Tierney Leads Tisei, But Electorate Still 'Soft'

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Republicans consider it their best chance of unseating a Democratic congressman in Massachusetts. It's the 6th Congressional District race between embattled Democratic incumbent Rep. John Tierney and his Republican challenger, former state Sen. Richard Tisei.

A new WBUR poll out this morning shows that Tierney is leading by seven points, a lead that widens when you factor in voters leaning toward Tierney. But the poll also shows potential trouble for Tierney ahead.

Steven Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, joined WBUR's Morning Edition to discuss the results.

Bob Oakes: Let's start with the basic horse race. Tierney up by seven points over Tisei at this point.

Steven Koczela: Tierney is up by seven points right now. Now, the electorate is still pretty soft right now, and there's a lot that could change, but at this point Tierney does have the edge.

You say pretty soft, what do you mean?

We have 22 percent right off the bat who say that say they don't know who they're going to vote for. We also have pretty low name recognition for Richard Tisei [26 percent of voters have never heard of him]. And another pretty good number [25 percent] who say they've heard of him but they haven't made up their mind as far as an opinion of him goes yet.

So as these dynamics solidify, I imagine this race looking pretty different.

How many undecided in this race?

When we first asked the question, we actually ask the question twice, we ask first "Who are you going to vote for?" and then people who say they haven't made up their mind yet, [we ask] "Who are they leaning towards?"

On the initial question, we have 22 percent who say that they don't know who they're going to vote for, and then about half of those make up their mind when we ask who they're leaning towards. More of them go to John Tierney right now.

More of the leaners?

Right, more of the leaners are leaning towards John Tierney but he hasn't necessarily made the sale fully with them yet and a lot of them also just haven't heard of Richard Tisei or don't know really what they think of him yet.

So basically, not bad news for John Tierney, considering all of the negative publicity he's gotten over his family's illegal gambling ring?

Right. I'd say there's positive and negative interpretations for both candidates in here. You know, for Tierney, like you said, he's had a long string of bad news but despite all of that he's still in the lead right now.

It's a 30 percent unfavorable for Tierney, which is pretty high.

Right, 35 percent favorable and 30 percent unfavorable. So, again, not an extremely popular incumbent but he is — right now — benefiting just from the force of name recognition.

When you look at Tisei, it's 29 percent favorable and 13 percent unfavorable, with the remaining very large slice of the electorate who still either hasn't heard of him or just hasn't made up their mind about him yet.

So Tierney's campaign has potential because not a lot of people know him, but time's running out, less than 60 days to go until election day.

Time is running out in a sense but in another sense this is when the more casual voters, the more casual participants, really start to pay attention. I mean, again you see a large slice who hasn't made up their mind yet, and a large slice who doesn't have a well formed opinion of the two candidates.

So you can look at that as both candidates, and especially Tisei, because he's less well known right now, have an opportunity to really get their message out. With people who know, who have heard of both candidates, the race is actually tied.

Let me now come back to Tierney's troubles a little bit. His wife's family's illegal gambling business has been well reported in the last few months. Does the poll suggest that voters are swayed or even aware of this?

Those who are aware of it are swayed by it. We have 57 percent who say they've heard either a "great deal" or a "fair amount" about the issue, so a little more than half, and among those who fit that description — in other words those who have heard at least a "fair amount" about this issue — Tisei is actually leading. To me this suggests that this issue isn't going anywhere. That the Tisei campaign and the third-party groups are running ads about this aren't going anywhere because there's a very good chance that they're looking at numbers very similar to this.

Does it appear to you that these troubles could influence this race in the final weeks?

There is a very good chance of that. If the people who say they haven't really heard very much about this issue so far start to hear about the issue, and it continues to be the persuasive issue that is has been so far, that combined with the general expansion of Tisei's name recognition could cause this race to tighten up.

Well, bottom line then: Do you think the race will tighten up or do you think Tierney's lead will widen?

I think that there's a good chance that it will tighten up.

This program aired on September 12, 2012.

Headshot of Bob Oakes

Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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