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The mysteries of Massachusetts polling

Democrats love the results of the latest Boston Globe/ University of New Hampshire poll showing their Senate nominee in Massachusetts, Martha Coakley, up by 15 points. But Republicans are rooting that Public Policy Polling (PPP) has it right: Its poll shows Republican Scott Brown one point ahead of Coakley. If PPP is on target, my friend and colleague Kathleen Parker could prove prophetic in her Sunday column about the special election for Ted Kennedy's seat.

Which poll will prevail? Well, when Nate Silver, the intrepid (and very careful) numbers guy at fivethirtyeight.com, says he’s not sure, I’m inclined to uncertainty, too.

My gut tells me that Coakley will pull this out. That's partly because Massachusetts is such a Democratic state and partly because these polls give Democrats fair warning that they may have a fight on their hands -- they will thus put a lot more resources into the final week than they might have otherwise. (Those who believe the race actually is close point to the fact that the Coakley campaign was rather laid back over the holidays, while Brown continued to scrap.) I also think Coakley has a base of female voters who want a woman in a top job, after years of Massachusetts voters rejecting one female candidate after another.

The one factor that gives me pause is that my dear native state has many more moderate-to-conservative voters than most outsiders realize. On a day of bad Democratic turnout, Brown would have a shot. If he comes close but falls short, expect a lot of gnashing of conservative teeth that the national party didn’t put enough into this race early on.

One very good thing that could come out of this polling war: There are a slew of contradictory polls out there purporting to know where things stand for the November 2010 elections. They use wildly different methods and come up with wildly different results. Commentators typically quote the polls closest to their own predispositions and ignore the others. Once the Massachusetts election is over, I hope Nate Silver and other analysts (including Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta of The Post’s own able polling department) look closely at the methodology of all these polls to figure out whose methods makes sense and whose don’t. (Josh Marshall discusses this issue, as does the conservative site Hot Air.)

Massachusetts is a perfect test case for voter screens (which try to judge who will vote and who won’t) because special elections typically have low turnouts, making voter screens especially important.

In the meantime, the good news for Republicans is that Brown seems to have made a race of this when no one expected him to. The good news for Democrats is that if they win, it will be counted as a win and not dismissed as meaningless. The good news for Massachusetts: No one but political junkies expected to be paying much attention to this race. Now, lots of people are. And if news organizations send reporters to the Bay State this week, it will at least be good for the state’s economy. Massachusetts could use a boost after the Patriots’ sad loss to the Ravens on Sunday.

By E.J. Dionne  | January 11, 2010; 9:27 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Comments

What a sad day for Mass if Coakley wins.

They must love their slavery!

Posted by: username | January 11, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

"I also think Coakley has a base of female voters who want a woman in a top job, after years of Massachusetts voters rejecting one female candidate after another."

Most of those rejected female candiates were Republicans who were demonized by the local media.

One thing that makes Massachusetts such a Democratic state is that the Democrats really know how to get out the vote.

Posted by: T_J_Murphy | January 11, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

an upset with the Republican winning would set the desm off screaming into the night...
now that would be a sight worth seeing...

Posted by: DwightCollins | January 11, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

an upset with the Republican winning would set the dems off screaming into the night...
now that would be a sight worth seeing...

Posted by: DwightCollins | January 11, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

This is too important for Dems to let a little thing like the voters stand in the way.

They changed the law in the Fall to allow the Governor to appoint Kennedy's replacement so thy would have their 60th vote in the Senate.

Dems will change the law after the vote to allow the Governor to appoint the Senator for a life term.

Posted by: jfv123 | January 11, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

jfv123 is only half right about the Democrats in Mass planning to mess with things again - this time if Brown wins.

They're talking about NOT certifying the election until 2/19 - a full month - and allowing Kirk to continue to hold the seat so he can vote for the health care bill.
http://weeklystandard.com/blogs/mass-dems-were-not-going-let-democracy-get-way-obamacare

Can you hear the outcry if that were to happen? After they've changed the law how many times to rig it for themselves?
Somehow the "Party of No" looks better than the "Party of Do Anything, Say Anything."

