The Topline: Are you there, Massachusetts? It’s me, the primaries

Ahhh, the Fourth of July. When we come together to commemorate the beginning of the grand experiment that is America, celebrating government for and by the people. And in Massachusetts - the birthplace of the revolution - the gravity of the moment is not lost on voters as they march toward the purest expression of democracy: elections. They’re reading up on candidates. They’re absorbing the nuance of their policy positions. They’re choosing carefully between their many options.  

Just kidding. Unless all the fireworks shake voters from their slumber, the big statewide contests will pass with little fanfare or voter attention. New WBUR polls of Democratic and Republican primary voters show little voter interest in the challengers running in statewide primaries on either side. Despite blistering fundraising and a strong showing at the party convention, Boston City Councilor and candidate for Secretary of State Josh Zakim is unknown to 62 percent of voters in the Democratic primary.

In the governor’s contest, voter attention is similarly hard to come by; 61 percent of Democratic primary voters haven’t even heard of Jay Gonzalez, whom delegates endorsed at their convention earlier this month, and 55 percent are unfamiliar with Bob Massie.

Whoever wins will face off against Governor Charlie Baker, who is beloved by voters on both sides. Majorities in both of the primaries have a favorable opinion of him -- 66 percent on the Republican side, and 68 percent of voters planning to pull a Democratic ballot. This continues a long string of polls finding little distance between how the two parties view him. He holds a wide lead in his own primary, with 70 percent support to challenger Scott Lively’s 17 percent.

Elizabeth Warren has been a polarizing figure since her election, drawing strong support on the left and dedicated opponents on the right. But Republican primary voters are paying little mind to her would-be challengers. Geoff Diehl, the Republican-endorsed candidate, is an unknown entity to 51 percent of GOP primary voters, and he is the best known of the three candidates running.

These are polls of likely primary voters, who are typically the most tuned in and dedicated partisans. And yet none of the challengers in either contest are familiar to a majority of their own voters.

Regular readers of the Topline will recall back in April that the high proportion of “never heards” was unusual for that point in the cycle. Since then, both parties have held their conventions and resources should be coalescing around frontrunner candidates. A recent Pew Research Center report found that registered voters nationwide are notably more engaged in November’s elections than they were during the 2014 midterms. And yet, here in Massachusetts...crickets.

To be sure, there are major and consequential contests further down the ballot. Some of them may draw more interest and attention than the top of the ticket. But such intense lack of interest in on-cycle statewide contests is very unusual, particularly for primary voters.

So as we grill up burgers and dogs next week, is it too late to add some sizzle to our races? Maybe, or maybe we’ve all just been a little distracted.


In addition to polling the primary contests, the WBUR poll asked about immigration. It found that Democratic and Republican primary voters have diverging view of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and of the Trump administration’s policy of separating families attempting to cross the border.

This week on The Horse Race, we have a Special Report featuring Massachusetts Senate President Hariette Chandler. We talked about the “grand bargain”, Fair Share, tax revenue, transportation, education, former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and much more. Then WBUR’s Shannon Dooling joined us to discuss her recent trip to Texas with members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Last week, we looked at the contours of the then-pending grand bargain legislation, and Steve broke down public opinion on education spending and regional ballot initiatives to fund transportation.


FiveThirtyEight published its searchable list of all the horse race polls for midterms across the country. We know you’re as excited as we are, but we are not on it yet. They will only publish general election matchups once the candidates are set, which they won’t be for two months.

FiveThirtyEight has Donald Trump’s approval rating at 52 percent disapprove, 42 percent approve. The generic ballot puts Democrats ahead of Republicans by about 6 points.

Polling from 2017 is some of the latest available on the Supreme Court. Among the findings: 30 percent felt the bench was too conservative, 23 percent that felt it was too liberal, and 36 percent felt the next judge should be a moderate.

FiveThirtyEight rounds up four major polls on immigration to find an average of 64 percent oppose the family separation policy. But Republicans are split, 49 to 35 percent.

Meanwhile, Pew Research Center finds that a growing number of Americans think the amount of legal immigration should increase. The change is being driven by Democrats; the number of Democrats who support increasing legal immigration has jumped from 20 percent in 2006 to the current 40 percent.

As the midterms draw closer, Gallup finds more Americans view the top four congressional leaders more negatively than positively: House Speaker Paul Ryan (unfavorable 45/40), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (unfavorable 53/29), Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (unfavorable 50/24), and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (unfavorable 44/29). Another 15 percent or more had no opinion or had not heard of each leader.

Analysis from Pew finds both Democrats and Republicans are more likely to identify opinion statements as facts if they adhere to their own political views.

A major bipartisan poll fielded by the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and the George W. Bush Institute takes a deep look at democracy. While 84 percent of Americans believe it is important to live in a democracy, 55 percent see U.S. democracy as weak.

Quinnipiac finds a majority of voters think the North Korea summit reduced the likelihood of nuclear war, but 70 percent disagree with President Trump’s claim that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

Gallup finds 62 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood, but that number is deeply polarized; 89 percent of Democrats hold favorable views compared to only 36 percent of Republicans.

All appropriate caveats about interest group polling apply, but a Sierra Club poll of northeast states and Washington D.C. found that more than 80 percent of Massachusetts voters support a plan to modernize transportation across the region.

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ALL DOGS ARE LOVED YOUGOV WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. Since we saw this disturbing graphic, we’ve been up all night running an elaborate and proprietary model with deep machine learning random forest Bayesian multi-level multi-stage multivariate multi-layer multinomial multidimensional neural networks and calculated ratings for all of them at 14/10. Go ahead, @ us. We dare you.