All you need to know about the Massachusetts Senate election

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 11:30

Here is all you need to know about the Massachusetts Senate election:

  1. Coakley still up 8.2%. Even with the latest Rasmussen poll showing Martha Coakley up only 2%, the five polls released to the public and conducted entirely in 2010 still show Coakley with an 8.2% lead.

  2. Coakley still with a 90.6% chance to win. Normally, a lead of 8.2% would give Coakley a  97.5% chance to win.  This is because only 7 of the 138 closest statewide general elections from 2004-2009 show a difference of 8.2% of greater from the final polling average to the final result (((7 / 138)/2) = 0.025).

    However, because of the difficulties associated with special election polling, her chances of winning are only 90.6%.  This is assuming average polling error in special elections to be the same as primary elections (7.0%), instead of  general elections (3.9%).  This makes a lead of 8.2% equivalent to a lead of 4.6%.  In the 138 closest statewide general elections from 2004-2009, there were 26 instances where the final polling margin was 4.55% or more divergent from the final vote result (((26 / 138)/2) = 0.094).

  3. What about those rumored polls? No rumored polls are included in my averages.  Until those polls are released to the public, they will stay that way.  This includes the rumor of a Republican poll showing Coakley up 11%, a Boston Herald poll showing Coakley up only 1%., and Coakley's internal polling showing her up only 5%.  Let's look at each of these rumors:

    • Even if the 11% poll exists, it was taken too long ago to be included in the final averages, so it doesn't matter.

    • The 1% poll from the Boston Herald was first rumored 5 days ago.  Media outlets don't sit on sponsored polls that long. It doesn't exist.  It was either referring to the PPP poll that eventually showed Brown up 1%, or it was just bullshit.

    • Taegan Goddard's rumor about Coakley's internal polling only showing her up 5% must refer to the one-day sample of her internal polling on the 11th.  This is because Coakley released an internal poll that was conducted from January 8th through the 10th, and Goddard reported the rumor on the evening of the 12th.  At that time, the interviews for internal polling on the night of the 12th would still have been ongoing.  So, even if Goddard is correct, he is referring to a one-day sample, which would have a high margin of error, and as such is not to be taken seriously.

    In short, the rumored polls either don't exist, or they don't matter.

  4. Why do the polls diverge so much? Which one is right?  First, the polls don't actually diverge.  As Mark Blumenthal showed on Sunday, they just project different turnout levels.  All pollsters seem to agree that the higher the turnout, the larger Coakley's advantage becomes (and vice-versa). The campaign is tied among those who are "absolutely certain" to vote, but Coakley has wide leads among those who are less certain to vote.

    The best bet, given the success of polling averages in predicting elections, is to just average all of the polls. With an average error of only 2.6% (actually 2.57%) from the final 15-day average to the final result, simple polling averages have proven to be the most accurate measure of election results available.  It is more likely that there is a kernel of truth in all the polls than absolute accuracy in one or two of them.

  5. Doesn't Rasmussen show the campaign tightening? My research shows, pretty conclusively, that including multiple polls from the same polling firm in the average, rather than just the most recent poll from each polling firm (which is what I did in 2008), reduces the error in the polling averages. So, the issue isn't if one polling firm shows the campaign tightening, but if the overall average is tightening.  On that front, the Rasmussen poll did show the campaign tightening, but only from 9.8% to 8.2%.

  6. What is the lesson in all of this for Democrats? This one is easy: the political environment is terrible for Democrats, and they are going to lose seats in 2010. Duh.

  7. Why is Democratic turnout so low? This is very hard to say.  No one has conducted a survey asking people who voted in 2008, but who do not intend to vote in 2010, why they don't intend to vote in 2010.  Until such a poll is conducted, every theory about why Democratic turnout is down is just pure speculation.  In most cases, pundits will just say that Democratic turnout is down because Democrats aren't doing what that pundit thinks they should do.

  8. Will this special election decide the health care fight?  Yes.  Negotiations on the health care bill are really winding down, and a deal is close (see more on the emerging deal here). However, because the almighty Congressional Budget office will take at least ten days to produce a final score on the bill, there is no way that the bill will pass both branches of Congress before the Massachusetts special election is decided.

    If Scott Brown wins, then the health care bill will not pass.  There will be no 60th vote for Democrats in the Senate, meaning they have to go through Olympia Snowe.  However, many members of Congress might well be scared off by the Scott Brown win, thus causing some lost votes on the right. Also, with everything the House Progressives feel like it has already had to swallow, some votes will probably be lost on the left, too.  With only a three-vote margin in the House, a zero vote margin in the Senate, and the need to restart the month-long House-Senate negotiation process entirely, it is very difficult to envision the bill passing in any form if Scott Brown wins.  In all likelihood, the whole thing unravels at the finish line.

  9. With so much at stake, Dems, unions piling on ads.  Given everything that is at stake in the Massachusetts special elections, both SEIU and the DSCC are making major advertising purchases in the campaign.  They know Scott Brown is a longshot, but that he can still win.  And they know what that means for the health care bill.

  10. When is the election? The election takes place in six days, on Tuesday, the 19th.
This is the main political event in the country right now.  If you want to help out, visit Martha coakley's website, and take action.
Chris Bowers :: All you need to know about the Massachusetts Senate election

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Not really the topic, but.... (4.00 / 1)
Why is Democratic turnout so low?

1. Progressive politicos will vote, but a lot of progressive rank and file won't. There's a dropoff in the best of times, and it will be greater this year because people are disappointed with Obama.

