fb-pixelSupport is dropping for ballot question on nurse staffing, poll shows - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Support is dropping for ballot question on nurse staffing, poll shows

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff

The time to Election Day is quickly narrowing. The contests on the state’s Nov. 6 ballot are not.

Likely voters say they’re leaning heavily in favor of re-electing Governor Charlie Baker and Senator Elizabeth Warren, as well as voting down a hotly debated ballot question to regulate nurse staffing levels, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll taken between Wednesday and Saturday.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed oppose Question 1, which would limit the number of patients assigned to hospital nurses at one time, while 32 percent said they are voting for it. Many respondents, however, said it was not the multimillion-dollar ad campaign surrounding the question that swayed them but the input from a nurse they personally know.


It also marks a stark reversal from last month, when a survey found that 52 percent of likely voters supported the Massachusetts Nurses Association-backed ballot question. The hospital industry opposes it.

Meanwhile, Baker, a Republican seeking a second term, drew 65 percent of support to 26 percent for his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez. The 39-point margin is actually a jump from a month ago, when Baker held a 27-point lead over Gonzalez, who continues to struggle with name recognition. Nearly 34 percent of those surveyed said they have never heard of him.

Warren holds a 22-point cushion over Republican Geoff Diehl in her own bid for a second term, drawing about 56 percent of support to 34 percent for Diehl, a state representative and staunch supporter for President Trump. Shiva Ayyadurai, an independent candidate in the race, polled at 4 percent.

But the survey was not all good news for Warren, who has said that she would “take a hard look” at running for president after the midterm elections. Sixty-eight percent of voters say they don’t think she should make a White House run, and many said if they had to choose, they would prefer it be former governor Deval Patrick — not her — seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2020.


Fifty-one percent said they would opt for Patrick, compared to just 21 percent for Warren. Patrick, who has spent time campaigning for other Democrats in tough midterm election fights, has said that a presidential campaign is on his “radar screen.”

“Is this the Massachusetts voters saying ‘tough love’ [to Warren]?” mused David Paleologos, director of the poll. “People are saying we love you, we’ll vote for you, you’ve done a great job for Massachusetts, but we don’t want you to run for president.

“She’s a very polarizing figure,” he added.

Voters were also split on Warren’s decision to take and release the results of a DNA test showing she likely has some Native American ancestry, with 43 percent saying she should have done it, compared to 42 percent who disagreed.

Warren likely had a Native American ancestor dating back six to 10 generations, suggesting she’s between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American, according to the results she released earlier this month.

Whether it helped her politically is also open to debate. While 46 percent said they felt it put to rest questions about her ancestry — compared to 31 percent who said it raised them — the margins skewed heavily toward party affiliation. The share of Democrats who thought it cleared up the debate — 55 percent — was nearly identical to the 54 percent of Republicans who thought it only deepened it.


Wendy Pearson, an unenrolled voter from Beverly, responded in the poll that she agreed with Warren’s decision to take the DNA test, but admitted she had “mixed feelings.”

“I don’t think there’s any benefit,” said Pearson, who’s also voting for Warren in her Senate race. “I think the people who think she made it up will still think she made it up because the portion was so small. And the people who like her will still like her. I think the whole controversy is ridiculous.”

For Baker, the poll reaffirms the lofty approval ratings he’s enjoyed throughout most if not all of his first term. More than 73 percent of respondents approve of the job he’s doing, with two key voting blocs — Democrats and unenrolled voters — also giving him high marks of 65 and 78 percent, respectively.

“I think [Baker] is trying to please as many people as he can without alienating the other half,” said Hulda Jowett, a 79-year-old unenrolled voter from North Adams, who is backing both Baker and Warren. “He seems to be a Republican who can find that middle of the road.”

Some voters explained their support for Baker in another way: They didn’t know, or have not heard much, about Gonzalez.

The former state budget chief has proposed a tax on the endowments of the state’s most wealthy colleges, which he said would spur $1 billion in new revenue annually. About 45 percent of those polled said they would oppose Gonzalez’s plan, compared to 38 percent who support it.


“The few things I heard about him I didn’t care for,” Paul Feldberg, a 66-year-old unenrolled voter, said of Gonzalez. “I think a lot of the things [Gonzalez] talks about would be way too expensive.”

The survey also showed voters widely backing two other ballot questions.

On Question 3, which asks about the state’s transgender antidiscrimination law, 68 percent said they favored keeping the law, while 28 percent said they wanted the law repealed.

Another measure, Question 2, would create a volunteer commission with the stated goal of researching the role that money plays in Massachusetts politics and then eventually propose language meant to amend the US Constitution to ban certain types of donations. Fifty-eight percent said they support it, compared to 26 percent who are voting against it.

The nurse ballot question has drawn most of the attention and money this cycle. The nurses union and Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association have spent a combined $29.7 million on the measure, with much of that flowing toward advertising.

But the overriding influence in voters’ decisions was nurses themselves: 44 percent cited the input of a nurse they know, compared to 5 percent who said political ads.

Those voting against Question 1 cited a range of concerns, including the potential for rural and suburban hospitals with smaller staffs to too quickly hit patient limits. Jenifer Drew, a recently retired sociology professor from Jamaica Plain, questioned why it was even a ballot question.


“Why am I making a decision about nurse staffing? What do I know?” Drew, 71, said. She said she’s listened to debates on the issue and was struck that arguing against the measure was the chief nursing officer at Boston Medical Center.

“That is where the most vulnerable patients show up in the most dire straits. If she’s voting no on it,” Drew said, “I’ll vote no on it.”

The poll surveyed 500 likely midterm voters and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

“This is just one of those weird election years where nothing on the ballot is close, if people were to believe the polls,” said Paleologos, who feared the lopsided margins could give people a disincentive to go to the voting booth. “Hopefully that won’t cause people to just skip voting.”

Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout