Probably Not Time to Read Too Much Into Massachusetts Senate Polls

But obviously we're reading them anyway.



Image Credit: WEBN-TV via Flickr

A new poll by WBUR and MassInc shows Ed Markey in a modest lead over Stephen Lynch in the race for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate and, no surprise, it shows Democrats running massively ahead of Republicans for the general election in June. This is, of course, still the same America that made Nate Silver a nerd-celebrity so of course we’re all interested to see these early polls. It’s surprising, for instance, that Markey leads Lynch by a narrow seven percentage points, with 38 percent of likely voters in the Democratic primary likely to vote for him compared to 31 percent for Lynch.

But—and perhaps this needn’t be said—if you’re looking at these polls to figure out who your next senator will be … well that’s probably not wise. The Republican field hasn’t even sorted itself out, with eternal Republican candidate-for-something Sean Bielat and a couple others exploring a run. And if you look at polls from September 2009, a period comparably distant from the 2010 special election, you find things like this:

In a survey of 288 Democrats, Coakley garnered 47 percent of the vote, while Rep.Michael Capuano received 9 percent. Thirty-three percent said they were undecided. In general election matchups, Coakley leads GOP state Sen. Scott Brown 54-24 percent, while Capuano has a 36-28 percent edge over Brown.

It seems pretty unlikely that a confluence of factors like the one that propelled Brown to overcome that big a gap will occur again, but the point is that polls this far out  aren’t actually very useful as predictive tools.