4 in 10 think corruption is widespread in Legislature
New MassINC poll finds recent scandals have taken toll on Beacon Hill
The prevailing view among Massachusetts voters is that corruption on Beacon Hill is limited to a few isolated incidents, but nearly 4 in 10 voters think the problem is widespread, according to a survey by the MassINC Polling Group.
The survey found 52 percent of voters believe corruption is limited to a few isolated incidents and 50 percent of those surveyed place the blame for those incidents on individual lawmakers. But a surprisingly high number of voters – 39 percent – say corruption is widespread and 40 percent say the cause is the system on Beacon Hill rather than individual lawmakers.
“I think it reflects overall faith in the system but a real concern about (their) representation,” says Suffolk Assistant Professor Rachel V. Cobb, the school’s chair of government. “The thinking goes, if there were more honest people, these problems would be reduced.”
The polling followed the conviction of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi on federal charges of receiving kickbacks. DiMasi is the third consecutive House speaker to be convicted of criminal charges. In addition, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson pled guilty last year to accepting bribes and other former legislators have been accused or convicted of various charges ranging from driving under the influence to misusing campaign funds to pension abuse.
The probation department scandal, in which a number of lawmakers were cited in a damning report for padding the payroll with friends, relatives, and financial supporters, also cast a dark shadow over the Legislature.
Cobb says she falls into the category of believing corruption is isolated and thinks the drumbeat of media stories combined with the popularity of talk radio has had a huge impact on public perception. But she says legislative leaders should take heed of the results.
“If I were a legislative leader, I’d use these numbers to try not so much get the house in order as much as alter the public perception,” she says. “There have been too many scandals recently for us to say there are not problems.”
Among registered voters, 42 percent of those who are unenrolled say corruption is widespread in the Legislature. The corresponding numbers for Republicans and Democrats were 41 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Conversely, unenrolled voters also had the highest rate in saying corruption is nonexistent on Beacon Hill, with 6 percent agreeing with the statement. Just 1 percent of Democrats and Republicans believed corruption didn’t exist.
The biggest disparity appears to be in education and income. The higher the degree and salary, the more likely voters believe corruption is limited to a few incidents. Among those making more than $150,000, 65 percent think corruption is limited while just 39 percent of those making less than $25,000 think only a few people are corrupt.
Among those voters with just a high school degree or less, 46 percent think corruption is widespread while just 24 percent of those with advanced degrees think similarly. When it comes to the cause, only those with some college education but no degree blame the system more than the members by a 48-44 margin.
“People probably don’t discriminate. They just see these repeated stories,” says Crosby. “You could probably substitute ‘elected officials’ for ‘Legislature’ and the numbers probably wouldn’t change much.”