By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A tale of two — uh, one poll

From the Boston Herald:

Gov. Deval Patrick’s standing with voters is so weak that this year’s race for governor is shaping up as a contest between his two rivals, a new Suffolk University-7News poll shows.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Deval Patrick is leading Republican Charles Baker and independent Timothy Cahill in the latest public Massachusetts gubernatorial poll.

So who’s right? One answer is that the poll shows Patrick leading with 33 percent. Baker gets 25 percent and Cahill 23 percent. Score one for the AP.

Yet the Herald’s lede does accurately reflect the analysis of pollster David Paleologos, who says, “This race is really between Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill. Whoever emerges between the Baker-Cahill race is likely to be the winner.”

My gut tells me that Paleologos is being way too aggressive in reading the numbers, even if they are his numbers. It’s early. My suspicion is that Cahill will fade away, leaving Baker as Patrick’s principal challenger. Patrick’s political standing is pretty weak at the moment, but he’s a formidable campaigner.

Let’s see where this race stands on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

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  1. I think that MassBeacon had it right. Deval’s ahead in the polls, but Baker’s got momentum. He may just have a Brown Bump for now, but we’ll see once more people know who Charlie Baker is.

  2. Bob McCarthy

    I saw this in the Herald and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

    Patrick is the leader in this poll with 33% – yet the Herald (and Paleologos) say it’s race between the second and third place challengers.

    Based on what?

    Clearly, Patrick benefits from having both Baker and Cahill in the race. But unless one of them drops out, how does Paleologos come up with this analysis?

  3. Neil Sagan

    “My gut tells me that Paleologos is being way too aggressive in reading the numbers”

    “the poll shows Patrick leading with 33 percent. Baker gets 25 percent and Cahill 23 percent.”

    I suppose the word “aggressive” is a good way to offer measured criticism and be seen as part of the inside crowd who knows the score and knows how to be realistic. Both the author and the critic are praying at the church of the savvy.

    Is this savvy journalism or just conjecture?
    – Cahill will fade away
    – Baker will be Patrick’s principal challenger

  4. Steve Stein

    Nate Silver over at 538 has some analysis of incumbents in early polls which shows:

    1) It is extremely common for an incumbent come back to win re-election while having less than 50 percent of the vote in early polls.

    2) In comparison to early polls, there is no demonstrable tendency for challengers to pick up a larger share of the undecided vote than incumbents.

    3) Incumbents almost always get a larger share of the actual vote than they do in early polls (as do challengers). They do not “get what they get in the tracking”; they almost always get more.

    4) However, the incumbent’s vote share in early polls may in fact be a better predictor of the final margin in the race than the opponent’s vote share.

  5. Aaron Read

    Patrick’s political standing is pretty weak at the moment, but he’s a formidable campaigner.

    Seriously? I remember that race being more that Healey was doomed via her association with Romney (who was pretty unpopular in Mass by the election) and her generally terribly-run campaign…which was on par with terribly-run campaigns of Dukakis and Coakley.

    Patrick realized early on that he just had to smile a lot and say nothing of consequence so people would imprint their hopes and dreams on him…mistaking that for his own positions and principles which, as I recall, were never really even addressed (much less dissected).

    Certainly I remember knowing full well that Patrick would be a terrible governor but holding my nose and voting for him anyways because he was still better than the alternative.

    Now that we’ve had four years to see how Patrick doesn’t represent a lot of values liberal and centrist Democrats hold dear, and he’s generally done a poor job of working with the legislature. And while you shouldn’t blame the fiscal crisis on the gov, many people can and will do so…and Patrick hasn’t done much to fight that particular image problem.

    I assume he’ll “go back to the well” and try to run another campaign that’s long on platitudes and short on specifics, but I doubt that’ll work this time around; it usually doesn’t when you’re the incumbent.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: As you say, he was pretty much unopposed in the general election. But he ran a very good, very smart primary campaign, starting with the not-so-easy task of making himself known.

  6. Al Fiantaca

    I saw the post over at MassBeacon, and thought that Paleologos’ analysis sounded a little more like a campaign missive, than a supposedly non partisan poll. A couple of points come to mind. First, while there may be some “Brown bump” in Baker’s numbers, consideration also has to be made that Baker is campaigning more aggressively now, making frequent policy related public statements and attacks on Governor Patrick, as opposed to confining himself to fundraisers prior to the Senatorial election. With Republican excitement over the Brown election, they are more accepting of the Baker campaign, and it’s being reflected in the poll numbers as he has drawn a few points from Patrick, and another handful from the undecideds. Second, as far as the overall poll numbers go, there are three widely known main candidates in the race, including two current statewide office holders, and one formerly highly placed administrative officer. It is not unreasonable, under these circumstances, for their numbers to be close, and for the winner to end up with a plurality instead of a majority. Also, Remember, for all of Patrick’s problems during his first term, he is still a strong campaigner, and not Martha Coakley, so to assume, at this time, that the race is between Cahill and Baker and that Patrick is already out of it is presumptuous at best, and partisan campaign rhetoric, at worst.

  7. All that said …
    Cahill has twice as much money as Baker and and what, six times as much money as Patrick (?) and hasn’t really done any fundraising.
    While Baker might be getting a “Brown bump,” it’s important to remember that the Tea Party folks and independents who pushed Brown over the edge are not completely in the pocket of the GOP. And, there is only so much “there” there for Baker. Unenrolleds trend moderate to conversation but many of them will never support a Republican because of what the Washington Republicans do.
    Add to all of this: Grace Ross potentially making the ballot and hammering away at Patrick before the primary, as well as Jill Stein making the ballot and hammering away at Patrick in the final. In other words, I just don’t see Patrick gaining momentum. Where does it come from? He has everything to lose and not much to gain.
    What’s the slogan? “Together, we’ll keep trying”? “A really, really different kind of governor in the second term …” Etc.
    I don’t think Cahill will fade to be honest. He is a tough campaigner. I think he will aggressively campaign through the summer, fine tune his overall plan, which he has to do, and shake every hand he can. He will slowly build on the name recognition he has and show people that, yes, there is nothing wrong, frightening, or scary, with putting a moderate independent into the corner office.
    Will he ever go above 35 percent or so? I don’t know. But, with Stein in it and both Baker and Patrick holding onto their 30 percent, all he needs is a little bit more and he wins.

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