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Elizabeth Warren's Senate Run Could Help Massachusetts Democrats Close The Attention Gap

First Posted: 10/03/2011 4:21 pm Updated: 12/03/2011 4:12 am

WASHINGTON -- A new UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald poll in Massachusetts yields a lot of good news for Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. She holds a wide lead in the primary and runs nearly even against Republican incumbent Scott Brown. The Warren candidacy also may be contributing to another phenomenon that should give hope to Bay State Democrats: For the moment, Democrats are following the Senate campaign about as closely as Republicans are, a big difference from the national pattern.

For nearly three years, Republicans have enjoyed big leads in voter enthusiasm on various measures, something that usually signals a coming voter turnout advantage. In January 2010, for example, according to a University of New Hampshire survey, Massachusetts Republicans were more likely to express interest in the election (75 percent) than Democrats (67 percent). Republicans were even more likely to say they were "extremely interested" in the election (36 percent) than Democrats (23 percent).

In early September, a CBS News/New York Times poll found the same pattern. Republicans nationwide say they are more attentive to the 2012 campaign (77 percent are pay at least some attention) than Democrats (61 percent). A recent Gallup survey shows a similar Republican attention intensity advantage.


In Massachusetts, however, the UMass pollsters found almost no difference in attention paid to the coming 2012 Senate race. Democrats are about as likely to say they are following the Senate race (51 percent at least somewhat likely) as Republicans (52 percent).

This finding is based on just one question and may reflect nothing more than heavy initial coverage of Warren's entry into the race, which Democrats are likely watching with more interest than Republicans. Overall, the interest in the Senate election is relatively low -- only a small handful of voters in either party (15 percent overall) say they are now following the race "very closely." But raising enthusiasm among Democrats is critical for those who hope Warren can retake the Senate seat that Brown won narrowly in a January 2010 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.

The UMass-Lowell/Herald survey is the second to test Warren's standing since she launched her campaign in early September. The survey, conducted with live interviewers and sampling registered voters over both mobile and landline phones, gives Brown the slight advantage (41 to 38 percent). A poll conducted in September by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) immediately after Warren's announcement used an automated methodology to contact likely voters and gave Warren a two-point edge over Brown (46 to 44 percent). Neither margin is large enough to be statistically significant.


The new survey also shows Warren with 36 percent in a Democratic primary contest against six other potential opponents, none of whom currently receives more than 5 percent of the vote. But nearly half of those who describe themselves as potential primary voters (44 percent) say they are either completely undecided or are hoping for another candidate to enter the race.

Warren's early primary lead is based mostly on an advantage in name recognition. Nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts adults (63 percent) say they recognize Warren's name, a far greater share than that of any of her primary opponents, whose name identification ranges from 27 to 40 percent.

Turnout patterns could be critical in the 2012 Senate race in Massachusetts given the way the current vote preference breaks down by party and how those patterns compare to support for Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election. That was a relatively close race, and much of Brown's five-point margin of victory came from disproportionately heavier turnout among voters who identified as Republican or independent rather than Democratic.

Compare the percentages for Brown and Warren to those won by Brown and Coakley in 2010 as estimated by a post-election survey conducted by the Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health.


Brown won 17 percent of Democrats in 2010, and he is winning 16 percent of Democrats against Warren. In 2010, Martha Coakley won 5 percent of Republicans. Warren is currently winning just 6 percent of Republicans. If partisans ultimately vote for their party's nominee, the totals by party will be identical, so a combination of turnout and the vote among independents will be critical.

Like Coakley did in 2010, Warren trails Brown by a large margin among independents. She remains close overall, but mostly because Massachusetts has so many more Democratic than Republican voters.

Can Warren or any of the other prospective Democratic candidates narrow Brown's margin among independents? As other results of the survey show, it will not be easy. Brown has a strong approval rating among independents (60 percent approve, 22 percent disapprove), while almost as many (56 percent) describe Brown as an independent voice for Massachusetts. Only 24 percent agree that he is "too conservative," and only 22 percent agree he has done too much to look out for "the economic interests of Wall Street financial institutions."

Still, the campaign is in its earliest stages. Few voters are paying close attention to it, and more than a third of the voters (37 percent) say they have never heard of Warren. There is still great potential for impressions and preferences to change, but Democrats can be encouraged at having energized elements of their base, at least for now.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Introduces Financial Product Safety Commission

    Elizabeth Warren <a href="" target="_hplink">announced</a> a bill creating a Financial Product Safety Commission with House and Senate Democrats in March 2009. The body was designed to have oversight over mortgages and other financial instruments to protect consumers against predatory practices. She said if the agency had existed before the subprime collapse then "there would have been millions of families who got tangled in predatory mortgages who never would have gotten them." HuffPost's Ryan Grim <a href="" target="_hplink">reported</a>: <blockquote>Without all these toxic assets on banks' balance sheets, the institutions wouldn't be on the brink of collapse and the recession would be more manageable. "Consumer financial products were the front end of the destabilization of the American economic system." Sen. Charles Schumer's cosponsorship of the bill is notable because of his proximity to Wall Street. The bill's merit, the New York Democrat said, is that it regulates the actual financial product rather than the company producing it.</blockquote>

