Saturday, January 30, 2010

Category Six Political Storm in Massachusetts

What a week!

First, the Prof is pleased to say that his final prediction (after a lot of editing as conditions changed) was awfully close.

My prediction on January 17

Brown 50
Coakley 48
Kennedy 2

Actual results on January 19

Brown 52
Coakley 47
Kennedy 1

There have been a plethora of news and analysis so I will keep my commentary on the brief side...

Classic "tortoise vs. hare" scenario. Brown simply ran a exemplary campaign whilst Coakley ran one of thew worst ones I have ever seen. Brown was able to portray himself as the populist outsider while Coakley behaved as the consummate insider. Coakley believed that she had a huge advantage due to being a Democrat in Massachusetts. This proved unwise as Brown attracted massive support form independents and conservative Democrats. Brown won the communities of Lowell and Quincy - these are not Republican towns!

Healthcare, terrorism, and President Obama's popularity falling back to earth all broke in favor of Brown. Brown was able to take advantage of sentiment that was seething beneath the surface and tap into it.

Coakley's negative saturation advertising while bringing liberals into the fold likely alienated many independents. Brown ran a generally positive and upbeat race. He did run negative ads, but placed them much more strategically.

Ted Kennedy's seat flipping to a Republican is indeed a Category Six storm. This is generally good news for beleaguered Massachusetts Republicans. However, they need to be careful that much of the momentum for Brown's win was not a vote for Republicans (Brown rarely even used the label) but a victory for outsiders in the insider-dominated Massachusetts political culture.

This does mean that Republicans will be able to recruit many more candidates in legislative elections this fall. Having candidates does not guarantee election, but it is a necessary start.

What does this mean for the governor's race? I will hit that in my next posting.


The Prof

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Things to watch for on Tuesday

On Tuesday these are the things to look for...

Conventional wisdom is the low turnout benefits Brown and high turnout helps Coakley. What is really important is who turns out and where that turnout is coming from. If there is high turnout in the towns in the Merrimack Valley, the 495 belt (watch Marlborough and Shrewsbury) and the South Shore/Cape, it may be a good night for Brown. If turnout is high in the urban centers, inner suburbs, and liberal communities west of Boston (Newton, Concord, Brookline, etc) Coakley may be on the road to victory.

Early Results
If Chelmsford reports results and Brown is not leading by a substantial margin, he is likely to have a bad night. Conversely, if Coakley is winning Somerville, but by only ten points, she will likely need to work on the concession speech. The anecdotal evidence based on absentee ballot submissions seems to be favorable for Brown as the raw number of absentee ballots in communities where he should do well have been higher than in areas where Coakley is expected to perform well.

Exit Polls
These will be released as soon as polls close by 8:00 pm. Watch for the vote margin among Independents, the extent of the gender gap (Coakley needs to win women by a wide margin) what issues motivated voters (advertising, healthcare, abortion, etc). Also watch for the proportion of Independents who show up. If Independents outnumber Democrats, Brown benefits. if Democratic turnout exceeds Independents, score one for Coakley. Republicans (only 12% of voters) are expected to turn out in very high numbers.

One wildcard that the Obama visit may yield is higher than expected turnout among minority groups. Stay tuned...

Final Prediction for Mass Senate Seat

No more waffling...yes I know this is an extremely close race (unless the polls have utterly missed some dynamic which is very possible) and all depends on turnout, the energy of voters and any last day surprises that may occur. The situation is very fluid - that statement is not exactly rocket science, but is an apt one for this situation.

Out on a limb...ok, jump!

Brown 50
Coakley 48
Kennedy 2

It is also possible, but less likely that either of these candidates wins by a margin of five or more points. Explanation for all scenarios below...

Why Brown wins

Brown has campaigned as an outsider vs. Coakley's insider status. This has energized many independents (quite of few of whom were Obama voters in 2008). Outsider status during a recession with a sizable portion of the electorate angry at Beacon Hill and disappointment with the Obama administration (though not him personally) is a huge plus. Coakley is the defacto "incumbent" in this race and Brown has been able to capture the mantel of the fresh-faced challenger.

Brown also has run a generally positive campaign. He has done a decent job in defining himself and that has helped make this a competitive race. Likeabilty matters.

Voter anger at Beacon Hill and Washington DC - 'nuff said. Running against the "machine" was a smart strategy. The way health care has been debated in DC also has energized his voters. Even in Massachusetts, the current proposals on Capitol Hill are not very popular.

Brown has been able to appeal to lunch bucket Democrats. He won't come close to winning Democrats, but if he can win 20% of them and rack up big margins among independents, it will carry him over the line.

Momentum - he has it. His voters are extremely energized and passionate about his candidacy. Coakley's voters simply are not as energized.

Money - although at a slight financial disadvantage, Brown has been able to remain very competitive and has run a very good GOTV (get out the vote) operation and has been able to advertise on TV, radio, and via robo-calls.

