The blog of Frederick Clarkson

How to Evaluate the MA Governor’s Race: Not by Polls Alone

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You know how it is with us political junkies. We are like gamblers looking for the hot tip at the track; analyzing every angle — and sometimes finding more meaning than perhaps is warranted. I think that’s what happened to David over at Blue Mass Group when he drew stronger conclusions from a poll than the political circumstances really support. David focuses on a UMASS poll of 403 registered voters that showed, among other things, that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick’s name recognition is significantly lower than the other candidates.

“The percentage of voters who don’t know enough about him to answer the favorable/unfavorable question remains astronomical at 64%,” he writes; “he is the only Democrat who loses in a hypothetical race to Romney; and he barely beats Kerry Healey with a “don’t know” number so high for that race that the result seems meaningless.”

He concludes: “For a while, it was fine for Patrick to say that he is a relative unknown, that he hasn’t been involved in MA politics before, and that therefore people need some time to get to know him. But with recent reports of his campaign’s financial difficulties and with little apparent movement in his poll numbers, it seems fair to start wondering aloud whether his campaign is gaining any traction outside the small circle of activist/progressive types who are the core of his campaign.”

Since I am a known Patrick supporter and arguably one of those “types” David refers to, you may be thinking that I will now rejoin with a glass-is-half-full kind of argument. Nope. I don’t see a glass that is half- empty or half-full (and I see no reason to do much more than yawn in response to that poll.) But I will, however, adapt the metaphor. I see a steadily filling glass — and a public thirsty for some real leadership.

Let’s look at the issues David raises. There are problems in Patrick’s campaign? Well, gosh. First time candidate; brand new organization. It would be a shock if there weren’t problems of various sorts. There is plenty of time for Patrick’s campaign operation to gel. Good thing he was smart enough to start early enough so these things could get worked out.

Meanwhile, Patrick is raising enough money to field an effective campaign and he really does not have to worry about early polls measured against career polititians like Tom Reilly and Bill Galvin; or for that matter, the sitting Governor and Lt. Governor. Remember Patrick’s speech at the Democratic convention? The enthusiasm of party activists at the convention is played out on a smaller scale just about every day around the state. That Reilly and Galvin have wide name recognition seems like the least they could accomplish given their status as statewide elected officials. Aren’t they being overly credited for having achieved the inevitable? Will they be effective candidates? Hard to say. I don’t recall that Reilly has ever had a tough race. And Galvin is not even a candidate (he got in last time only to drop out early for, well, lack of traction.) But are we surprised that they are polling well against a lousy and increasingly unpopular governor who makes his state the butt of his jokes while testing the waters for president? Come now. That Reilly has amassed a large campaign treasury is impressive; but taken alone is not necessarily the juggernaut its made out to be. In fact from where I sit, Reilly’s big campaign kitty — claws both ways. Indeed the raising of over $3 million, so far, by a sitting Attorney General seems problematic in the face of an electorate that has made it clear that it wants governmental and campaign finance reform. My point here is, that the campaign has barely begun, and the issues that will be central to it, have not yet emerged.

Meanwhile there is plenty of good news for Patrick rolling in. For example, the Swampscott Reporter reports today:

Citing the need for fresh leadership in the governor’s office, state Reps. Doug Petersen (D-Marblehead) and John Keenan(D-Salem) have endorsed Deval Patrick for governor. They are two of almost 30 on Beacon Hill supporting Patrick’s gubernatorial bid.

“Deval Patrick is running for governor because the challenges facing us require strong, creative leadership,” said Keenan. “Deval brings leadership that stands up to the old politics of division and defeatism – the old politics that are getting us nowhere.”

Keenan is serving his first term as a state representative for Salem. Before his election, he was the Salem city solicitor and is a former Essex County assistant district attorney.

Petersen is known on Beacon Hill as a champion of the environment and a public health advocate. He is one of the sponsors of the emergency contraception bill recently passed over the governor’s veto and is working to strengthen rules on disposing of mercury in the state.

“Deval brings a fresh perspective to this race,” said Petersen. “He is a leader seasoned in the federal public sector and private corporate worlds. His thoughtful, problem-solving approach is just what Massachusetts needs.”

