Two new polls released in the last 18 hours show Democratic Rep. Edward Markey with a 7-point lead over Republican Gabriel Gomez in the June 25 special election in Massachusetts for the Senate seat previously held by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though the polls do contain good news for Gomez -- particularly his performance among union voters and Democrats who supported Rep. Stephen Lynch in the primary -- claims that the race has tightened find little support in the other available data.
A Suffolk University poll released on Monday showed Markey leading Gomez, 48 percent to 41 percent. That was followed by a MassINC Polling Group survey commissioned by WBUR-FM, Boston's NPR affiliate, released early Tuesday that showed Markey leading, 46 percent to 39 percent.
While both polls have converged around the same result -- a single-digit Markey advantage -- the two trendlines don't show the same level of agreement. Markey's lead in the latest WBUR poll closely resembles the 8-point edge the Democrat enjoyed in the previous poll, conducted in early May.
But the new Suffolk poll shows a significant tightening of the race. Including leaners, Markey led the previous poll by 17 points, 55 percent to 38 percent.
"Ed Markey continues to lead but the margin has dwindled," Suffolk pollster David Paleologos wrote in a press release accompanying his poll. "Markey's core ballot test number has fallen below 50 percent and recent Obama administration scandals, especially the Associated Press phone records scrutiny, have touched a nerve with likely voters who are holding back or no longer supporting Markey and President Obama with the same intensity."
But more expansive evidence of a tightening of the race from early May is lacking. According to polls conducted during the first half of May compiled by HuffPost Pollster -- a list that also includes both partisan and automated-phone polls -- Markey held leads of 7 points, 3 points, 17 points, 8 points, 4 points and 6 points.
In other words: Despite the methodological shortcomings of some of the polls conducted in roughly the same time frame as the previous WBUR and Suffolk polls, it's likely that the Suffolk poll overstated Markey's advantage at the time, and the race hasn't tightened to the extent the change between the two Suffolk surveys would indicate.
Indeed, the 7-point lead Markey holds in the new surveys is roughly equal to his average lead as calculated by poll aggregators. And those include a Republican-funded survey from GOP pollster McLaughlin & Associates released late last week, showing Markey leading by just a single point.
Both new polls were conducted June 6-9, surveying 500 likely voters. Each poll carries a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points.
Meanwhile, Gomez appears to be making progress toward one of his campaign's stated goals: winning over Democratic primary voters who supported Lynch, who ran to Markey's right in the April Democratic primary.
In the WBUR poll, Lynch voters have a higher personal opinion of Gomez than the Democratic nominee. Fifty percent of Lynch voters said they have a favorable opinion of Gomez, while 25 percent said they have an unfavorable view of the Republican. Forty-six percent of Lynch supporters reported a favorable view of Markey, but 38 percent reported an unfavorable view.
While these Lynch voters tend to personally prefer Gomez, that hasn't necessarily translated to success in the ballot test. Lynch voters supported Markey over Gomez by a 49 percent to 36 percent margin in the WBUR survey.
The Suffolk poll didn't explicitly break out Lynch primary voters, but it did report the preferences of union households -- a key constituency for Lynch. A majority of voters in union households, 52 percent, said they have a favorable view of Gomez, while 26 percent had an unfavorable view. Meanwhile, Markey, who has the support of most of the state's major labor unions, is not as well-liked by voters in union households. Thirty percent have a favorable view of the congressman, while 45 percent have an unfavorable view. In the overall matchup, union households side with Gomez over Markey, 51 percent to 41 percent.
Gomez's campaign has some ground to make up, but the working-class Democrats and independents who supported Lynch in the Democratic primary offer him a chance to cut into Markey's lead. According to the two new polls, these voters tend to personally prefer Gomez to his Democratic counterpart. Now he just needs to convince them to actually vote for him on Election Day.