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Weekly poll

Grown used to scandal, Mass. voters shrug

Former Massachusetts probation commissioner John O'Brien.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Former Massachusetts probation commissioner John O'Brien.

It takes a lot to lift the eyebrows of the scandal-weary Massachusetts voter.

Sixty-one percent of likely voters in a new Globe poll said they were neither shocked nor even mildly surprised at the recent conviction of three former top Probation Department officials for mail fraud and racketeering, but instead not moved much at all. Just 11 percent expressed more than mild surprise.

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The numbers hint at an electorate that has grown, if not cynical, at least conditioned to scandal. Asked whether the Beacon Hill culture had improved since 2011, when former House speaker Salvatore DiMasi was convicted on federal corruption charges, nearly three in four voters said it had stayed about the same. Eleven percent spotted improvement, and 6 percent said it had gotten worse.

Voters showed a preference for the type of divided government promised by Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, who has targeted “one-party rule” but whose own poll numbers in the race continue to soften.

A plurality, 46 percent, said it was better when the governor and a majority of state lawmakers hail from different parties. Pollster John Della Volpe said that preference tracked roughly with the way voters think across the country, calling it “significant, but not significant when you look at it on a national level.”

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The live telephone survey of 605 likely voters, conducted July 27 to 29 and Aug. 3 to 5, carried an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points for the full sample.

Despite the jaundice with which Massachusetts voters view state government, it pales next to their disdain for Washington. Precisely half said they trusted the state Legislature more than its federal counterpart to do the right thing; just 15 percent trusted Congress more than Beacon Hill. More than a quarter replied “neither.”

Forty-six percent said it was better when the governor and a majority of state lawmakers hail from different parties.

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Twenty-eight percent of voters said they thought that most state lawmakers are not honest and ethical, while 64 percent disagreed. There was just a marginal split between Democrats and Republicans, far smaller than on other issues. Seventy-one percent of Democrats thought the majority of legislators are honest, compared with 64 percent of Republicans.

“There are differences, but it’s not the sort of wholesale differences we see other places,” said pollster Jonathan Chavez.

Independent voters, who belong to neither party, were the most skeptical, with just 60 percent believing in the good character of the elected officials.

Despite the pessimistic view of state government, parents or aspiring parents still viewed public service as a worthy pursuit for their sons or daughters. Fully 74 percent said they would encourage their children to seek office in Massachusetts, compared with just 21 percent who said they would urge them not to run.

Chavez said he was taken aback at the percentage who thought their offspring would do well in public office, saying, “I’ve never been more wrong about a question.”

Little change in governor’s race

The poll, as it does every week, also tracked the gubernatorial campaign. A television advertising campaign by Treasurer Steve Grossman, complemented by ads attacking Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic front-runner, paid for by an outside group supporting Grossman, appears to have had little impact in the party primary race.

Grossman trailed Coakley by 28 points two weeks ago, and 27 points this week, 18 percent to 45 percent.

There was little movement between the two three-day waves of polling. Among 180 likely Democratic primary voters polled last week, Coakley led 47 percent to 19 percent. The 182 likely Democratic primary voters who participated this week preferred her, 45 percent to 16 percent.

Coakley’s voter appeal remains essentially unchanged. Fifty-three percent view her favorably, unchanged from two weeks ago, while 37 percent see her unfavorably, down from 40 percent two weeks ago. Among Democrats, 77 percent view her favorably, compared with 76 percent two weeks ago. She has shown some slippage among female voters, 54 percent of whom rate her positively now, compared with 62 percent two weeks ago, but offset it by a 10-point gain among men.

Baker continues to suffer some political downdraft. After pulling into a dead heat with Coakley three weeks ago, Baker has faded in each week since. Baker now garners 31 percent to Coakley’s 42 percent.

Baker’s numbers have changed even more dramatically against Grossman, who is gaining ground in a matchup he could face if he won the primary. After sitting on a 10-point lead over Grossman two weeks ago, Baker lost support last week and this, down to a statistically insignificant edge of 31 percent to 30 percent.

Unsurprisingly, in light of the horse-race numbers, Baker’s personal standing in the eyes of voters appears to have ebbed. Two weeks ago, 44 percent viewed him favorably, and 20 percent unfavorably. This week, that split had narrowed to 39 percent to 23 percent, a net loss over two weeks of 8 percentage points. For the first time since the Globe poll launched in June, Baker’s favorability rating is below 40 percent.

Unenrolled candidates Jeffrey S. McCormick and Evan Falchuk continue to fare poorly, McCormick collecting 5 percent this week and Falchuk just 2 percent when matched against Coakley and Baker.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Jim.OSullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.
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