Poll: Warren's Heritage Matters To Key Voters

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With the Democratic convention behind her, Elizabeth Warren can now turn her full attention to defeating her Republican opponent, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. But according to a new poll, Warren's handling of the question of her Native American heritage could still dog her.

In order to win this election in a state with relatively few Republicans, Sen. Brown has to win independent voters, and he has to win over some Democrats, too, as he did in 2010 against Martha Coakley. According to a poll conducted for The Boston Globe by the University of New Hampshire, Warren listing herself as Native American matters to those voters.

Andrew Smith prepared the survey and found that 43 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents who said they're going to vote for Brown say the issue surrounding Warren's heritage makes them less likely to vote for Warren.

"So among those people... this issue is having an impact," Smith said. "It's having an impact early on in the campaign when the Warren campaign really wants to be talking about economic issues."

Gaining Ground

But according to another poll conducted last week by Western New England University, Warren is gaining on Sen. Brown. Tim Vercellotti, who oversaw the poll, says it looks like Harvard University's touting of Warren as a Native American law professor is not an issue most voters care about.

"If this is having an effect, it's really on the margins," Vercellotti said. "Now, having said that, Warren's favorability went up 4 points. Her unfavorability went up 10. So something's happening."

Trying To Change Course

Warren has not been able to make the campaign about economic issues, such as whether Brown worked to water down regulations of financial firms. That's because she has not dealt decisively with questions about when and why she listed herself as Native American.

Republican political consultant Jeff Stinson says up to now, Warren has mishandled this issue.

"At one point, you have to understand that people want an answer to a question, and you have to provide that answer, and then unfortunately, once you don't provide an answer clearly and concisely, what tends to happen is the issue grows and grows beyond your control, and that's really what's happened here," Stinson said.

Republican political consultant Rob Gray says Warren has effectively handed Brown an issue for the rest of the campaign.

"They could go at her now probably in a lighthearted and funny kind of way on this Indian issue, so it gives him some potential there where he was going to have a hard time finding ammo," Gray said. "He was probably grasping at straws a bit and now, there is an issue out there."

Democratic political consultant Dan Payne agreed.

"It's been handled so badly up to this point, but if I were giving her advice, I'd say just refuse to talk about it," Payne said.

And Monday, that is what Warren did. She declined a request to speak to WBUR's Radio Boston unless the show agreed to talk only about Brown's position on financial regulations.

The incorrect audio was originally attached to this post. The audio has been updated to reflect this report.

This article was originally published on June 05, 2012.

This program aired on June 5, 2012.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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