Suffolk University/Channel 7 has released its latest poll on the Governor’s race essentially confirming the results of the Ramussen poll from 2 weeks ago.

It shows Governor Deval Patrick gained significantly as Tim Cahill’s support has crashed.  Jill Stein had a surprisingly strong showing of 8%, which indicates that many progressives are looking for alternatives to Patrick.

Poll Trends

  Patrick Baker Cahill Stein
Rass. 10/26 34 24 23 n/a
Suff. 11/12 38 15 26 n/a
Rass. 11/25 33 28 25 n/a
Suff. 2/26 33 25 23 n/a
Rass. 3/10 35 32 29 n/a
Rass. 4/7 35 27 23 n/a
WNEC 4/20 34 27 29 n/a
Rass. 5/12 46 31 14 n/a
Suff. 5/25 42 29 14 8

Trends

There are enough polls to see some clear trends. Patrick has baseline support at 35%. Short of a sex scandal, Patrick can count on his base. When news is good as it has been recently Patrick can make gains. Cahill is in is seriously damaged. He has had support at around 25% for the past 6 months – but news of one scandal after another have steadily increased his negative and it’s now cut deeply into his support. It’s not just the RGA ads – they are just publicizing what is showing up in the newspapers. Baker’s support is growing – but very slowly. He needs some voice other  than his own campaign to convince voters that he is the right person to solve the state’s budget problems.

Deval Patrick

This poll confirms that Patrick’s support is decidedly up. The governor has been benefiting from recent good news: a positive jobs report, efficient handling of the MWRA water main break, and being on the right side of the Probation Department patronage scandal.

Voters want to like Patrick. He has that Obama like reassuring speaking style. He speaks to the principles that Massachusetts voters hold dear.

Given the state of the economy, and his inability to hold an out of control Legislature in check, his approval ratings are deep in the danger zone for an incumbent. At 46% approval, he is below the 50% that poll watchers generally consider dangerous.

In this poll only 8% of voters have no opinion about Patrick, and 45% have a favorable view. With his support at 42%, he has little room to grow before he has to start converting voters who have already turned against him.

To improve his favorablity, Patrick is either going to need good news all year, or he’s going to have to go to bat for the voters against the Legislature. It is likely the new budget is going to include more cuts to local aid – resulting in thousands of teacher layoffs across the state – and increases to patronage laden state bureaus. Patrick will need to be extremely vocal against this – or get caught up in anti-incumbent storm that is about to decimate the Legislature.

Some Republican strategists are predicting that Patrick will go negative and try to define Baker negatively before he is better known to voters. This is a risky strategy. Unlike Cahill, Baker doesn’t have a nearly infinite number of political scandals to dredge up week after week. Attacking Baker for merely being “too conservative” won’t work on Baker, just as it didn’t work on Scott Brown. Patrick will need something tangible to make it stick.

There have been some attempts to tie Baker to the Big Dig cost overruns, but that really hasn’t stuck.

Tim Cahill

Running for Governor is expensive. There are three ways to do it. You can be a gajillionaire like Mihos and just pay it out of pocket, you can be a party candidate like Patrick and Baker and get party funding – or you can raise a lot of your own campaign money like Cahill has.

It’s extremely difficult to raise that kind of money from grassroots voter support. You usually have to hit up lobbyists and corporate donors, and live with all the conflict of interest problems that come with that.

Cahill claims that his fundraising effort has never affected policy. Only he in his heart knows if that is true. But from the outside, the pattern looks pretty damning. He gets contributions from Probation employees, and has hired the Probation Commissioners wife and daughter to the state lottery. Tim Cahill takes money from the very companies to whom he awards state lottery contracts. He received contributions from the expensive lawfirm the state hired to defend him against a lawsuit from resulting conflict of interest related to those lottery contracts.

And there are more scandals yet to hit. Michael Travaglini resigned as the state’s pension fund manager. He says it’s over a pay cap to his $322,000 a year salary. One wonders if it has to do with new evidence that Cahill and Travaglini awarded pension contracts to Ruane, a company who donated heavily to Cahill.

Observers have been blaming the RGA ads for Cahill’s drop in the polls – but I think it has more to do with relentless bad news about Cahill. I don’t think the attack ads would have worked without real issues to back them up.

The news is not about to get better for Cahill either. He’s expected to testify in at least two major trials this year – as a defendant in the “pay to play” lawsuit over lottery contracts, and as a witness in the DiMasi trial. The way the probation department scandal is going, it may be three.

His unfavorable rating has been rising, and is now above favorable ( 34% to 22% ) – very bad for a challenger. Among Republican, its worse ( 43% to 15% ).

I don’t see what Cahill can do now other than come clean about all of it and start apologizing to an electorate which is not in a very forgiving mood.

Support for Cahill was assumed to be coming mostly from Baker voters. The irony about Cahill’s dropping poll numbers is that support has been shifting more to Patrick than Baker. It’s possible that Cahill was always more of a spoiler for Patrick than Baker.

Jack Gately, a Massachusetts pollster still sees Cahill as a spoiler for Baker:

“Patrick is winning helped mostly by Cahill’s presence. But neither Cahill at 14% or the surprising Jill Stein at 8% have a practical chance of victory, it won’t be long till Cahill is firmly labled as the spoiler. Right now Cahill is Patrick’s best assest, considering that the majority of voters believe the commonweath to be on the wrong track this would otherwise be a year of change. A large number of opponents is artificially supporting the incumbent in an anti-incumbent year. What to look for: the pressure builds on Baker to consolidate opposition.”

Charlie Baker

Baker is still in a pretty good position. With about 30% support, and 60% of voters undecided about him, he’s in a good position to grow support. And while his support is growing slowly – he really hasn’t been able to get his message out. The ‘had enough’ tour it seems hasn’t done much for him.

Baker needs to make his own news. Patrick being governor, for better or worse, makes news daily. Baker needs to get behind an issue and make something happen. Can he make something happen with the Probation Department scandal? Or have an impact on the state budget?

The other thing he needs to do is build up more grass roots support among undecided moderate Democrats. For the most part, they are tuning out Republican messages. He’s going to need more advocates at the local level, talking to their friends about him.

Of course he should insist that Jill Stein be included in the debates. The more successful she is, the more votes she takes from Patrick, and she would keep Patrick from pushing right to appeal to Baker’s base.

Jill Stein

We hear a lot of Patrick supporters minimizing her showing in this poll. But there is no way around it – at 8%, Stein has real support and can definitely be a factor in this race. Depending on how you look at it, she can either be a spoiler who will hand the race to Baker, or she can be a progressive voice that keeps Patrick from giving in on progressive priorities.

Can she win? This is a real Hobson’s choice for progressive voters. Do they support her and risk helping Baker? Or get behind Patrick, and watch as Patrick continues to ignore their priorities.

This surprisingly strong showing, coupled with Patrick’s high negatives, can really help make the case that with the right support she could win. 85% of voters have no opinion of Stein. A full 60% have never heard of her. What would happen if she had the money to reach those voters?

Both she and Patrick are excellent speakers. It would make for very interesting debates. She’s definitely a long shot – but then again – so was Scott Brown.

Note: Previous poll results provided courtesy of  Gately.

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