennedy was ahead among moderates (55 percent to 25 percent).

Yet despite Markey's widening lead, 52 percent of voters polled in results released today said their lives are not likely to be any better or worse in six years regardless of which candidate wins the election.

"In the final days, voters see this race as low stakes, but that hasn't prevented the race from being high drama. Both candidates have taken the gloves off in this campaign, but it's clear that Markey has Kennedy on the ropes. This bout isn't over, but Markey has the clearest advantage we've seen since Kennedy filed to run," said John Cluverius, associate director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion and assistant professor of political science.

The poll also surveyed likely Democratic primary voters' views about life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings include:

  • More voters (35 percent), said COVID-19 will prove to be a greater threat to humanity over the next five years than climate change. Thirty-one percent of voters said climate change is the more pressing issue and 36 percent of respondents said the threats were about equal;
  • Asked whether their local schools should reopen for face-to-face instruction in the fall, 84 percent of voters oppose that move, while 16 percent favor it;
  • Without an option to vote early or by mail, 15 percent of respondents said they would opt to stay home and not vote in this election. Further, if they knew voting in person would lead to them contracting COVID-19, 62 percent said they would stay home.

"Democratic primary voters have almost no faith in local leaders to safely reopen schools for face-to-face instruction. There's some backlash to President Trump's desire for schools to open in person, but it's clear here that anxiety about reopening schools is rampant among Democratic primary voters, even in a state that has contained the virus much better than others," Cluverius said.

Despite voters' COVID-19 concerns, Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker remains extremely popular with Democrats, survey results show. Among poll respondents, Baker has an 89 percent approval rating, with 54 percent of voters who "strongly approve" and 35 percent who "somewhat approve" and only 11 percent who disapprove of how the governor is handling his job. These statistics are virtually unchanged from polling data the Center for Public Opinion released in May, according to Dyck.

"Charlie Baker continues to be the most popular Republican among Democrats in Massachusetts - more popular, in fact, than most Democratic politicians. His 89 percent approval rating among Democratic likely voters includes unenrolled voters. But even among just registered Democrats, Baker's approval rating is 90 percent," he said.

Detailed poll results - including analysis, topline and methodology - are available at http://www.uml.edu/polls. The independent, nonpartisan poll was conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell's Center for Public Opinion using the latest technology and highest standards. The center is a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research's Transparency Initiative and presents events and polls on political and social issues that provide unique opportunities for civic engagement, experiential learning and research.

The poll also surveyed voters' views on national issues. Here, the survey found the Black Lives Matter movement has the support of a majority of Democrats polled, with a net favorability rating of +71 percent. As may be expected among Democratic primary voters, 67 percent of respondents said they disapprove of President Donald Trump's job performance, while 7 percent approve, and 92 percent of voters polled said they think the country is on the wrong track, compared to 8 percent who said it is on the right track.

Findings on the presidential race shows Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a +67 net positive favorability rating, (80 percent favorable, 13 percent unfavorable), while his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has a +65 net positive favorability rating (77 percent favorable, 12 percent unfavorable). On the Republican ticket, Trump has a -87 net negative favorability rating (6 percent favorable, 93 percent unfavorable) and Vice President Mike Pence has a -76 net negative favorability rating (9 percent favorable, 85 percent unfavorable).

Among other national public figures, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force has a +80 net positive favorability rating (85 percent favorable, 5 percent unfavorable) and White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Deborah Birx has a +6 net favorability rating (27 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable). Former President Barack Obama has a +81 net positive favorability rating and presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is at a -73 net negative rating.

Likely Democratic primary voters were also questioned on a range of other topics. Findings include:

  • Markey's campaign decision to draw on his roots as an ice cream man may be paying dividends, as the dessert has a net favorability rating of +91 percent among Democrats polled;
  • Market Basket has a net favorability rating of +68 percent, with Dunkin close behind at +64 percent;
  • Among companies that operate social-media platforms, TikTok is the most disliked, with a -20 net favorability rating, followed by Facebook with a -4 net favorability rating and Snapchat with a -1 net favorability rating.

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More on favorability ratings from the poll is available at http://www.uml.edu/polls.

The poll surveyed 800 likely voters in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary. The poll was designed and analyzed by the Center for Public Opinion and fielded by YouGov from Aug. 13 through Aug. 21. The adjusted margin of error is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. Full poll methodology is available at http://www.uml.edu/polls.

UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its more than 18,000 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 and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. http://www.uml.edu

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