Many folks who may prefer the Libertarian Kennedy may in the booth go for Brown. Third party candidacies typically do much better in opinion polls than in the actual results.

Coakley's mistakes

Coakley has run literally one of the worst campaigns that I have ever seen. She is now relying on party unity to carry her over the finish line and is making few as possible media appearances due to her numerous gaffes over the past week. Her campaign really imploded and allowed Brown to climb into this by her not actively campaigning during the month of December. This allowed Brown to define himself instead of her using her considerable financial resources to define him as he was an unknown quantity to most voters.

Coakley's final crash began with the last debate where her rather mundane performance reinforced why she has been avoiding many public forums. Her answers on terrorism (no Taliban in Afghanistan) were interpreted as as being both woefully out of touch and uninformed. I know what she "meant" by her answer - that we needed to redirect our focus to Pakistan and Yemen. However, she created a perception of not being engaged in reality - especially two weeks after a near disaster in the skies over Detroit.

She simply is not a good "politician" although that has nothing to do with her potential performance as senator. But you need to win voters on the ground and little things like being perceived to be surrounding herself with insiders is not the way to win independents. She needed to campaign as a populist and as the heir to Ted Kennedy. She really failed on that account.

Coakley's negative firestorm may attract hard-line Democrats, but I think may alienate independents. Her ads are giving no reason why people should vote for her - they are about portraying Brown in as negative a light as possible. negative ads can and do work, but the saturation bombing smacks of desperation.

How Coakley can win

Turnout turnout turnout! Did I mention turnout? She needs to energize her base. The Democrats enjoy a huge advantage (37% of the electorate are registered Democrats). Labor and human services/advocacy groups have a considerable presence in Massachusetts and they do vote in high numbers.

The negative ad campaign may drive away suburban women from Brown over the abortion issue. It also "gins up" turnout among base Democrats who may have had less reason to vote if they thought Coakley had a comfortable lead.

President Obama's visit (he has to come; if he doesn't and Coakley loses he will share the blame for not helping). This will likely energize minority and urban voters who otherwise may not have shown up.

If all of these things come together, she can win and by a margin that is relatively comfortable. But I think the endemic weakness of her candidacy simply may be too big a drag to pull this off.

Onwards to Tuesday!

The Prof

Last set of polls on the Mass Senate Race

Quick update on polling - looks like Brown may hold a small lead with 2 days to go, but all of these polls are within the margin of error - this is a statistical tie folks! Below are the polls that have been released since Monday of last week. The trends are that Brown is leading nearly 2 to 1 among independents and seems to have the most energized voters.

Much of the issues that pollsters have is how to model the breakdown of the electorate, i.e. who actually turns out to vote. Some of the variation is partially due to different samples in term sof the partisan affiliation of who shows up. Right now though, the best we can do is to make educated guesses.

All the below surevys are of likely voters.

American Research Group
Brown 48
Coakley 45

Research 2000
Coakley 48
Brown 41

Coakley 47
Brown 45

Suffolk University
Brown 50
Coakley 46
Kennedy 3
Undecided 1

Statistical breakdown (Courtesy of Suffolk University)
Among men, Brown led Coakley 55% to 41% but trailed among women 50 % to 45%.

78 % of registered Democrats preferred Coakley, while 91% of registered Republicans and 65% of independents favored Brown.

Brown led in most areas of the state, except Suffolk County, where Coakley crushed Brown 69%to 31%.

Brown (57% favorable to 19% unfavorable) was viewed more positively than Coakley (49%favorable to 41% unfavorable).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Polls are all over the place

Hi all,

What a difference a month makes...

Three polls have been released over the past week. All three survey likely voters.

Rasmussen: Coakley 51; Brown 40

Globe/UNH: Coakley 50; Brown 35

Public Policy Polling (PPP): Brown 48; Coakley 47

All of these show how hard it is to forecast a special election. The Rasmussen and PPP polls show Brown with a big lead among independents, while the globe shows independents slightly in favor of Coakley. Both candidates have relatively high positives. Likewise the Globe poll shows more support for health reform legislation than either Rasmussen or PPP.

Which one is closest? Hard to tell as WHO turns out (in terms of demographics) will matter most. Republicans and Brown supporters appear to be more motivated in this race, but Massachusetts is still overwhelmingly blue.

For now, I am going to stick with my earlier prediction of a Coakley victory. My first assessment was a 57-43 margin which is a 14 point win. It may well end up less than 10 points, but until I get a better sense of the data, it is hard to tell. The Prof's instinct tells him that Coakley should pull this out easily with major ad buys for the last ten day and a concentrated ground effort. However, this race is taking place with an angry electorate and a rather uninspired campaign by Coakley. Massachusetts Republicans (all 14 of them) appear to be very fired up about the race so unpredictability is the watchword for any sane pundit.

But...I will go out on a limb (with the caveat that this may change by the day) and predict an 8 point Coakley victory (which is the average of the three polls out today)

Coakley 53

Brown 45

Kennedy 2

My next post will center on a possible Brown path to victory.


The Prof