Editorial: Polls show Baker's strength, potential

There was a telling moment in Sunday’s otherwise lackluster debate between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy when a reporter asked the two rivals for the US Senate whether Charlie Baker should get another term in the next gubernatorial election in 2022. 

Both men basically took a pass: That’s up to the voters, said Kennedy. It’s too far off to answer, Markey posited.

Perhaps the two congressional Democrats were afforded a sneak peek at the latest polling data from the estimable MassINC Polling Group, which has conducted a series of very useful surveys throughout the pandemic here in the Commonwealth.

This week, the folks at MassINC Polling published the results of two new polls conducted in recent days. The first, released Monday, shows that Baker continues to be the state’s most popular political leader. According to this sample, 77 percent of Massachusetts residents have a favorable view of Baker. And a whopping 91 percent of Democrats “approve of how Baker has handled” the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including “56 percent who strongly approve.”

Polls have consistently shown that Baker, a Republican, is less popular with his fellow GOP voters, who give our current president higher favorable marks than Baker, 79-63, according to this most recent poll by MassInc. All told, however, 67 percent of Massachusetts residents hold Donald Trump in low regard, the poll shows.

The Dems’ nominee, Joe Biden, holds a commanding lead in Massachusetts (55-23) over the incumbent in this poll. If this margin were to hold, as MassINC Polling Group notes, Biden can expect the largest margin of victory for a Democratic candidate for president since 1996, when Bill Clinton swamped Bob Dole here by 34 points.

On Tuesday, another poll conducted last week by MassINC and sponsored by the Barr Foundation reinforced what some of their earlier polls have shown: A large majority of Massachusetts residents — 67 percent— want “big changes” and investment into our state transportation system as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. An even bigger plurality— 69 percent of us— “strongly” or “somewhat” support “raising new money to invest in the system, “including roads, bridges, and public transportation.” 

More than half of those surveyed— 55 percent— described the condition of public transportation in the state as either “fair” (34 percent) or “poor” (21 percent). Most of those asked (48 percent) blame transportation agencies— the MBTA and MassDOT— for the condition, with Gov. Baker getting heat as “most responsible” from 15 percent, just a bit less than state lawmakers, 19 percent.

Another interesting take-away from the poll: Most people surveyed agree that low-income residents should get “a discount on public transportation”— a broad characterization of various policy reforms that have been advanced recently by Democrats like Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Sen. Markey and Councillor Michelle Wu. A big majority— 71 percent— say that they either “strongly” or “somewhat” agree with that idea.

As Massachusetts and the nation continue to grapple with the ongoing disruptions of the health emergency, many of us are expecting to mainly stay off the roads for the foreseeable future. The MassINC/Barr poll this week found that “68 percent of employed voters say they would prefer to work from home at least a few days a week as the state reopens.” Those with school-aged kids at home are particularly likely to be housebound themselves with an uncertain academic calendar in the fall.

All of this, including public opinion, is subject to change, of course. But it’s a help for all of us — in particular, policymakers and politicians— to tune into MassINC’s ongoing surveys.

– Bill Forry