A WBUR poll of 507 likely Massachusetts voters (PDFs — topline, crosstabs) finds Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren leading Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, 45 percent to 40 percent. The survey has a 4.4 percent margin of error.
Issues Vs. Personality
The poll finds an increasing number of likely voters — 39 percent — believe Warren "will stand up for regular people when in the Senate," compared to just 30 percent when we polled back in February. Twenty-nine percent said the same thing of Brown, compared to 33 percent in February.
Warren is seen as the candidate who best "understands the needs of middle-class families." Thirty-five percent of likely voters see her that way; 27 percent say the phrase best describes Brown. If the battle between Warren and Brown is one of issues rather than personality, Warren has the edge.
Warren has also made progress persuading voters that she agrees with them on key issues. Back in February, only 35 percent of likely voters felt that way — the same number who felt Brown agreed with them most. Now, 45 percent of likely voters see their views as more aligned with Warren's, while 33 percent say they're more in agreement with Brown.
The ferry Massachusetts brings commuters from all over the South Shore to Boston. On the 8:20 a.m. ferry from Hingham Tuesday, Howie Altos, of Cohasset, said he believes Warren best represents his views.
"Pretty much on every issue, from the economy to the environment, women's health care, the economy particularly," Altos said. "I think she's trying to level the playing field. Brown's trying to tip the scales with the rest of the Republican agenda."
More likely voters say they like Brown better: 52 percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 48 percent have a favorable view of Warren.
Mary Ann Gray, of Hudson, identifies with Brown.
"I just think he's a real good guy," Gray said. "He came from nothing and he worked his way."
Forty-four percent of likely voters polled say they feel Brown, who grew up in Wakefield, has deep roots in Massachusetts; only 13 percent say that about Warren, who moved to Cambridge to teach at Harvard Law School.
More likely voters also see Brown as running a more positive campaign, 35 percent, compared to Warren's 21.
Winning Over Independent Voters
The poll finds Brown making more inroads among Democrats than Warren does among Republicans. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one, it's important for Brown to pull away a significant number of Democrats from Warren, and 15 percent of Democrats say they would vote for him.
Brown also has a 14-point lead among independent voters, like Peter Noonan, of Hull. He's been working on the ferry Massachusetts for the last seven years.
"I'm an independent," Noonan said. "I come from a solid Democratic family. I come from a blue-collar, vote-Democrat-ticket strictly [family], but the way things have changed politically in the last 20, 25 years, you really can't vote a party line. I really believe you have to see which candidate is the best, and go with that."
And right now, he's leaning toward going with Brown.
"Elizabeth Warren talks big about being middle class, although she's super wealthy and a Harvard teacher," Noonan said. "Kind of leaves me feeling flat, you know?"
Noonan believes that Brown will win on the strength of his support among independent voters. And he believes many of those voters will make up their mind after the four televised debates between the candidates, the first of which is Thursday.
"I'm looking forward to the debate," Noonan said. "I think they're both going to be prepared and they're both going to be well-spoken."
This program aired on September 19, 2012.