Massachusetts Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren has opened up a lead over incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown, besting him by seven points in a hypothetical general election match-up, according to findings in a new poll released on Dec 7.
The survey of 505 registered voters in the Commonwealth,conducted by UMASS Lowell in conjunction with the Boston Herald between Dec 1 and 6, showed Warren defeating Brown by 49-42% in next year’s Senate race.
Warren, a former Harvard Law professor turned Consumer advocate and Obama administration adviser, is still technically competing for the Democratic nomination, against four other candidates. But, given Warren’s name recognition, fundraising by progressive activists, and an onslaught of ads against her by conservative leading groups, it seems she will most likely be the party’s nominee after primary votes are cast in September’s Democratic primary. Brown, a freshman Republican Senator, who’s an upset victory in January 2010 in a Special election for the Senate to fill the seat previously held by Senator Edward M Kennedy and was a precursor to the gains made in the House and Senate in last years midterm elections, faces no Republican primary challenge.
The latest findings show that the number of voters who approve of Brown’s job performance, has dipped from 53% in a poll taken in Sept, when Warren first entered the primary race, to 45%, with that erosion in support coming from Democrats, Independents, and fellow Republicans.
Positive perceptions of the junior Senator have also taken a tumble in the last two months, with the number of respondents who said they have a favorable view of Brown, going down from 52 percent, to 43 percent, while the number who see him unfavorably rose from 29 to 35 percent. The number of Independents who see him positively has remained steady at 59 percent, but his unfavorables among Democrats are up from 43% to 52%, and those of Republicans have dropped from 8% to 5%.
Warren’s name recognition has also surged, with the number who say they never heard of her shrinking from 37 in the same Sept poll, to 23 percent. But the news is not all good for Warren. While her positives went up from 30 to 34 percent, her negatives rocketed up even further from 19 percent to 27 percent.
The uptick in negative perceptions can be tied to the ads that have aired, usually by liberal or conservative leaning activist groups who aren’t directly associated with either campaign. Earlier this Fall, the Massachusetts Republican Party made an online ad, using footage of Warren, quoting her as saying she created ‘much of the intellectual foundation’ for the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, inter spliced with news coverage of arrests and interviews with some of the more extreme elements of the anti-Wall Street protests, in an attempt to paint her as a radical liberal. ‘Cross roads GPS’, a conservative political group co- founded by Karl Rove, a former chief adviser to former President George W. Bush, produced a similar spot, buying up $600,000 worth of airtime. Oddly, this week ‘crossroads’ also unleashed a spot that hits Warren, who was in charge of supervising TARP funds provided to financial institutions following the 2008 economic meltdown, for being to pro-Wall Street in distributing funds.
Brown has also incurred a fair share of such ads, such as a $1.2 million ad buy from the League of Women voters, dinging him for his oppposition to legislation that would tighten restrictions on emissions from smoke stacks and tailpipe, earlier this Spring. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), also went after Brown with ads in Oct, for opposing the elimination of tax loopholes for the oil industry, as well as his overall environmental record. The Brown campaign subsequently responded with an ad of thier own, and called the LCV a ‘partisan organization’. Furthermore, he claimed that he would be willing to do away with tax cuts to the oil industry as part of a broader tax reform package, and that the measures he voted against were small provisions placed in legislation not related to the environment.
Despite the rising negatives though, it seems that voters are not seriously taking the claims made in the ads into account when deciding who to support. When asked about Warren’s support of the ‘Occupy Wall Street movement’, 57 percent said it made little to no difference, while 16 percent said it made them more likely, and 23 percent less. The Republicans have also employed a tactic of referring to Warren as ‘Professor’ in both their campaign materials and their statements to mold the image of her as out of touch, but that also seems to have very little influence. Seventy-four percent said that her past position at Harvard University would make little to no difference, while 18 percent would be more inclined to vote her and 7 percent less likely.
Progressives have also toiled hard to turn contributions Brown receives from financial institutions, into a negative. But 58 percent said it wouldn’t influence their decision either way, while the number who would be made more or less likely to support him was both 2 percent and 37 percent respectively.
More bad news for Brown though, is evidenced in the response to questions of who would do a better job looking out for the economic interests of middle class families, an issue Warren’s campaign has repeatedly emphasized. Respondents opted for her over Brown, 43-33 percent. An even larger number, by a margin of 44-29 percent, said Warren would do a better job pursuing regulations of Wall Street.
When undecideds are forced to choose, between one of the two candidates or someone else,the outcome remains the same with Warren edging out Brown 49-42%. Each candidate gets the most support from thier respective parties with little crossover, Warren garnering 74% of Democrats, and Brown 89% of Republicans. But Brown has a strong lead with Independents, by 53-37 percent, a crucial block for him in a state where only 11.33% of residents are registered Republicans.
But with eleven months remaining until the general election, things seem very fluid, with room for either candidate to make inroads. Fifty-five percent of candidates asked to choose between Brown and Warren, said they either didn’t know who they would vote for, or they could be persuaded to cast their vote for the other candidate.
Beyond the Massachusetts Senate race, the poll also documented that President Obama’s approval rating has held still at 61% in the state, while former Governor and Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney’s support has fallen from 45 percent in Sept, to 40 percent now. Also, if Republican presidential front runner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was hoping to net the support of Massachusetts voters, he might want to craft a new plan since a meer 22% of those surveyed have a favorable perception of him.