Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Republican former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan currently lead their respective party primaries in the upcoming Massachusetts Senate special election, but significant numbers of voters in both parties remain undecided, according to a new poll conducted for Boston-based NPR affiliate WBUR-FM and released early Tuesday.
Markey leads Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., among likely Democratic primary voters, 35 percent to 24 percent, the poll shows. But 41 percent of those likely to vote in the primary say they are undecided.
With only five weeks to go until the April 30 primary, neither Markey nor Lynch has made a significant breakthrough. In fact, in the previous WBUR-FM poll, conducted five weeks ago, both Markey and Lynch scored higher on the ballot test than they do in the current poll: Markey led, 38 percent to 31 percent, with 26 percent undecided.
Markey has the backing of national Democrats and a host of progressive activist groups. Lynch had hoped to counter with union support, but the labor movement has failed to coalesce around him. His candidacy was dealt a significant blow earlier this month when the state AFL-CIO didn't endorse the former president of an ironworkers union.
In the Republican primary, Sullivan (28 percent) holds the early advantage over two other Republicans, state Rep. Dan Winslow (10 percent) and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez (8 percent). But there are two important caveats: Survey results for the GOP primary carry a very high margin of error, and more than half of likely voters are undecided, prefer another candidate, or say they won't vote after being read the names of the candidates.
Whichever Republican candidate advances to the special election faces an uphill battle. Among all likely voters, the poll shows Markey leading Sullivan, 44 percent to 27 percent. Lynch runs a little stronger than Markey in the special election, however, outpacing Sullivan, 49 percent to 21 percent.
Overall, Lynch is the better-liked candidate: 37 percent of likely voters view him favorably, compared to 12 percent who have an unfavorable opinion of him. Markey's negatives are higher, with 32 percent having a favorable opinion of him, versus 23 percent unfavorable. But among Democrats, Markey is viewed favorably by 40 percent, against Lynch's 35 percent.
Lynch and Markey have refrained from direct attacks on each other during the primary, although Lynch may need to start drawing stronger contrasts given Markey's lead. The two congressmen will meet Wednesday for their first televised debate.
The WBUR-FM poll was conducted March 19-21 by MassINC Polling Group in Boston. The poll surveyed 610 likely voters, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points. The poll also included a subsample of 307 likely Democratic primary voters and an oversample of 116 likely Republican primary voters. For the Democratic primary subsample, the margin of error is plus-or-minus 5.6 percentage points. The GOP primary oversample carries a margin of error of plus-or-minus 9.1 percentage points.