Is Gomez-Markey Polling Equal To Brown-Coakley?

If so, this is the week Gomez needs to prove it.

In the partisan conversational vortex that forms around big elections, polling interpretation is perhaps the most predictable and distorted. So it’s no surprise that, depending upon which end of the whirlpool you wade, you might be hearing that the Massachusetts Senate race is as close as (or closer than) the January 2010 special election in which Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley.

Is it true?

Well, it’s not really possible to say. It’s not entirely wrong to say so, but there’s not much evidence to say yes.

The problem with looking at the 2010 polling—and a big reason why Scott Brown’s surge snuck up on so many of us—is that nobody was bothering to poll the race. That was compounded by some really, really bad polling.

We are now two weeks to the June 25 election, and we have a few polls recently out. A particularly suspect one, from notoriously Republican-leaning McLaughlin & Associates, has a virtual tie, with Ed Markey leading Gabriel Gomez by one point. The far more reliable UMass-Amherst pollsters have it Markey 51 percent, Gomez 40 percent, and New England College similarly finds Markey 52 percent, Gomez 40 percent.

The equivalent point before the January 19, 2010, election would be roughly January 4 of that year. As the Real Clear Politics (RCL) archive shows, there had been no public polling for two months up to that point. Then we got a big attention-getting one from the University of New Hampshire for the Boston Globe, and it showed Coakley cruising, with a 17-point lead.

I have long argued that the UNH polling center is no good and should be ignored. This certainly seems—and in fact seemed at the time—to be a bad poll, completely misreading the relative enthusiasm of disgruntled voters and the disinterest of Democrats.

Over the next week or so, there were also two polls, both outliers in Coakley’s direction, conducted by R2000—which would later be disgraced, accused of fabricating results.

Taking out the UNH and R2000 polls, there were 11 public polls logged by RCL in those final two weeks. Brown led in nine of them; Coakley led only in two Rasmussen polls, the first by 9 points and the second by 2 points.

It seems pretty safe to say, looking at those polls, that 10 days before the election Brown was either tied or slightly ahead of Coakley, and that things tipped further in his direction from there.

And it’s possible to point to evidence (the UNH/Globe and first Rasmussen poll) that 15 days before the election, Brown was behind by some 10 to 15 points.

But it seems awfully unlikely that Brown gained 15 points in the span of five days, and far more likely that those were bad polls.

Either way, if the idea is that Gomez is following a Brown-like trajectory, this is the week he needs to prove it. If he isn’t showing up even or ahead in some polls by then—polls other than McLaughlin—he’ll have to pull off a much bigger come-from-behind than Brown did.