The Massachusetts Senate Polls Are Sending Mixed Signals

Two new polls ... two different snapshots of the race.

The two newest polls in the special Senate race are sending us some serious mixed messages about the state of Democrat Ed Markey’s lead over Republican Gabriel Gomez. A WBUR/MassINC poll has Markey ahead by just six percentage points – with support from 41 percent respondents to Gomez’s 35 percent. That’s pretty much in line with the first poll to come out after the primaries from PPP, which showed a four point race. But wait! A Suffolk University/7News poll also out today shows Markey ahead by a whopping 17 points—52 to 35. Huh?

The messages from polls might be mixed, but the messages from Markey’s fundraising team are decidedly one-note. Markey sent out a fundraising email Thursday that makes no mention of the poll that puts them way ahead (though it came out last night) focusing only on the one that shows a close race:

I’m sure you saw Sarah’s email last week about the poll that had us up just 4 points. There’s more — a brand new survey shows us barely outside the margin of error. The special election is in 48 days.

And just in case you weren’t shaking in your boots as you did a windsprint for your checkbook already, Markey’s email does some boogie-man name-checking:

My right-wing opponent has steadfastly refused to take the People’s Pledge to keep Super PACs out of this race. Karl Rove and the Koch brothers could be preparing to dump millions in unlimited, undisclosed dark money into attack ads against me.

They could be preparing to dump millions! Sweetie, get the checkbook!

At any rate, the trend in political-poll watching these days suggests that rather than look at any one poll, we get a clearer picture by aggregating all the polls on a single race. That’s the magic behind poll trackers like Talking Points Memo and Real Clear Politics, and some of the magic behind Nate Silver’s own well-guarded algorithm. The other trend is to note that polls this early in the race, particularly when neither candidate is particularly well known or well-defined among voters, doesn’t say a whole lot. Better to focus on other race fundamentals. When you do that, race-watchers like Nate Silver and the political scientists over at Mass Politics Profs suggest you’ll see that Markey’s actually far ahead. Shh, just don’t tell Markey’s donors.