  • Geithner Opposes Her Heading CFPB

    Tim Geithner expressed opposition to her nomination for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, <a href="" target="_hplink">reported</a> HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour. Geithner thought Warren's views on the big banks and Wall St. were too tough. Warren's oversight of the Treasury department as a watchdog for TARP apparently irked Geithner, agressively <a href="" target="_hplink">questioning him</a> during Congressional hearings: <blockquote>While her grilling of Geithner in September, over what members of Congress have called the "backdoor bailout" of Wall Street through AIG, inspired the "squirm" video, just last month Warren pressed Geithner on the administration's lackluster foreclosure-prevention plan, Making Home Affordable. Criticizing him for Treasury's failure to keep families in their homes, she questioned Treasury's commitment to homeowners.</blockquote>

  • Ready For A Fight

    Elizabeth Warren <a href="" target="_hplink">reiterated her desire</a> for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency to HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour: <blockquote>"My first choice is a strong consumer agency," the Harvard Law professor and federal bailout watchdog said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor."</blockquote>

  • Named Interim Chief Of CFPB

    In September of 2010, HuffPost's Ryan Grim <a href="" target="_hplink">reported</a> that Elizabeth Warren was being considered as a candidate for interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Days later the announcement was <a href="" target="_hplink">official</a>. The move allowed Warren to set up the groundwork for the agency immediately without risking a GOP filibuster of her nomination, a response that seemed certain giving the <a href="" target="_hplink">public opposition expressed</a> by some Republican senators. When it came time to put forth an appointment for a longterm CFPB chief, Warren was overlooked, partially because she was seen as unfeasible, but also, HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour <a href="" target="_hplink">reported</a>, because she was a divisive figure within the Obama administration: <blockquote>Ultimately, Warren wanted the job, allies said. And near-united opposition from Senate Republicans -- 44 of them signed a letter saying they'd oppose any nominee -- should have made it easier for Obama to nominate her, since the Republicans publicly said they wouldn't support anyone for the role. Instead, the Republicans made it easy for the White House to deflect questions about the administration's lack of support for Warren. Asked how she squared the administration's public statements with its private ones, Warren declined. "I really have to say, I'm just not there. I'm not in the intricacies of the political part of this, and I can't comment," Warren said Monday. "The truth is I don't know anything about it."</blockquote>

  • Chats With HuffPost About Bureau

    In October 2010, shortly after being tasked with building the groundwork for the CFPB, Warren stopped by HuffPost to chat with Ryan Grim and Shahien Nasiripour "This is the first real agency we've built in the 21st century -- well, there's Homeland Security, but one for the people. And it means we ought to think differently," said Warren. "The government can talk to people and people can talk to the government differently than when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was built, or when the FDA was built. And if we do this right, that should change the whole dynamic of who this agency really is." HuffPost's Ryan Grim <a href="" target="_hplink">reported</a>: <blockquote>By gathering information, contracts and documents from homeowners and consumers, and allowing watchdog groups and individual concerned citizens access to those documents, the agency can exponentially expand the manpower it has to review the operations of banks and lenders. The goal would be to become aware of a particularly fraudulent practice before it is rampant and insulates itself in the financial services industry.</blockquote> For full video of the interview, click <a href="" target="_hplink">here</a>.

  • GOP Calls Her A Liar

    In May, Warren was called to testify before a House subcommittee and defend the merits of the CFPB. Some of the questions submitted by Republican representatives appeared confused and at times aggressive, leaving Warren to correct them on some basic facts about the actual purpose of the bureau. HuffPost's Mike McCauliff <a href="" target="_hplink">relays</a> one particularly contentious moment: <blockquote>The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), began the proceedings by suggesting Warren had lied to the committee in a previous hearing that had questioned the CFPB's role in offering advice to state attorneys general negotiating a settlement with abusive mortgage servicers. At the time, Warren said she was proud her agency had been able to help, at the request of the treasury secretary. But McHenry brought up the memo again, suggesting it showed that she hid a larger role in the negotiations from Congress. "This is our job, and we're trying to do our job, to be helpful to other agencies, and to help those agencies to hold those who break the law accountable," Warren said, repeating that she was proud of the work.</blockquote>

  • Announces Senate Run

    Elizabeth Warren <a href="" target="_hplink">announced</a> on September 14, 2011 that she was running for the United States Senate seat currently held by Scott Brown (R-Mass.) "After listening to people all across our state who know that we can do better, folks who are frustrated like I am that Washington just doesn't get it, I'm running for the Senate so I can fight every day for Massachusetts families," Warren <a href="" target="_hplink">wrote on The Huffington Post</a>.

  • Fundraising

    One month into her campaign to secure the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren raised $3.15 million, largely <a href="" target="_hplink">from small donations</a>. According to a campaign email, 96 percent of donations were under $100. "These are pretty amazing numbers for our first official finance report, raised in a very short period of time," she said in an email to supporters. Warren's campaign has also attracted <a href="" target="_hplink">large liberal donors</a>, including colleagues from Harvard and well-known liberal donors like George Soros, Barbra Streisand, and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Warren <a href=" " target="_hplink">raised</a> an impressive $5.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. In early January, the candidate's <a href="" target="_hplink">money bomb</a> pulled in more than $100,000 in just one weekend.

  • Historic Agreement

    Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) <a href="" target="_hplink">signed a pledge</a> to curb third-party attack ads. If either campaign breaks the agreement, they would donate half the cost of the outside ad to a charity of their opponent's choice. "This may not work," <a href="" target="_hplink">Warren said in an email to supporters</a>. "But there's enough at stake to make it worthwhile to try to take back this election."

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