2. "Hope" and "Change you can believe in" are content-free. A lot of googly-eyed Obama supporters read things into the slogans and expected more than they got.

Democratic centrist pros are laughing at them -- Obama did run as a centrist, why didn't they pick up on that. To my mind it's a bad idea to recruit new people, which Obama did a good job of, and then trash them immediately.

3. So far, and probably not by election day, nothing much concrete. You can't blame Obama much for this -- Bush handed him two disasters. But I do blame Obama for not saying, over and over again, that he was cleaning up messes left behind by the most incompetent and ethically-challenged administration in American history.

As I said (0.00 / 0)
All theories on why Democratic turnout are so low are entirely speculative. Lacking any polls, there is no evidence to back up any of them.

I could say that Democratic turnout is low because Dems are depressed about lack of space elevator funding. And there is as much evidence to support my theories as yours.

[ Parent ]
Why do you say that? (0.00 / 0)
I suggested an answer. Do you have a different answer? This isn't one of the mysteries of the universe, is it, one of the things we aren't supposed to think about? I am questioning your assertion.

[ Parent ]
To put it differently.... (0.00 / 0)
given the remarkable discrepancy between expected turnout rates of the two parties in two different polls, isn't this something we goddamn well better think about?

[ Parent ]
as per the article (0.00 / 0)
9. With so much at stake, Dems, unions piling on ads.  Given everything that is at stake in the Massachusetts special elections, both SEIU and the DSCC are making major advertising purchases in the campaign.  They know Scott Brown is a longshot, but that he can still win.  And they know what that means for the health care bill.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Space elevators (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
I'm going to say it now (4.00 / 1)
I will not vote in 2010 if space elevator legislation isn't passed by Congress. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and if my government isn't willing to support something so fundamental to our future, well, I just don't even want to be part of the process!

More seriously, though, Chris is right. We won't know until after it's over. If Democratic turnout is depressed (or Republican turnout is huge), hopefully we'll have some exit polling data to explain some of it. Until then, anyone can make up a plausible-sounding explanation. That still won't help get anyone to the polls, though, which is the important thing right now. We won't know why the election went the way it did until after the election, and after people tell us why they made the choices they did.

[ Parent ]
I don't understand the taboo (0.00 / 0)
There must be something going on that I haven't been told about.

[ Parent ]
I don't understand it either, John (0.00 / 0)
Your theory explains perfectly why I, at least, am unenthusiastic about going out to pull the level for Coakley.  And I've almost always been "a typical MA Democrat" in attitude, according to polling and vote totals from past election cycles.  (I'm more interested in, informed about, and committed to politics than is typical, though, so I ultimately probably will show up on the 19th.)

The "without Coakley, health care reform will fail!!!" pitch is spectacularly ineffective--again, for me at least.  Health care reform has already failed, and the passage of the Senate's legislation would only make it worse--lock in the wholesale theft of middle class working people's wages and wealth into the foreseeable future.


Here are a couple of old ads from the 2008 campaign, just for kicks.

Funny how Obama is these days busy trying to cram John McCain's idea down the throats of the very people who voted for him, isn't it?  You can always count on him to pick a fight with his supporters on behalf of the money powers.  Never vice versa.


Since we're apparently resolved to let the patient die and then perform an autopsy--rather than try to figure out what the illness is in time to do something about it--I offer this as a forensic data point only.  Some brilliant bipartisan consultant will figure it all out later, I'm sure.

[ Parent ]
also (4.00 / 1)
non-Presidential election turnouts are always lower and special election turnouts are lower than that.

Is there a Massachusetts special election for Senator to even compare to? If there is, I expect turnout in this race might exceed it but still be "low."

[ Parent ]
she assumed : cake walk (0.00 / 0)
also there is more and more chatter that she has run a lousy campaign, going underground after the primary and letting the gop get a leg up...remember how Lamont went on a looooong vacation after beating Lieberman in the dem primary.

looks like there are lots of lousy dem campaign managers out there.....

as you said--TURN-OUT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE LOW--but dems who assume a cake walk...well they deserve what they get.

[ Parent ]
Are there more polls due out today? (0.00 / 0)

John McCain won't insure children

Can't the House just pass the Senate version of the bill? (0.00 / 0)

I am not well versed in congressional correct me if I am wrong


Yeah (0.00 / 0)
If the House passes the crappy Senate bill, the Senate doesn't have to do anything. The Bill passes.

The House worked hard to put together a much better bill, but they couldn't get past Lieberman, Nelson, Landrieu, Lincoln..... and to be honest, quite a few other Senators, like Baucus .... and to be honest, Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama.

The filibuster and a lot of other Senate rules should be abolished. That can easily be done with 51 votes. If not that, the Senate should be converted into a rump body like the House of Lords with responsibilities limited to those enumerated in the Constitution.

[ Parent ]
Am I mistaken in thinking that if reconciliation had been the method (4.00 / 1)
chosen to get the bill through the Senate leading up to this moment in time that Scott Brown being elected or not would not have mattered anyway in the grand scheme of things with regard to health care?

And if Reconciliation had been the method chosen the bill no doubt would have more 'progressive' ~ read: contain a public option morethan likely?

Why (0.00 / 0)
does the compromise bill have to be scored by the CBO?

Is there a Senate rule or some law that says this must happen?

Could not both Houses pass the compromise bill without waiting for the CBO report?


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