Poll: Gabriel Gomez Does Shockingly Well Against Ed Markey

The first poll shows a surprisingly tight race.

The immediate and obvious takeaway from Public Policy Polling’s new Massachusetts Senate Race poll, the first since Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez won their party primaries, is that the relatively unknown Republican isn’t actually that far behind the Democrat. Markey is beating Gomez by only four percentage points with 44 percent of likely voters to Gomez’s 40. That’s not exactly a blowout, and it’s a totally different snapshot than the ones provided by pre-primary polls that presented a then-hypothetical Gomez-Markey matchup.

Digging into the poll a bit more reveals some silver linings for Markey, particularly when we look at the role of independent and undecided voters. The poll has them close, but it still casts Markey as the favorite. Gomez is way ahead of Markey with independent voters. He’s got 47 percent of them to Markey’s 31 percent. But PPP writes:

To put Gomez’s 16 point lead with independents in context though, our final poll in the 2010 special election found Scott Brown winning them by a 64/32 margin. So he still has a long way to go to replicate the formula that let Brown pull off that upset.

Put another way, he’s got a lot of independents, but what he needs to pull into the lead is a lot of independents. And he doesn’t have those quite yet.

And then there’s the undecided voters, the majority of whom voted for Barack Obama. As PPP Notes:

The pool of undecided voters also sets up well for Markey- they voted for Obama by 18 points in November, 32% are liberals compared to only 25% who are conservatives, and 61% of them are women. Those are all demographics that ought to end up favorable to him in the end.

That’s not to say all of them will vote for Markey over Gomez. One could conceivably see a voter who hated Mitt Romney but finds Gomez more palatable. The point is that undecideds rarely swing toward one candidate or another in numbers large enough to tip an election, and Gomez, while polling higher than we thought, would want them to in order to pull into the lead.

On the other hand, this is just the first poll. The other thing that sticks out looking through it is that far more people aren’t sure what they think of Gomez (32 percent) than Markey (15 percent), which gives Gomez way more room to cast an impression. Whether that’s good news for Markey or Gomez sort of depends on what kind of impression Gomez ends up giving.