What's trending in the Senate special election?

As our new poll for WBUR shows, the margin in the special election for U.S. Senate between Congressman Ed Markey and businessman Gabriel Gomez has not changed much. Markey leads Gomez 46-39 among likely voters, including leaning undecided voters. That’s very close to the 8-point (46-38) Markey lead we found in our last poll of the race, from early May. The apparently stable nature of the race has led some observers, including Paul McMorrow of Commonwealth Magazine (published by MassINC), to opine that Gomez is running out of time to shake up the race and catch Markey.

The rest of this week, we are going to take a closer look at the race by dissecting our latest poll and some of our previous polls – both in this race and other recent Massachusetts election. Today, we start with a look at the two candidates’ favorability ratings.

Plotting the two candidates’ favorability across the polls we have done of the race reveals a general upward trend for both.

Markey favGomez fav

As to be expected, the veteran lawmaker Markey began the race as more of a known quantity than first-timer Gomez. Both men’s numbers (favorable and unfavorable) have increased as voters have become more familiar with each candidate. The biggest change for both occurred between the March poll seven weeks before the primary and the immediate post-primary poll. In that interval, Gomez went from being mostly unknown to being viewed favorably by 37 percent of voters -- approaching Markey's 43 percent figure.

Since then, the share of voters who view both candidates favorably has flattened, while the number with an unfavorable opinion of each has continued to rise. The percentage of voters who viewed Gomez unfavorably, in particular, grew 11 points between May and June. This is likely a result of negative campaigning and increased media scrutiny as the race has intensified.

There is also a significant gender gap between the two candidates. In the May poll, 44 percent of men but only 30 percent of women had a favorable view of Gomez. That gap persisted in the June poll -- 47 percent of men versus 33 percent of women. Markey, on the other hand, fared equally well with both sexes in May (42 favorable with men, 43 with women), but has seen a 9 point gap open. In our latest poll, 46 percent of women have a favorable opinion of him, but his number among men dropped slightly, to 39 percent.

These dynamics translate into votes, and largely in Markey’s favor. In our latest poll, Gomez is winning the votes of men by 9 points (46-37), but Markey has a 20-point lead among women. Women are a larger share of both the population and the electorate than men, which amplifies the impact of Markey’s lead among women and diminishes the effect of Gomez’s lead among men.

Later this week, we’ll take a closer look at the qualities voters say matter most to them in a candidate – and how those preferences compare to what we found during the 2012 Senate campaign between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.