The headline from a WHDH/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday night is the wide margin it gives U.S. Rep. Edward Markey over former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez in their U.S. Senate battle: 52 to 35 percent.
But there were some interesting WHDH results beneath the big number.
Among them: a finding that 71 percent of voters think the “People’s Pledge,” which aims to limit campaign spending from outside groups, is “very important” or “somewhat important.”
Markey has focused heavily on Gomez’s refusal to sign the pledge in the opening days of the campaign. And the move has raised eyebrows among some political observers who think campaign finance too obscure to move voters.
Does the big number in the poll vindicate Markey’s approach?
Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University who is skeptical of the People’s Pledge push, says he’s still not convinced.
Presented with a good government question in a survey, he says, voters will opt for it. But there is little evidence that the public feels any intensity around the issue.
“If people felt strongly about campaign finance, we wouldn’t have the system we have now,” Berry says.
The Markey campaign clearly sees other advantages in the attack. For one, it offers an opportunity to tie Gomez — in the early going — to the sort of conservative groups that might swoop into the race later.
Indeed, the Democrat has been emphasizing Gomez’s role as a spokesman for one such group during the presidential campaign: Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, which criticized President Obama for leaking information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The WHDH poll suggests voters don’t yet view Gomez as an ideologue: Just 29 percent say Gomez is “too conservative” to represent Massachusetts.
But Berry cautions that it’s too early to determine whether the People’s Pledge attack will convince voters that Gomez is too far to the right.
The message could serve another end: insulating Markey from criticism should left-leaning groups spend money in the race in the coming weeks. The Democrat, after all, will be able to say that he tried to exclude these sort of groups from the race.
Some other below-the-radar findings from the WHDH poll:
- Gomez has tried to paint Markey as a congressional insider. And he’s talked up his plan to change Washington — pushing term limits, among other things. The survey suggests the message has begun to penetrate. But the Republican has a long way to go. Asked which candidate “will change the way Congress works,” 31 percent choose Gomez, 25 percent choose Markey and 44 percent are undecided.
- Forty-five percent of voters say the economy and jobs is the most important issue. No other issue tops 6 percent.
- Asked who “will help turn the economy around,” 36 percent pick Markey, 30 percent pick Gomez and 34 percent are undecided.
- Asked which candidate “is more in touch with people like you,” 44 percent choose Markey, 34 percent choose Gomez and 22 percent are undecided.
- Twenty-eight percent say Markey is “too liberal” to represent Massachusetts. Sixty percent say he is not.
And one note on the WBUR poll.
Gomez has argued Markey is a tired incumbent who needs to go. The survey suggests the attack is of limited utility.
Twenty-two percent of respondents say Markey’s long service in the House make them “more likely” to vote for him, 29 percent say “less likely” and 47 percent say it “makes no difference.”
Gomez’s lack of experience in politics doesn’t seem a great boon to him either: 19 percent say it makes them “more likely” to vote for the Republican, 18 percent say it makes them “less likely” and 60 percent say it “makes no difference.”
But among independent voters — a big prize in the election — there may be a bit more to gain for the Republican.
Gomez’s lack of experience is slightly more attractive to this group of voters: 22 percent say it makes them “more likely” to vote for the GOP candidate. And Markey’s long career in Washington makes him slightly less attractive: 33 percent of independents say it makes them “less likely” to vote for the Democrat.
Reason enough to continue with the message? Perhaps.