Poll data indicates challenges for Brown

The Senate race could become a replay of the Patrick-Baker campaign This article originally appeared on CommonWealthMagazine.org

This fall's Senate election is shaping up more like a replay of the statewide election at the end of 2010 than the one at the beginning. US Sen. Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley came courtesy of two dynamics which Charlie Baker was unable to repeat in his gubernatorial contest with Gov. Deval Patrick. First was Brown’s 31 point margin over Coakley among self-described Independents, and second was a narrow, three-point loss among women voters. Both dynamics were dramatically altered in the gubernatorial election, where Baker managed just a 14-point victory among unenrolled voters, and suffered a 24-point blowout among women.

The MassINC Polling Group’s recent poll for WBUR asked which candidate would do a better job on economic issues, which poll after poll confirms as the No. 1 issue in the election. Among registered voters, each candidate received 40 percent support on this question. Needless to say, this is not a pure horse-race question (i.e. which candidate would you vote for if the election were today), but does explore how subgroups answered the question offers one glimpse into how they might vote.

Ominously for Brown, unenrolled voters are narrowly split, with 39 percent for Brown, and 35 percent for Warren. This is nowhere close to the support Brown needs from unenrolled voters in order to overcome Democrats’ built-in registration advantage. Also, Warren still has natural supporters who likely swing her way: 18 percent of Democrats did not choose a candidate on this question. Brown has already locked up nine of ten Republicans, with only a few remaining undecided. Therefore locking up undecided voters who have yet to make up their mind is key to Brown’s ability to secure a return trip to Washington. The 25 percent of unenrolled voters who remain undecided can expect abundant attention from both campaigns.

Closing the gap with Coakley to three points among women voters allowed Brown’s 14-point advantage among men to carry him over the finish line last January. This time around, women prefer Warren on the economy by a 13-point margin at this early stage, with 20 percent remaining undecided. If this support persists, Warren’s network of support will begin to feel more like Deval Patrick’s and less like Martha Coakley’s.