AMHERST, MA – A new University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB poll released today shows that voters in the Commonwealth are most concerned with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its economic repercussions in the lead-up to the Sept. 1 primary vote and the general election in November.
When asked the most important issue facing the state, 500 registered Massachusetts voters listed “coronavirus,” “unemployment,” “economy,” “jobs,” “housing” and “health.” While more than 80% of respondents indicated that most or all of the time they follow various recommended public health guidelines, nearly the same amount – 78% – are worried about a second wave of the virus arriving later this year. Sixteen percent replied that they had a recent job loss due to the pandemic, and 19% fear losing their job in the near future. With fall approaching, 43% responded they are worried about schools and daycares remaining closed. Overall, 26% said that either they or their close friends or family had tested positive for COVID.
“Like the rest of the country, the voters of the Bay State are concerned with the pandemic and the consequences it has for the state’s economy, health and overall well-being,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB poll. “In the face of the worst public health crisis in a century, the state’s voters have overwhelmingly embraced CDC guidelines designed to curb the spread of the virus as large majorities of voters indicate that they wear face masks outside their home, wash their hands for 20 seconds and avoid groups of 10 or more people.”
“Given stark differences by party leaders nationally, it is not surprising that voters view the pandemic through their partisan lens,” adds Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “Republicans appear much less concerned about a second wave of the virus and want things to open more quickly, like schools, daycare and restaurants. While close to 90% of Democrats fear a second wave, only 58% of Republicans share this concern.”
Asked whether they have taken part in any activities covered by the state’s Phase 3 of reopening, 40% responded that they had dined outdoors at a restaurant and 42% had visited a salon or barbershop. Only 4% had visited a museum or aquarium since they reopened and 6% have gone to a local gym. Eleven percent report having travelled by bus, subway or train, and 4% have travelled by plane.
Governor Baker remains popular
Although voters fear a second COVID spike this fall, they overwhelmingly credit Governor Charlie Baker for the overall decrease in the number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state related to the virus since its peak. Forty percent say he is most responsible for these decreases, and the Republican holds a 78% approval rating among Bay State voters, including an 87% approval rating among Democrats – higher even than Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 82% approval among her fellow Democrats. Among the words voters used to describe Baker were “competent,” good,” “leader,” “moderate,” okay,” “fair,” “smart,” “RINO” and “honest.” Fifty-three percent said the state is heading in the “right direction,” with 28% worried that it’s on the “wrong track.” Only 15% of those polled classify the state of the Massachusetts economy as “poor,” while 46% say it is “fair,” 36% deem it “good” and 4% rate it “excellent.”
“In an era of hyper polarization, generational conflict and racial reconciliation, Governor Baker remains uniquely popular in our state,” Nteta says. “Across demographic and political groups, Baker receives high marks for his stewardship during the coronavirus crisis as governor of the state.”
Black Lives Matter and police reform
The new poll also shows majority approval for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as a raft of police reform measures. “In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the corresponding peaceful demonstrations against police brutality across the nation, the Black Lives Matter movement is viewed by a majority of the state’s voters in a positive light,” Nteta says.
Fifty-four percent of respondents said they hold a positive view of the BLM movement, while 31% have a negative view of the movement and 14% are neutral toward it. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats view BLM positively, while 73% of Republicans view it negatively.
“This follows from broad recognition among those we surveyed that racism is a problem in American society,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “Indeed, 61% of Massachusetts registered voters recognize that whites enjoy racial advantages, and fully 69% acknowledge that racial problems are not simply rare and isolated events.”
“While a majority of Massachusetts voters have positive views of the Black Lives Matters movement, like the rest of the nation feelings toward the movement are polarized by education, income and partisanship, with those of lower socioeconomic status and Republicans much less favorably disposed toward the movement,” La Raja adds.
Solid majorities of the poll’s respondents support banning the use of chokeholds by police officers (75%), allowing citizens to sue police officers for excessive force or misconduct (58%) and banning the use of military grade equipment and weaponry by state and local police departments (55%). As for reducing funding for state and local police departments to instead spend more on social services, voters were split – only 41% support the potential reform, while 38% oppose it and 17% neither support nor oppose defunding the police.
