Normally, Massachusetts attracts little interest in November of presidential election years, as it's projected as a reliably blue state where Republicans don’t even bother to compete. The only ads that are shown here are in the Boston media market, and only then because the market extends into southern New Hampshire.
But surrogates for Republican front-runner Donald Trump have made a number of comments recently about the possibility of a real contest in Massachusetts. Trump himself has talked about the prospect of an expanded electoral map that his candidacy could offer.
“I will have more crossover votes -- if I get the [Republican] nomination, I will have more crossover votes than anybody that’s ever run for office,” Trump said during a televised town hall on MSNBC in February. “I will have Democrat votes. I will have independent votes. I will do tremendously with crossover. One other thing: I will have states that nobody ever thought of getting in terms of a Republican.”
So in the somewhat tortured context of this election season, a new WNEU poll of the Massachusetts general election sheds some light on the issue. It shows that if Trump becomes the Republican nominee, he would begin the general election contest in a historically deep hole, trailing Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton by 36 points, and Bernie Sanders by 47. Rather than showing Trump competitive, the poll’s margin against either Democrat would represent the worst shellacking in Massachusetts since Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater by 53 points in 1964.
Offering more bad news for Trump, just 18 percent of Massachusetts voters view him favorably, while 75 percent view him unfavorably. Likability isn’t everything -- Clinton’s numbers are also less than stellar: 46 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable. But Trump’s rock bottom favorability numbers overall -- and with most every demographic group — certainly do not illuminate an obvious path forward. Even his own partisans are not wild about the idea of a Trump candidacy, with just 43 percent of Massachusetts Republicans expressing a favorable view of him.
Part of the argument offered by Trump supporters as to why he could prevail here appears to come from Scott Brown’s upset win over Martha Coakley in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. Brown's surprising strength among union members echoes Trump's performance among white working class voters. The comparison was most recently put forward by Trump’s state campaign co-chairman, state Rep. Geoff Diehl.
To explore this idea, the table below compares Trump’s current standing among key demographic groups in the WNEU poll with the two most recent Republican statewide winners in Massachusetts. The table shows his margins against Hillary Clinton given her current front-runner status in the Democratic contest. When matched up against Sanders, Trump's margins are even worse in every group but Republicans.
As the chart clearly demonstrates, Trump’s current standing bears little resemblance to the winning coalition Brown was able to assemble in 2010. Key to Brown’s victory was closing the gap among women to just 3 points. And key to any Republican winning Massachusetts is a resounding win among the state’s independent voters, as Brown did in 2010. Trump is currently losing women by 51 points, and independents by 23. Even among men -- typically a key supporter group for Republican candidates running in any state --Trump trails Clinton by 17 points.
The poll challenges the Trump campaign's framing in another way. Rather than realigning the party map by appealing to more and different voters, Trump actually goes further than his Republican opponent in turning off potential supporters. His favorable ratings in the state (-57) are lower than Cruz (-48) and his margin against Clinton (-36) is a shade worse than Cruz’s (-33). The Cruz campaign has made no pretense about competing in Massachusetts, so his numbers are notable only in comparison to Trump's.
Even Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said of a Trump November victory, “I think that’s a possibility.” Whatever DeLeo's thinking, the Trump campaign's statements on Massachusetts look right now to be wishful thinking. Even in the best of times, Massachusetts is mostly out of reach for GOP presidential candidates. With Trump trailing among nearly every demographic group, and clinging to an 18 percent favorable rating, it’s very hard to see how he changes this.