Robert Reich, who came in a close second in the Democratic primary last time, did not get in until just before the Democratic caucuses. And he was endorsed (if memory serves) by exactly one member of the state legislature — then-Rep. Pat Jehlen of Somerville. Many elected officials at all levels who might have supported Reich were already committed to other candidates. And progressives were divided among several candidates in the Democratic primary field last time. That is not the case this time. Of course, Bob Reich was much more famous than Deval Patrick when he started out, and that was a huge asset — one he is using to help Patrick this time. But Patrick is already way ahead of where Reich was when he started — and its only October. Campaign manager John Walsh told leaders of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts (PDM) during an endorsement interview, “Give me a couple thousand volunteers and I can beat the money.”

Every indication from where I sit — is that Walsh is getting his volunteers. He is assembling a significant field organization — much of which will have been working together for a full year by the time of the Democratic primary. The Patrick campaign received a significant boost when he was endorsed by PDM — an organization that has been building this very kind of field capacity for the past two years, turning neophytes into experienced campaign activists. Doing the hard work of establishing a functioning field organization is not something that will get one instant notice in polls. But a dynamic grassroots field organization can win elections — as the late Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) repeatedly proved, the prevailing winds of the Conventional Wisdom, not withstanding.

When I look around for indicators of “traction” in the Patrick campaign, I look at things that I think will build towards a victory in the primary next year — and so, no, I don’t find much signficance in small snapshots of public opinion at this stage. I am confident that given time, the campaign’s efforts will be reflected in the polls. Reilly and Galvin have had decades to arrive at wide name recognition. Let’s give Patrick a break and not make too much of the polls until, say, around the Democratic caucuses. By then the field will probably be set; Patrick will have been a candidate for nine months; and the media will have started to pay much more attention. Of course, even then, the primary will still be 7 months away.

Written by fred

October 6th, 2005 at 4:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'How to Evaluate the MA Governor’s Race: Not by Polls Alone'

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  1. Amen for your great comments. I couldn’t agree more that polls a year out are irrelevant. Show me some polls after Deval has made one front page. Show me polls after Deval has run one ad. This election won’t be won by polls, but by a ground game that will prove that going door to door and talking to people about his campaign is going to be far more effective than Reilly’s $3 million. This election for governor won’t be purchased. It will be earned.


    6 Oct 05 at 10:17 am

  2. Good job, Fred. I completely agree that it is way too early to worry about the name recognition issue.

    Patrick has been doing things in the right order, in a purposeful way. He first went to the Party insiders and to activist groups such as PDM to gauge his support amongst the opinion-leaders in the state. Having been satisfied that there was a core of enthusiasm there that he could tap into, he then began to solicit opinions from academics, public advocacy groups, and other experts, in order to help him build solid position papers.

    DP’s policy papers have now been released on three major topics: jobs, healthcare, and education (the last of these was put out just yesterday).

    Deval is now in good position to travel the state to publicize these positions on key issues, and will make his first barnstorming tour the week of October 17. We’ll see those “don’t know” numbers begin to fall like a rock.

    We’re still four months away from the Dem Party caucuses to select delegates for the nominating convention. As a DP supporter, I can only hope the AG’s camp gets lulled into a false sense on complacency.

    See my post at in which I state in which I state my opinion that the fact that “Patrick trails the AG by only 4 percentage points is pretty amazing given that the campaign is barely underway yet, and ‘Deval Patrick’ is hardly a household name in the Bay State, at least as of yet. More importantly, this undercuts the asinine ‘electability’ issue that Patrick’s opponents love to bring up.”


    7 Oct 05 at 3:30 am

  3. I would remind everyone that the zogby poll that you reference, Michael, isn’t scientifically based but rather based on web postings. that being said, i am looking forward to the push in the week of the 17th — let’s hope it has an impact.


    9 Oct 05 at 12:26 pm

  4. David,

    Using the words “poll” and “scientifcally” in the same sentence is an insult to scientists everywhere.

    Polling is an art form, and there’s no reason to think that John Zogby’s online poll is any less predictive than more traditional methods.

    I’ll try to post a more detailed comment on my blog over the next few days. In the meantime, thanks for your comment. There’s no question in my mind that the media blitz next week will be the beginning of a huge upswing in the DP perambulation to the Statehouse.


    9 Oct 05 at 6:06 pm

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