Mass. poll finds likely voters lean more to Biden, echoing national trends

NOT SURPRISINGLY, Joe Biden has a big lead over Donald Trump among voters in heavily Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, but results of a new statewide poll also show some intriguing other trends that mirror national surveys and could shape the outcome of the 2024 presidential contest. 

Among registered voters in the state, President Biden has an 18-point lead in his rematch against former President Donald Trump, according to a new CommonWealth Beacon/GBH News poll (toplines, crosstabs). But among “very likely” voters, Biden’s lead grows to 26 points. This wider margin would place Biden on par with recent Democratic presidential margins in Massachusetts. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried Massachusetts by 27 points, a touch higher than the 23-point margin for Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection. Biden’s own margin was 34 points in his first matchup with Trump four years ago.  

The online survey was conducted by the MassINC Polling Group from March 21 to 29 among 1,002 Massachusetts residents. It has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

The question of how many and which eligible voters show up will likely determine the margins both here, in deep-blue Massachusetts, and elsewhere, including pivotal swing states that will determine the outcome of the race. 

When it comes to turning out voters, Republicans are facing a problem they are not accustomed to: getting marginal voters to the polls. Among Trump supporters in Massachusetts, 80 percent call themselves “very likely” to vote, compared to 91 percent of Biden supporters. In other words, the voters less likely to turn out are a key source of potential Trump support. If they decide to stay home nationally, the impact could be substantial. 

In the past, less likely voters have tended to lean Democratic. A vivid illustration of how this has changed comes from polls of “unlikely voters” conducted by Suffolk University. In the 2012 wave of this national  survey, Barack Obama led Mitt Romney by 23 among registered voters who called themselves unlikely to vote. In 2018, the still to-be-determined 2020 Democratic nominee led Trump by 9 among the same group. In the latest wave of this survey, conducted in August of last year, Trump had a 19-point lead among unlikely voters, upending long-standing conventional wisdom about which way less likely voters lean. 

Another group less likely to turn out are supporters of independent or third party candidates (75 percent very likely to vote). Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presence in this year’s race could have a considerable impact if his current support levels hold and his voters show up. Kennedy, who is mounting an independent bid for president, is drawing 9 percent support among Massachusetts voters, similar to his level of support in national polls. His support comes more from younger voters and political independents. 

In the CommonWealth Beacon/GBH News poll, 12 percent of voters under 30 say they will back Kennedy, compared to 6 percent of voters 60 and older. Younger voters are traditionally a key Democratic voting bloc. In 2020, they handed Biden a 24-point margin nationally and played a key role in sending him to the White House, so losing a large slice to Kennedy would be a problem for the Biden camp.  

Whether young voters (or voters overall) maintain their support for Kennedy remains to be seen. In past elections, support for independent or third party candidates has often faded as election day approaches. In 2016, the Libertarian ticket was averaging 8-10 percent in polls even as late as the summer before fading in the fall and ultimately receiving about 3 percent of the vote. 

Looking beyond the head-to-head poll numbers, Bay State voters call a Biden-Trump rematch disappointing, exciting, and scary all at once, according to the new poll. The most common word voters used to describe their feeling about the race is “disappointed,” followed close behind by “annoyed.” These sentiments are most common among Democratic leaning voters as well as those thinking of sitting out the election. Trump supporters are more likely to call themselves excited, motivated, or interested. 

This split echoes national polling, which has found Trump tends to bring excitement to his own voters and dread among Biden supporters. A March poll from YouGov found 67 percent of Biden supporters say their vote was mostly “against Trump,” while 54 percent of Trump supporters said they were voting more “for Trump.” Adding this all up, Donald Trump voters are mostly excited to vote for him again. Joe Biden voters mostly are not, but will do so to keep Trump away from a second term. 

The demographic breakdown of the race looks mostly familiar, with women, people of color, and those with higher levels of education more likely to be for Joe Biden. Whether these general lines hold, and whether the margins underlying them shift are key dynamics of interest in this entire cycle. 

While we do not have large enough sample sizes in this poll to parse the question too finely, there is enough evidence at the national level to prompt the question of whether we are seeing key voting blocs shifting. Between 2016 and 2020 support for Trump grew considerably among Latino voters. Whether that shift continues and whether Black voters also shift somewhat toward Trump remain open questions

The election is heating up against the backdrop of significant concern about the stability of American democracy. Nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts residents (72 percent) call the current level of political tension in the country either a crisis or a major problem. This assessment extends to majorities across party lines, gender, age, income, and every other demographic we explored during the course of this survey. Voters think this level of tension carries a strong risk of escalating to violence, with most residents (64 percent) seeing that as at least somewhat likely, including majorities across party lines. 

The outcome of the presidential contest in Massachusetts is rarely in doubt, and this year is no exception. The poll shows the expected wide margin for a Democratic candidate. But beneath the surface are similar contours to what we see elsewhere that map out an unusual and unpredictable contest across the country. 

Steve Koczela is president of the MassINC Polling Group.



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