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Decision Time In Lieutenant Governor Primary

One contest receiving less attention than the Massachusetts governor’s race in this relatively low-key primary season is the race for lieutenant governor.

The WBUR tracking poll has not polled the lieutenant governor’s race, but the three most recent polls from other pollsters show between 57 and 73 percent of respondents remain undecided in the race’s Democratic primary.

Voters might be given a pass for their lack of interest in the campaign for this particular office, considering that it has been unfilled since Tim Murray stepped down in June 2013. And this level of inattention is not unprecedented for a lieutenant governor’s race. In 2006, the last year that multiple Democrats contested the seat, a Suffolk University poll found 77 percent of voters undecided a month before the primary. By the weekend before the election, that number had dropped to 31 percent, still a relatively high number.

That high number of undecideds appears to have wrought havoc with polling that race. In their final pre-primary polls, both Suffolk (-13) and the Globe (-6) found Murray trailing Deb Goldberg, though Murray would go on to win by a 9-point margin.

Even with so many undecided so close to the election, most voters that enter the voting booth will make a choice in the race rather than leaving the ballot blank. Blank ballots in previous lieutenant governor primaries have made up only a small fraction of total ballots. This adds a significant element of volatility as Primary Day approaches. With this in mind, and with the 2006 case as a warning, one should treat projections based on polling in this race with extreme caution.

Whichever candidate is ultimately elected lieutenant governor in November will have the challenge of making the now-vacant office more visible to the public. We at The MassINC Polling Group recently conducted a Google consumer survey to see how many Massachusetts residents thought lieutenant governor, along with a couple other obscure state elected officers (and one fake one), were even real. The survey results, which are not as scientifically rigorous as our normal telephone polling, are still sobering. Just 35 percent thought the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts was a real office; nearly half thought that all of the offices we tested were fictional.

One approach for the next lieutenant governor would be approaching the anonymity of the office with some humor, as previous occupants of the office have done.

Steve Koczela is the lead writer for Poll Vault and president of The MassINC Polling Group.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said 34 percent of respondents to the consumer survey did not think the lieutenant governor was a real office. In fact, 35 percent thought it was a real office. We regret the error.

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