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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

I know almost nothing about the specific candidacies of AG Martha Coakley (D) and State Senator Scott Brown (R) who are competing to take the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated as a result of the death of Edward Kennedy.  A special election will be held two weeks from today.

However, while I do not know all that much about the candidates, I do know enough about elections to say that the excitement over new poll numbers that show the gap between the two candidates to be 9% is overblown at best (e.g., Earthquake Rumblings In MA).


A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state finds Coakley ahead of Brown 50% to 41%. One percent (1%) prefer some other candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided.

Some quick thoughts:

1)  Yes, Rasmussen tends to be biased in the direction of the GOP, although reports of another poll seem corroborate the basic gap (the poll in question puts the gap at 11%—50%-39%).  So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume these numbers are fairly good).

2)   50% is the winning number.  As such, Coakley is in far better position than is Brown.  Even if the undecideds break for Brown in a statistically unlikely manner, Coakley will still win.  So not only does Brown have to convince undecideds to go his way, but he has to get some Coakley voters to change their minds.

3)  While the stereotype of Massachusetts is that it is DemocratLandia, the state has elected Republicans in recent memory (does the name Mitt Romney ring a bell?).  As such, that in an open seat election there would be a decent number of people willing to vote Republican should be no surprise whatsoever.

4)  Being an open-seat competition, one would expect closer races than we saw when Kennedy ran for re-election.    In 2006, Kennedy won 69%-31%—and one would expect that gap to tighten without an incumbent (and for further reference,  John Kerry won 66%-31% in 2008). As such, 50-41-7-11 is not as remarkable a spread as, say, Michael Graham, thinks:

Scott Rasmussen just told my pals at Fox 25 that the current margin in the US Senate race is Coakley 50, Brown 41.  This is wayyyyy to close for a Massachusetts Democrat.

Perhaps—but that gap is ignoring the undecideds.  the likelihood is that Coakley ends up winning in the high 50s.  And see point #2 again.

All of this means that the answer to questions like “Republican Heir To The Liberal Lion?” is almost certainly “no.”

Of course, the caveat that special elections make polling difficult as they make predicting likely voters problematic needs to be noted.

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  1. plus a floating point due to rounding []
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4 Responses to “Looking to the Mass. Special Election”

  1. MSS Says:

    States that are typically thought of as “safe” for one party are far more likely to elect governors than to elect US Senators of the other party.

  2. PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » The Drama of the Mass. Special Election Says:

    [...] I noted the other day, I think that outcome is rather [...]

  3. PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » “Did Republicans already win in Massachusetts?” Says:

    [...] comports with the basic point I was making in a recent post, i.e., that while Massachusetts is a very Democratic state, it does have Republicans in it as [...]

  4. “Did Republicans already win in Massachusetts?” | The Moderate Voice Says:

    [...] comports with the basic point I was making in a recent post, i.e., that while Massachusetts is a very Democratic state, it does have Republicans in it as [...]

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