Eight weeks ahead of the November election, Attorney General Maura Healey holds an imposing lead over Republican Geoff Diehl for Massachusetts’ open governor’s seat, a new poll found, her margins boosted by support from women and independent voters who say they loathe the GOP candidate’s embrace of Donald Trump.
Healey leads Diehl 52 percent to 26 percent, according to the Suffolk University/Boston Globe/NBC10 Boston/Telemundo poll of likely midterm voters. Her margin includes a 9-percentage-point advantage among independent voters, though several indicated in interviews that their support is less rooted in Healey’s appeal than another factor: They’re deeply averse to voting for a Trump-backed candidate such as Diehl, a former state lawmaker from Whitman.
The former president remains profoundly unpopular in Massachusetts; two-thirds of the 500 likely voters surveyed hold an unfavorable view of him, the poll found. And among the 17 percent who said they have not made up their mind in the governor’s race, more than half said they hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump.
It makes for a potential albatross, especially as Diehl — whom nearly half of poll respondents said they either never heard of or don’t have an opinion of — tries to appeal to a wider audience.
“The only candidate that I’ve ruled out is Geoff Diehl,” said Adam Lurie, a 27-year-old graduate student from Stoughton who said he’s leaned libertarian in the past and remains undecided about his choice for governor. “He’s made his politics pretty clear, that he’s going to be a Trump-style Republican. I’m not interested.”
Democrats running for other statewide seats, including attorney general and secretary of state, hold wide leads over their opponents, the poll found. Voters also said they favor voting ‘yes’ on ballot measures raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest and keeping a fledgling law that allows undocumented residents to apply for driver’s licenses.
Healey, a Democrat from the South End, has for months held large leads over Diehl in public surveys, including by similar margins in Suffolk/Globe polls from April and July. While widely viewed as a progressive Democrat, she’s pitched a more centrist message as a gubernatorial hopeful, promising to cut taxes and, at times, openly praising Governor Charlie Baker, the popular Republican who’s not seeking reelection.
Some voters said the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion also weighs on their choice between Healey, who has vowed to protect reproductive rights, and Diehl, a self-described “pro-life” conservative who supported the end of Roe v. Wade.
“That was enough for me not to look any further into his policies,” Ellen Auger, 40, an unenrolled voter from Worcester, said of Diehl. Auger said she plans to vote for Healey.
Healey, vying to become the first woman elected governor in Massachusetts, led Diehl, 60 percent to 20 percent, among women in the poll, representing one of the widest gaps among any demographic group outside of Democrats.
Diehl, a former US Senate candidate, has embraced his ties to the former president. He has echoed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged,” and held a so-called tele-rally with Trump on the eve of the Republican primary in which Diehl easily captured the party’s nomination over Chris Doughty, a more moderate, first-time candidate.
For some unenrolled voters, Trump’s presence made their choice in November an easy one.
Jeff Booms, an unenrolled voter from Nantucket, said he’s likely voting for Healey, but, in wanting more choice, hoped the Republican primary would produce a “reasonable” candidate to challenge Healey.
“What the Republican primary pulled out is somebody who is not reasonable,” said Booms, 53. “I would have investigated more and considered more. At this point, it’s a done deal.”
Aimee Medicke, a 50-year-old unenrolled voter, said she will probably vote for Healey, though she said she has yet to hear “what she’s planning to do as governor.” The fact that she’s facing a Trump-endorsed Republican made Healey her choice, if by default.
“I’m an independent voter. I don’t necessarily vote Democratic or Republican,” said Medicke, of Foxborough. “But I was tortured over the prior four years of [Trump’s] presidency. There’s no way.”
In a liberal state where moderate Republicans have won six of the last eight gubernatorial elections, the poll suggests a profound hardening of partisan lines. Healey holds a 149-1 advantage among the registered Democrats polled, while Diehl is favored 46-1, among Republicans surveyed.
Baker continues to be wildly popular (76 percent view him favorably), with eight of 10 Democrats giving him good marks. But neither Healey nor Diehl have shown similar across-the-aisle appeal. Roughly 68 percent of Republicans said they have an unfavorable view of Healey, while 45 percent of Democrats said they feel the same about Diehl.
“Anybody but Maura Healey,” said Cory Marchand, a 34-year-old registered Republican from Salisbury. Marchand said he’s likely to vote for Diehl “by default,” but told poll-takers he’s undecided — beyond not voting for Healey.
“She, in my opinion, is very divisive,” he said. “She only sees things from one side.”
A third candidate on the ballot in the governor’s race, Libertarian Kevin Reed, captured 5 percent of support in the poll. But Reed’s presence alone could further eat into Diehl’s expected base among Republicans.
“This matchup, the way the ballot is comprised this time around , you can very much see [Healey’s] lead widen” by Election Day, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “The textbook always says the race will always close. That’s not necessarily the case.”
Massachusetts likely voters are split on President Biden. About 48 percent say they approve of the job he’s doing, compared with 43 percent who disapprove.
The Democrat, however, is underwater with unenrolled voters: 52 percent said they disapprove, compared to 38 percent who approve.
“It’s more of a slight approval,” Scott Geter, a 38-year-old independent voter, said of his feelings for Biden. With tens of thousands of dollars left in student loan debt, the Quincy resident said Biden’s plan to cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for millions of borrowers will help but, like other Biden initiatives, does not go as far as he hoped. “It’s a drop in the pond.”
Democratic candidates for other statewide offices are starting the general election sprint in positions of strength. Andrea Campbell, a Democrat and former Boston city councilor, leads Republican Jay McMahon, a Buzzards Bay attorney, 50 percent to 24 percent among likely voters in the race for attorney general.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, a Brighton Democrat, leads his field with 53 percent of support ahead of Republican Rayla Campbell (19 percent) and the Green-Rainbow Party’s Juan Sanchez (5 percent). State Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, topped a five-way field for auditor with 39 percent, outpacing Anthony Amore, a Winchester Republican, who got 21 percent.
Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, facing Libertarian Cristina Crawford, holds a lead of nearly 30 percentage points in the Brookline Democrat’s bid for a third term.
Voters also signaled early support for a pair of hotly debated ballot questions. More than 56 percent said they would vote for a constitutional amendment imposing a 4 percent surtax on annual earnings above $1 million, while 35 percent said they plan to vote against the so-called millionaires tax. About 8 percent said they were undecided.
Those are nearly identical figures from late July, though a crush of money has flowed into the campaign, suggesting voters could be inundated by advertisements between now and the November election.
More than 49 percent of voters said they also intend to vote to keep a newly passed law that allows undocumented residents to apply for driver’s licenses, while 38 percent said they would vote to repeal it. But roughly 11 percent said they are undecided on how they’d vote on the Republican-led effort to put the law before voters.
The live interview poll, conducted Saturday through Tuesday, carried a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points.
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.