Incumbent Senator Edward J. Markey has pulled slightly ahead of challenger Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III in the Democratic primary race for Senate, with roughly a month to go before final ballots are cast, according to a new independent poll.
The survey of 500 likely Democratic primary voters found Markey leading Kennedy 40 percent to 36 percent, a difference that is within the poll’s margin of error. The poll, conducted by a Louisiana-based firm, also found a significant chunk of likely voters — 24 percent — remain uncertain about which candidate they will vote for in the Sept. 1 primary.
Some of the undecided respondents said who they were leaning toward supporting, and when those preferences are included, Markey’s lead narrows to three points, the poll found.
Overall, the poll confirms what analysts have suspected: The primary contest remains extremely tight, and Markey has gained considerable ground from early polling that showed Kennedy with a big lead.
The poll also underscores just how much the unconventional nature of voting in this primary could matter. More educated voters preferred Markey, as did those who identify as Democrats. Likely voters unaffiliated with either party favored Kennedy, as did those with some or no college.
Analysts say that a primary race like this would typically see low turnout, with only the most dedicated Democrats casting ballots — a result that would likely favor Markey. But this year Beacon Hill passed a law allowing every registered voter to cast an absentee ballot by mail, for both the Sept. 1 primary and the Nov. 3 general election. The Secretary of State’s office has sent all voters an application for those ballots.
The unprecedented scenario could lead to a larger turnout, and more participation by less-active voters, all of which analysts believe would boost Kennedy.
“Senator Markey has a lead in this race, but it’s not substantial, and hinges on a strong vote from registered Democrats and/or younger voters,” as well as those with a college degree or higher educational attainment, the polling firm, JMC Analytics and Polling, concluded.
The poll was conducted by automated calls to landlines (37 percent of those contacted) and texts to cellphones (63 percent) with a link to the poll online, and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points.
The polling firm dipped its toe into the Massachusetts race after its founder, John Couvillon, noticed strong interest among fellow political junkies on Twitter for more independent polling in various hot races, Couvillon said in an interview with the Globe. He launched a GoFundMe campaign, which raised some of the funds, then threw in his own money to cover the remaining cost of the poll.
Pollster that he is, he asked followers on Twitter which race they most wanted polled, and the Markey-Kennedy matchup came out on top.
He attributes the interest in the Markey-Kennedy race to it being a “a clash of titans, as it were,” a challenger with a famous last name taking on a longtime incumbent. “That kind of confrontation rarely happens, particularly in Democratic politics,” Couvillon said.
Victoria McGrane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.