The Topline: Baker’s State of the Commonwealth, by the numbers

Latest WBUR polling shows the governor well positioned heading into November

It’s an expected cliché for a governor to say in his annual address to the legislature that the state of the Commonwealth is strong, but this year Charlie Baker has some pretty compelling poll numbers to back it up. Our latest WBUR poll finds nearly three-quarters of voters (73 percent) think that the state is heading in the right direction. An equal number approve of the job that Baker is doing leading the state, even higher than his sparkling 66 percent personal favorability.

You don’t get to numbers like that without reaching across the aisle, and indeed, Baker’s numbers with registered Democrats are strong; two-thirds of Democrats approve of the job he’s doing, and three-fifths have an overall favorable view of Baker. That goes a long way towards explaining the numerous ovations Baker received from the overwhelmingly Democratic lawmakers assembled for his speech Tuesday night. Beacon Hill Democrats like Baker not just because of the bipartisan approach he touted in his address, but also because their Democrat constituents like him, too.

Baker also addressed reliability problems at the MBTA, promising residents “the public transit system the people of this Commonwealth deserve.” The T has been plagued with problems this winter, and there are signs that it could be a vulnerable issue for Baker. Only 45 percent approve of the way he has handled the T issue, a 30-point drop from his overall job approval. But a very high 37 percent were unsure, and only 19 percent disapproved.

How those undecideds break could become a key issue as Baker mounts his reelection bid. In his speech Baker touted investments in winter preparedness at the T. Indeed, a plurality think the T has done better this winter than previous ones, although that is a pretty low bar considering the system completely shut down during the mammoth snows of 2015.  

But it’s two words Baker did not say in his speech that could end up playing an even bigger role in the November election: Donald Trump. Baker did set up a contrast between his leadership style and dysfunction in Washington, but he didn’t mention Trump by name. Trump and Baker’s poll numbers are near-mirror images of each other: Two-thirds of voters disapprove of Trump’s job performance (65 percent) and have an unfavorable view of him (64 percent). Just a few less think he is unfit to be president (62 percent).

While Baker has bipartisan appeal, Trump is deeply polarizing. His negatives in the WBUR poll are in the mid-80s with Democrats, but among Republicans he is just as popular as Baker himself. In what could shape up to be a national wave year for Democrats, Baker can’t afford to alienate his Republican base by taking on the president by name.

For Baker’s would-be Democratic challengers Jay Gonzalez, Bob Massie, and Setti Warren, Trump cuts both ways. Tying Baker to Trump in whatever way possible will have to be part of any plan to bring the governor’s stratospheric numbers down to earth. But the media focus on Trump and national politics has made it difficult for them to gain any traction. All three men have name recognition far lower than other gubernatorial challengers had at this point in previous election years.

So even if Baker is reluctant to say Trump’s name, Trump may be helping him by drowning out state-level politics for most voters. And as Michael Jonas observed Wednesday, Trump’s extreme style and policies actually help Baker create daylight between himself and the national GOP in a way he couldn’t with a more conventional President.

-- Richard Parr


MPG ICYMI

If you listened to the State of the Commonwealth on WBUR and were disappointed to not hear our own Steve Koczela, please know that he had excellent excuse for his absenteeism. Earlier that day he and his wife Audrey welcomed their third daughter, Annalise Emily. We are very happy to report that baby and mother are doing well, and the big sisters Grace and Rosalie are very excited to have a new tag-along.  

The Horse Race trots on with MassINC’s Public Affairs Associate Maureen McInerney filling in for Steve. This week’s episode brings hot takes from #SOTC2018, courtesy of veteran State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy; fundraising in the governor’s race; and on the wonky side, the election for Suffolk County Register of Deeds.

Steve did manage to find time to talk to CNN about Charlie Baker’s sky-high approval numbers. Look for the piece to air during the 1pm and 5pm hours today, assuming crazy news doesn’t break. Here’s a sneak peek.

THE CROSSTABS

The FiveThirtyEight average has Donald Trump’s job approval at 39 percent approve / 56 percent disapprove.

HuffPost sums up the polling over Trump’s first year. They also sum up polling on the GOP tax law and find it to be gaining some support, while Pew finds mixed views with voters divided on whether they will personally benefit.

CNN’s latest poll shows 78 percent think that if asked, Trump should testify under oath to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That figure comprises majorities across party lines. Opinion is more split on whether Trump has obstructed justice -- 51 percent believe he has, 41 percent believe he has not -- and the partisan divide is much more severe.

Quinnipiac finds 84 percent of voters think the federal government shutdown was unnecessary, and blame is split between Trump (28 percent), Democrats (28 percent), and Republicans (20 percent). The poll also finds three-quarters support Dreamers staying in the U.S. -- a major issue in the shutdown debate -- but even a majority of those do not think the shutdown was worthwhile.

Or was it? Huffington Post polled on the shutdown fallout and found no party faring well. But less than half of respondents to an open-ended question knew the shutdown was triggered by immigration.

NPR has a helpful explainer on the disparate immigration polling that has come out around the DACA debate. Short version: question wording matters. A lot.

And Gallup finds that Democrats, not Republicans, are the party who has shifted most dramatically on immigration in recent years, particularly on solutions to dissatisfaction with immigration.

Gallup - dems immigration.png

A number of generic congressional ballots have Democrats in the lead, including an ABC/Washington Post poll (11 points), CNN (5 points) and Quinnipiac (13 points). (The FiveThirtyEight average stands at D +7.)

Morning Consult ranks Senate approval ratings, highlighting which senators may be vulnerable come November. Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are in the middle of the back, with 52 and 51 percent approval, respectively.

YouGov asked respondents to rate 2,000 of Trump’s tweets since taking office. You’ll be shocked to learn that Democrats didn’t like them very much, while Republicans gave only a single tweet a net negative rating. You can see all 2,000 tweets and their ratings here.  

A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that 60 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization.  

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Where’s the money? Mostly on the South Coast, it turns out. MPG Associate Jake Rubinstein dug through the campaign receipts and came up with a pretty nifty map of the war chests of all 39 currently seated State Senators. Click through for the interactive version (it can load a bit slow, but it’s worth the wait).

The four senators with the largest war chests have been at the state house a combined 93 years, during which time they’ve amassed more than $2 million in campaign contributions. The top 4 hold more money that the bottom 33 senators combined. Mark Montigny (D-Second Bristol and Plymouth) has nearly $1 million by himself.

Also, special attention should be paid to State Senator Eric Lesser, the Obama administration alum who has quickly amassed more than $200,000 dollars since first running for election in 2014. Lesser has been pushing hard for rail service between Springfield and Boston, but in the meantime he has plenty of money to pay the tolls on the Pike.

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