Talking Turkey About Massachusetts Politicians

It’s best not to talk politics at the dinner table. But in the state that invented Thanksgiving and where politics is our pastime, some of us can’t help ourselves — and others may want to spice up the conversation to make up for the under-seasoned mashed potatoes.

Here’s a course-by-course guide to minimizing (or maximizing) the controversy if the talk turns to politics at your Thanksgiving:

-- Football Talk: Elizabeth Warren

It's probably best to get the most controversial figure out of the way before sitting down at the table, so as to avoid indigestion and the throwing of heavy serving dishes. That means starting off the political chit-chat with the state’s senior senator, Elizabeth Warren.

Warren may be the best-known current Massachusetts political figure nationally, where she is known for her anti-Wall Street crusading and her fundraising prowess. But at home, she is a polarizing figure.

Half of Massachusetts voters in a recent MassINC Polling Group survey expressed a favorable opinion of Warren, compared with 34 percent who view her unfavorably. These are respectable numbers for any politician, but they are surprisingly low given her national reputation as a liberal standard-bearer.

They also fall short of the very high favorables earned by Warren’s long-standing predecessors, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. In his last year in office, Kerry hovered between +24 and +28 in terms of his net favorables. Kennedy held a +33 net favorable rating in his last year in office.

Your Thanksgiving #mapoli cheat sheet

Warren’s numbers are lower even than those for the man she beat to join the Senate. Before beginning his doomed reelection campaign, Scott Brown routinely clocked in as the most popular politician in the state. Early in his term, he held an awesome +37 net favorability rating.

By August 2011, he had come down to earth some. In the first poll we conducted for WBUR ahead of the 2012 Senate matchup, 54 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Brown, versus 25 percent with an unfavorable view. Still, that 29 percent net favorable rating is nearly twice as high as Warren’s 16 percent net favorable today.

Opinion on Warren splits along party lines. Two-thirds of Democrats have a favorable view of her, while only 30 percent of Republicans feel the same. Unenrolled or independent voters are split right down the middle.

If you're looking to get the conversation flowing, mention her name while your nephew who’s interning for Bernie Sanders is talking with your uncle who owns his own business. Then step away.

-- Main Course: Charlie Baker

After stirring things up, it’s good to settle everyone down for the saying of grace and the carving of the turkey. And right now, it seems nearly everyone in Massachusetts is thankful that Charlie Baker is their governor.

In fact, Baker is the most popular governor in the country, a poll showed; some have called him the most popular politician in America. Our recent poll shows him with 63 percent of Massachusetts voters viewing him favorably, and a Suffolk poll released this week puts him even higher.

Baker’s popularity cuts across all parties and regions of the state. Over half of Democrats view him favorably, and he’s even more popular with the state’s many unenrolled voters than with members of his own party. White and non-white, male and female, and across every economic and income category, a majority of voters view Baker favorably.

So when the turkey comes out scorched or the yams are inedibly sweet, just bring up the governor to change the subject, and pass the wine.

-- Dessert: Maura Healey

Once you’ve made it through the main course unscathed, you can venture into somewhat uncharted territory. Bring up the state’s new attorney general, Maura Healey. With a net 24 percent favorable rating and positive ratings across party lines, she is unlikely to offend.

But with a majority of voters either undecided on her or never having heard of her, she’s likely to be a surprising topic. Healey is seen by many as a rising star among Democrats, but she is still introducing herself to voters. Bring her up over pie and coffee and see what happens.

-- After-Dinner Snooze: Ed Markey

After a big meal, folks will likely retire to the couch to watch more football and let the tryptophan kick in. This is the perfect time to bring up the state’s junior senator, Ed Markey. Sure, 38 percent of voters have a favorable view of him, but despite decades in Congress, a quarter of voters are undecided and 16 percent claim to have never heard of him.

Just make sure the dishes are done before bringing him up, or you may be washing them on your own.

Poll numbers in this story come from a poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group, of 500 registered voters in Massachusetts from Nov. 9-12. Live telephone interviews were conducted via both landline and cellphone using conventional registration-based sampling procedures. The margin of error is 4.4 percentage points at the 95 level of confidence. View the crosstabs.

Rich Parr is research director with The MassINC Polling Group. He is looking forward to answering his relatives' questions about polling at dinner this year.


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