Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley enters the general-election stage of the gubernatorial campaign with a slight lead over Republican Charlie Baker, who, as the lesser known of the two candidates, has more room to flesh out his public image in the eyes of the large swath of undecided voters, according to a Globe poll.
In a five-way matchup that includes the three unenrolled candidates in the race, Coakley leads Baker, 39 percent to 36 percent, with 19 percent of likely voters undecided.
One in four Democrats — who make up 35 percent of those polled — remain uncommitted to any candidate, a sign that Coakley hasn’t yet fully persuaded her own party. Seventy percent of unenrolled voters, who account for the majority of the state’s electorate, have not yet decided on a candidate.
The survey suggests a race that could tilt in either direction based on the campaigns’ maneuvers in the coming weeks. While 98 percent of voters recognize Coakley’s name, only 84 percent know Baker, indicating that his image among the electorate remains somewhat elastic.
Among undecided voters, the same percentage, 20 percent, see Baker favorably as unfavorably. But among that same group of respondents who have not made up their minds, Coakley is “underwater,” meaning a greater number of people view her unfavorably than favorably, 46 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
“There is room,” said John Della Volpe, the chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., which conducted the survey. “Whether it’s room for him to grow based on his campaign or there’s room for Coakley to paint him in a more negative light, there is room for that to happen.”
The poll, conducted between Sept. 14 and 16 among 407 likely voters, carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.85 percentage points. Before the state primary, the Globe polls were conducted in two waves over two weeks in order to contact a sufficient number of voters in a heavily contested Democratic primary. Beginning this week, the polls are being conducted over three days in a single week and include interviews with 400 likely voters to offer more immediate results.
Less than seven weeks ahead of the general election, Massachusetts voters are divided about the state’s direction, with 43 percent believing it is on the right track and 41 percent thinking it is on the wrong one. Despite mixed feelings about the state’s trajectory, Governor Deval Patrick remains relatively unscathed in the public’s mind. Fifty-seven percent view him favorably, 37 percent unfavorably.
Among undecided voters, Patrick earns a 59 percent to 31 percent favorability split. That margin sets up a delicate dynamic for Baker and Coakley as they attempt to offer voters a cohesive vision for the post-Patrick era. While voters are somewhat conflicted about the state’s path, the governor remains popular in their eyes, complicating the task of critiquing his tenure.
“This is a bit of a jigsaw for Baker as well as Coakley in terms of how to think about and articulate Governor Patrick’s tenure over the past seven or eight years,” Della Volpe said.
Less sanguine about the national outlook than the Commonwealth’s, 57 percent say the country was headed on the wrong track. Just 24 percent say it was on the right tack. Among Coakley voters, the split was statistically even.
The survey also asked voters their opinions of three unenrolled candidates in the governor’s race, and for the first time included conservative pastor Scott Lively. In the five-way race including Coakley and Baker, Lively garnered 3 percent, Evan Falchuk got 2 percent, and McCormick received 1 percent.
Men and women continue to line up in different camps. Among women, Coakley captures 46 percent of the vote, compared to Baker’s 30 percent; Baker leads among men, 43 percent to 32 percent. That division reflects a lingering gender gap between the candidates. Female voters turned out in force during last week’s Democratic primary, nominating four women for the state’s six constitutional offices.
Voters also fielded questions about attributes they associate with the different candidates, and that subset of queries held good news for Baker. He held a 15-point edge, 42 percent to 27 percent, when voters were asked which candidate would create jobs and improve the economy, and an 18-point advantage when they were asked which candidate would be more responsible fiscally. The early post primary messaging has largely focused on economic issues. Baker on Wednesday held a press conference to roll out his economic plan. Coakley, meanwhile, has focused on a populist economic angle, playing up her support for a ballot question that would grant workers paid sick time.
Coakley, though, led in questions where voters were asked about more traditional Democratic strongholds. Forty percent picked her as the candidate committed to improving public education, as opposed to just 25 percent for Baker. Similarly, she prevailed by 15 percentage points on a question about which candidate would ensure high-quality affordable health care.
“If the overall narrative of this campaign is about how to tighten up or strengthen the economy for the future, Baker has the advantage today,” Della Volpe said. “If it’s less about the economy and more about health care, education, agreeing with ‘me’ on a whole host of issues, you could say that Coakley has the advantage today.”
Sixty-nine percent of Massachusetts voters back President Obama’s plan to expand the US air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, reflecting overall national enthusiasm.
Asked about this November’s low-profile Senate race, voters sided with Senator Edward J. Markey over Republican challenger Brian Herr, 53 percent to 27 percent. Herr’s name recognition is just 15 percent.
But only 38 percent of voters saw Markey favorably, compared with 33 percent who viewed him negatively. Fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren fared better, winning a 56 percent to 36 percent split.
FULL POLL RESULTS