Changing the state seal and flag, renaming buildings and locations
Other issues relating to the growing racial justice movement were polled in the new survey, as well, and the results show much softer support for changing the Massachusetts state seal and flag and renaming public places named after slave holders or traders. Only 23% support changing the seal and flag, while 45% oppose the change. One-third of voters (32%) neither support or oppose the change. No demographic, including ideological liberals (40%), held a majority view in support of changing the seal and flag.
“In the wake of the change to the name of Washington’s football team and a nationwide reassessment of racially insensitive iconography associated with Native Americans, a plurality of the state’s voters oppose changing the state seal and flag,” Nteta says.
When asked about renaming places currently named for slavers, there was a slight difference in respondents’ views when given the specific example of Boston’s Faneuil Hall, named after 18th century slave trader Peter Faneuil. Those asked a generic question regarding renaming responded with 37% support and 34% opposition, with 17% strongly supporting and 26% strongly opposed to the idea, while 24% neither support nor oppose. When given the specific example of Faneuil Hall, respondents’ views solidified – 39% then expressed support, with 19% strongly supporting the renaming, while 40% opposed with 29% strongly opposing the renaming. Those saying they neither support nor oppose the renaming decreased to 19%.
Presidential election and voting reforms
When the poll turned toward the upcoming presidential election, 61% of respondents indicated an intention to vote for Joe Biden, while just 28% plan to vote for President Trump. Only 5% of voters describe themselves as undecided toward the race. Biden is described by the voters polled as “old,” “senile,” “experienced,” “good,” “leader,” “honest,” “dementia,” “okay” and “competent.” Words that voters used to describe Trump include “idiot,” “incompetent,” “great,” “evil,” “liar,” “corrupt,” “awful,” “leader,” “strong,” “dangerous” and “buffoon.”
“Unsurprisingly, Biden leads Trump by a 2-1 advantage in the state,” Rhodes says. “However, this masks some important underlying trends. Our survey shows that Biden’s advantage is due in significant part to overwhelming support among non-white registered voters, with 70% of voters of color favoring him. Trump actually enjoys majority support among white registered voters (60%). Biden also benefits from very strong support among more educated and wealthier voters in the state, while his support among less educated and less affluent voters is noticeably softer.”
“This is a Biden state,” La Raja says. “The Democratic presidential nominee has strong support among Massachusetts voters, with many responding with positive words like experienced and honest to describe Biden. Not surprisingly, among the 28% who say they will vote for Trump, they tend to think of Biden as senile and old.”
Seventy-five percent say the nation is on the “wrong track,” with just 10% believing the U.S. is headed in the “right direction.” Only 21% of the poll’s respondents view the national economy as “good” (19%) or “strong” (2%), while 40% say it is “fair” and 39% say it is “poor.”
Voters believe the influence of fake news, disinformation and deep fakes pose the greatest threat to this year’s presidential election, followed by attempted voter suppression. The poll asked about potential changes to election policy, and voters were overwhelmingly supportive of all measures proposed. Automatic voter registration holds 63% support and making Election Day a national holiday is supported by 68%, while 24% oppose both measures. Restoring felons’ right to vote after serving their sentences holds a massive 71% approval among the poll’s respondents, with only 21% in opposition. There is stronger opposition to total mail-in voting, with 40% opposed to the idea, while 51% support it.
“A big surprise in a liberal state is that a solid majority of 58% believe that voters should be required to show a government issued ID to vote,” La Raja said. “This is not required in Massachusetts and Democrats nationally have been fighting it for over a decade.”
This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 500 registered voters in Massachusetts was conducted July 31-August 7 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 563 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 500 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the Massachusetts registered voter portion of the 2018 Current Population Survey (CPS) 1-year sample with selection within strata by weighted sampling with replacements (using the person weights on the public use file).
The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education and region. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.
The weights were then post-stratified on the age x gender stratification of Democratic primary voters from the Massachusetts voter file and the education distribution of the February 2020 UMass Poll to produce the final weight.
The margin of error within this poll is 5.9%.