A new poll on the Boston mayoral race gives state Rep. Marty Walsh a 7-point lead over City Councilor John Connolly. The poll, conducted by UMass Amherst, finds that union support for Walsh could be the key to his surge.
The survey (PDFs — topline, crosstabs) of 600 registered voters finds Walsh tied with Connolly in non-union households. But among union households, Walsh, the former leader of the Boston Building Trades, leads Connolly 61 to 30 percent.
Connolly has enjoyed the endorsement of unions in his previous races. But this time, with one of their own in the race, not a single union has endorsed Connolly. And Connolly has tried to cast Walsh as beholden to unions.
Brian Schaffner, chairman of the political science department at UMass Amherst, directed the poll and said unions have also been playing an important role in reaching out to voters on Walsh's behalf.
"What we found was that many more likely voters said that they had been contacted by someone from the Walsh campaign compared to someone from the Connolly campaign," Schaffner said. "And I think you can definitely chalk that up to the fact that Walsh has the union organization behind him out on the ground and calling people by phone, and it's showing up in terms of his support."
"You know, he just wants to make it a fairer shake for everybody in the city," Michael Conway — a canvasser for Working America, a political arm of the AFL-CIO — told a voter in Mattapan. "He wants to make sure that people get paid a living wage."
Working America is the organization that sent out flyers to Boston voters saying "John Connolly just isn't one of us." Walsh asked the group to stop mailing the flyers, though they have continued. Still, Walsh embraces union support.
"We have encountered non-union households," Conway said when asked if he knocks only on union doors. "We have encountered a lot of John Connolly supporters."
But in the diverse neighborhood of Mattapan, where Conway is canvassing, you mostly see lawn signs for Marty Walsh.
"I've met him personally and I like the fact that he's a common man," said Walsh supporter Marva Martin. "He seems to be a very ordinary person and he supports the same things I do, which is good education."
The neighborhood is solidly middle class, full of firefighters and police officers living in modest homes. No one mentions the flyers to Conway as they open their doors to him. Like most people in Boston, Michael Campbell's main concern is the schools.
"That's why everybody is leaving Boston, because the school system," Campbell said. "I don't have any kids myself, but a lot of people that are friends of mine do have kids. They always put them in parochial schools. It gets very costly. We have so many schools around here and there's no reason why the kids can't learn in Boston."
"Given that, if you had to vote for one candidate today for mayor, who would you vote for, Walsh or Connolly?" Conway asked Campbell.
"Right now, I'm undecided," Campbell replied. "I'm not taking anybody close to heart, but I'm leaning towards Marty. I got the sticker on my truck, as you could see."
Conway asks people what time they intend to vote and whether they want a ride to the polls. After 90 minutes, he begins his circuit all over again to hit the houses where people had not been home.
Working America claims that it played a crucial role in Elizabeth Warren's victory over Scott Brown last year. Members went door to door for Warren in the blue-collar cities of Worcester, Quincy and Peabody.
The group believes it helped turn Quincy, which had voted for Brown in 2010, to Warren. In Worcester, it claims to have helped Warren win with a bigger margin than Martha Coakley did in 2010. And in Peabody, it claims to have helped narrow Brown's victory.
Working America is not alone in going door to door for Walsh. A Boston janitors union is conducting a canvassing campaign in Spanish in Jamaica Plain and East Boston.
If you believe the latest poll, it seems to be working.
This program aired on October 31, 2013.