Down-ballot races heating up in Mass.

Democracy seems to be enjoying a revival across the state

2018 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE YEAR of blockbuster matchups in Massachusetts. The de facto leaders of both parties are running for reelection, offering the prospect of bruising contests for both the US Senate and the governor’s office. Instead, the two main event races are blowouts so far, while a bevy of interesting and important elections are taking shape elsewhere. These other contests could impact voters’ pocketbooks, bring competition to our sputtering congressional and legislative politics, and spark debate about reform to key parts of our state government.

Both Gov. Charlie Baker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are running away with their respective reelection contests. Our WBUR poll out this week finds both incumbents leading their potential general election opponents by 34 to 39 points. Those challengers remain unknown to large majorities of voters statewide. Election Day is still seven months away, but something fundamental would need to shift to provide challengers with the jolt of energy they need.

The action appears to be further down the ballot. Several key ballot questions could make multibillion-dollar differences to the state budget and change economic realities for residents across the state. The Supreme Judicial Court appears poised to decide the fate of the so-called millionaire tax ballot question within weeks. Backroom negotiations on the sales tax, paid family leave, and the minimum wage are contributing to the palace intrigue. Complicating the dealing is the fact that all three are supported by majorities of voters, according to polling. Whether or not a settlement is possible, the ballot questions have already brought attention to issues of economic inequality and workers’ rights in the state.

Meanwhile, a growing number of primary candidates are bucking the state’s penchant for unopposed reelection campaigns. This is true in congressional elections, where there are four Democratic primaries, up from none in 2016.  A very diverse field of more than a dozen candidates are running for an open seat in the Third Congressional District. In the First, Seventh, and Eighth Congressional Districts, women are challenging longtime male incumbents.

The surge of women running for office all across the country seems likely to bring progress on a long-needed rebalancing toward more equal representation. That includes in the state Legislature, where Democrats are challenging other Democrats in ways some longtime insiders find impolite and hard to understand.

There is even unexpected competition for often-overlooked positions, like district attorney. The surprise retirement of Suffolk County DA Dan Conley has created an open race. The Democratic incumbents in Worcester and Middlesex counties are both facing primary challenges from the left, all but guaranteeing an ongoing debate over sentencing practices and other criminal justice reforms. In Norfolk County, Republican DA Timothy Cruz is facing a general election challenge from John Bradley, who is currently an independent but says he may switch and run as a Democrat.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin also finds himself with both primary and a general election challengers, a prospect which seems to have initially

 irritated him greatly. The Democratic candidates are already discussing reforms meant to expand ballot access, even as a nationwide debate roars over voting rights. Meanwhile, Republicans have posted challengers for each of the state’s constitutional offices except for auditor.

And while the grownups are lacing up their canvassing shoes, the kids are giving us all a refresher in grassroots advocacy, marching and organizing their way toward making a real political difference on gun regulation. The WBUR poll shows most voters support both the students’ actions and their policy goals. None of the specific policies

 

they are proposing are new, but their media and political savvy, combined with their passion, are forcing the powers that be to take notice.

To be sure, we remain some distance from perfection. The Legislature is in a bit of turmoil. Sexual harassment and assault allegations against Sen. Stanley Rosenberg’s husband have cost the Senate its leader and led to a shocking display of spontaneous debate in the House. Meanwhile, the House has abolished term limits, allowing Speaker Robert DeLeo to serve basically indefinitely. And there are still many, many races where incumbents are unopposed as of now.

Meet the Author

Steve Koczela

President, MassINC Polling Group

About Steve Koczela

Steve Koczela is the President of The MassINC Polling Group, where he has grown the organization from its infancy to a nationally known and respected polling provider. During the 2014 election cycle, MPG conducted election polling for WBUR, the continuation of a three-year partnership. Koczela again led the endeavor, producing polls which came within one point of the margin in both the Massachusetts gubernatorial and U.S. Senate Elections. He was also lead writer for Poll Vault, WBUR’s political reporting section during the 2014 Election Cycle.

He has led survey research programs for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq, in key states for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and has conducted surveys and polls on behalf of many private corporations. Koczela brings a deep understanding of the foundations of public opinion and a wide ranging methodological expertise. He earned U.S. Department of State recognition for his leading edge work on sample evaluation in post conflict areas using geospatial systems.

Koczela is frequent guest on WBUR as well as many other news and talk programs in Massachusetts and elsewhere. His polling analysis is often cited in local, state, and national media outlets. He currently serves as President of the New England Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (NEAAPOR). Koczela holds a Master’s degree in Marketing Research from the University of Wisconsin and is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

About Steve Koczela

Steve Koczela is the President of The MassINC Polling Group, where he has grown the organization from its infancy to a nationally known and respected polling provider. During the 2014 election cycle, MPG conducted election polling for WBUR, the continuation of a three-year partnership. Koczela again led the endeavor, producing polls which came within one point of the margin in both the Massachusetts gubernatorial and U.S. Senate Elections. He was also lead writer for Poll Vault, WBUR’s political reporting section during the 2014 Election Cycle.

He has led survey research programs for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq, in key states for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and has conducted surveys and polls on behalf of many private corporations. Koczela brings a deep understanding of the foundations of public opinion and a wide ranging methodological expertise. He earned U.S. Department of State recognition for his leading edge work on sample evaluation in post conflict areas using geospatial systems.

Koczela is frequent guest on WBUR as well as many other news and talk programs in Massachusetts and elsewhere. His polling analysis is often cited in local, state, and national media outlets. He currently serves as President of the New England Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (NEAAPOR). Koczela holds a Master’s degree in Marketing Research from the University of Wisconsin and is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

But the burst of democratic activity suggests people are setting out to change policies, and possibly their representatives, each in their own way. That’s a healthy thing, and the way it’s supposed to be. We thought the focus this year would be at the top of the ticket; instead it seems to be coming from the bottom up.

Steve Koczela is the president of the MassINC Polling Group.