Posted by: parkbench | January 11, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Even if Coaskley wins by just one point the Democrats will hail it as a gigantic validation of Obama's radical policies.... they refuse to believe that many Americans have buyers remorse and cannot stand Obama or his plans.

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | January 11, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

"Coakley has a base of female voters who want a woman in a top job, after years of Massachusetts voters rejecting one female candidate after another."
------
If Massachusetts voters typically reject female candidates, that may be one of the issues here -- or even the issue. I hope times have changed.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | January 11, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

The one factor that gives me pause is that my dear native state has many more moderate-to-conservative voters than most outsiders realize.
I'm one of them, and I can guaranty it Martha will not win

Posted by: Red_mass | January 11, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Vote for Scott Brown for US Senate on Jan 19 in Massachusetts. If Dems win their control of Senate will enable tremendous deficits that will bring about a collapse of the dollar forcing us to barter for our food. Your investments and savings will become worthless as Dems in ONE YEAR have increased national debt 2 trillion from 10 trillion to 12 trillion causing dollar to lose value daily thanks to Dems wild spending.

Posted by: mascmen7 | January 11, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure the people of Massachusetts are ready to think for themselves just yet. After decades of Kennedy hegemony it may be too much for them to take responsibility for their own lives just yet. So I think Coakley will win with a strong showing for Brown.

Posted by: hz9604 | January 11, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

How about some information on the track records of both the polling organizations? Is PPP really a polling organization, or is it actually a Republican group masquerading as pollsters? What kind of record has the Globe had for accurate polling results? E.J., please do some work instead of just asking Nate Silver and reporting his non-answer.

Posted by: Lamentations | January 11, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

EJ: As a lifelong Bay Stater who lives slightly north of your birthplace I'm glad you are finally acknowledging that this has become a real race. At one point it seemed to be on life support but the campaigning of Scott Brown has given it new life. He came from behind, an unknown, and has run a terrific race, campaigning day and night, through cold and snow. He's put up some really clever, attention grabbing ads and raised issues everyday that have wound up in the media.
I'm an unenrolled moderate voter, female and undecided in this race, even though I supported President Obama in his election. I'm not voting based on gender although there are a lot of still scorned female Hillary Clinton supporters who are backing Coakley.
Personally, I'm glad you finally admitted that there are moderates and conservatives in the state, which has nearly 52 percent of the registered voters unenrolled (independent) like myself. We are not to be taken for granted in these tumultuous times.
It's still hard to believe, a Republican taking a senate seat that had been occupied by Ted Kennedy for 47 years, but what a story if it happens.

Posted by: pjsilva | January 11, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

@ Lamentations:

PPP is an announced Dem polling outfit. The Boston Globe's about as left as Mother Jones', and used U of NH undergrads to do they 'poll' which was done the week before the PPP one, but only formulated and released when the PPP 'shocker' hit the news.
The Globe poll used lead-in questions which eliminated any Independents who didn't participate in the Dem primary, hence the pawltry 15% of 'respondents' classed as Independents. The PPP poll showed a figure more closely matching MA voters, roughly 45% (I), who broke over 2-1 for Brown over Coakley.
BTW, E.J., Nate Silver's outed himself as pro-Democrat long ago. Maybe your loyal readers weren't aware, but I'm certain you are. Try real journalism for a change.

Posted by: OttoDog | January 11, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

The northeast have been self-imposed slaves for so long, I think there is no longer any American spirit in them if they continue to elect Democrats. At some point, I could see them voting themselves back into being under European domination.

Posted by: RealTexan1 | January 11, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Massachusetts
Governor: Tim Cahill (I),
Senate: John Howard (I),
Congress: Michael Engel (I)


Never say never.

Posted by: dottydo | January 11, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Well, you know, after reading this article I guess I will have to just donate another $50 to Mr. Brown's campaign.

Posted by: conversefive | January 12, 2010 2:13 AM | Report abuse

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