Post Weighs in with Massachusetts Poll

In the course of arguing that the press shouldn’t be hasty to take messages from Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts, I’ve linked a few times this week to an item by The Washington Post’s Jon Cohen, noting the paucity of data from the Bay State.

Well, the Post, along with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, has now done a poll of its own. It found, according to the write-up by Cohen and Dan Balz, that:

Dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, antipathy toward federal government activism and opposition to the Democrats’ health-care proposals drove the upset election of Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts, according to a new post-election survey of Massachusetts voters.

…Sixty-three percent of Massachusetts special-election voters say the country is seriously off track, and Brown captured two-thirds of these voters in his victory over Democrat Martha Coakley. In November 2008, Obama scored a decisive win among the more than eight in 10 Massachusetts voters seeing the country as off course.

Nearly two-thirds of Brown’s voters say their vote was intended at least in part to express opposition to the Democratic agenda in Washington, but few say the senator-elect should simply work to stop it. Three-quarters of those who voted for Brown say they would like him to work with Democrats to get Republican ideas into legislation in general; nearly half say so specifically about health-care legislation.

The shift in mood is represented graphically here. The overall picture, Balz and Cohen write, is of “another indication that the Obama coalition from 2008 has splintered, just as the results in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey showed two months ago.” But at the same time:

Massachusetts enacted a universal health-care plan several years ago, and the survey shows that it remains highly popular. Overall, 68 percent of the voters in Tuesday’s election say they support the Massachusetts plan, including slightly more than half of Brown voters.

Obama also remains highly popular in Massachusetts. More than six in 10 of those who voted approve of his job performance, with 92 percent of Coakley voters expressing satisfaction, along with 33 percent of Brown’s. More than half of Brown’s backers say Obama was not a factor in their vote.

Other findings (PDF): a slight majority of Massachusetts voters (52-47) are either satisfied or enthusiastic with the Obama administration’s policies, while a larger majority (58-40) is dissatisfied or angry with the policies offered by congressional Republicans. Also, 43 percent of the non-voters surveyed by the Post did vote in the last presidential election—and of that group, at least 70 percent voted for Obama.

Of course, while reviewing this data it’s useful to remember that voters are not always reliable reporters of their own mental processes.

Meanwhile, for another take on the Bay State sweepstakes, and on how Massachusetts residents feel about health reform there, see this piece by CJR’s Trudy Lieberman.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.