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    Massachusetts: even more liberal than you thought

    Taxachusetts. The bluest state. A vegetarian convention. Massachusetts over the years has acquired, by dint of its voting patterns and economic and social policies, a range of monikers underscoring its reputation as a liberal state.

    They are well-earned, according to a new poll that shows voters here consistently side with left-leaning policies over more conservative ones, even though just a third of them consider themselves liberals. The plurality of voters, 40 percent, call themselves moderates, while 27 percent identify as conservatives.

    “We might have a different definition of what’s liberal here than in other parts of the country,” said John Della Volpe, who conducted the poll as part of a series of weekly surveys for the Globe.


    As political winds nationally blow in favor of limited government, fueling the rise of the Tea Party and hamstringing much of President Obama’s agenda, voters here seem intent on a more expansive role for their government. A majority believes that government should provide health insurance, reduce climate change, and whittle the income gap. On social issues, more than three-quarters back same-sex marriage and nearly as many support at least conditional access to abortion.

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    At the same time, the survey results point to a reluctance among left-thinking voters to identify themselves to a pollster as liberals. Younger people were more likely to label themselves as such, with 50 percent of those between ages 18 and 34 opting for the liberal tag. Just 29 percent of those 65 and older did. At 37 percent, women were 8 percentage points more likely than men to call themselves liberal.

    The live telephone survey of 601 likely voters was conducted from July 20 to 22 and July 27 to 29. The error margin is plus or minus 4 percentage points for the full sample.

    With the state divided into 10 regions, the most liberal area is the one categorized as “inside [Route] 128,” at 50 percent, followed by Metro Boston at 42 percent. The pocket of the state with the most conservatives, according to the poll, is Merrimack Valley, where 41 percent of voters identified themselves as such, followed by Central Massachusetts, with 32 percent.

    Across the state, moderates were neatly split when asked which way they lean. Thirty-one percent said they tilted toward liberal, 31 percent conservative, and 37 percent saying, perhaps unsurprisingly, moderate.


    Massachusetts’ national reputation as an incubator of liberal policies is rooted, in part, in policy measures enacted over the past few decades. In 2006, a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, signed a law aimed at providing universal health care, which became the model for President Obama’s health care law. Two years prior, state lawmakers became the first in the country to thwart a ban on gay marriages, which had begun in the state earlier that year.

    Now, a decade after Massachusetts became the first state to allow the practice, the poll found that 77 percent of voters agreed that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. Just 17 percent of voters said they disagreed.

    Sixty-four percentagreed that basic health insurance is “a right for all people” and that the government should provide it for those who have no means of paying for it. Thirty percent disagreed. Almost six in 10 voters said that government “should work to substantially reduce the income gap between the rich and the poor,” while fewer than four in 10 disagreed.

    Just over half said government should do more to curtail climate change, even if that harmed economic growth, while 39 percent disagreed.

    Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to house up to 1,000 of the unaccompanied immigrant children currently on the southwest border in Massachusetts continued to garner a slender margin of support, 50 percent, with 44 percent opposed, virtually unchanged from last week’s poll.


    Amid those liberal tendencies, though, was an outlier: a stark opposition to affirmative action. Just 24 percent agreed that qualified minorities should receive special preference in hiring and education, while 69 percent disagreed.

    Voters were more closely divided on the death penalty, with 48 percent in favor of it for people convicted of murder, and 42 percent opposed.

    The plurality of voters, 42 percent, said they backed a woman’s right to an abortion with some restrictions, such as parental notification for minors and a cutoff on late-term abortions. Just over a quarter favor access to abortion with no restrictions, while 19 percent preferred a nearly outright ban on abortion, with exceptions for women whose lives are at risk and those who have been the victims of rape or incest. Six percent said they wanted to ban abortion in all circumstances.

    Coakley gaining ground against Baker, ceding in primary race

    As it does every week, the poll also tracked the governor’s race, where Attorney General Martha Coakley continues to enjoy a gaping lead in the three-way Democratic primary, despite ceding some ground to Treasurer Steve Grossman recently. Coakley garnered 45 percent support among people who intend to participate in the Democratic primary, down from 50 percent from two weeks ago, while Grossman climbed from 16 percent to 20 percent during that time, meaning that Coakley’s lead had fallen by 9 percentage points.

    Former federal health care administrator Don Berwick continued to trail, with 5 percent support, essentially unchanged over two weeks.

    There was better news for Coakley in the general election matchup. After Charlie Baker, the leading Republican candidate, pulled within 3 points of her two weeks ago, Coakley has since widened her lead, opening up a 42 percent to 32 percent advantage over Baker.

    Part of Baker’s retreat is owed to declining popularity with women, among whom he has dropped 5 points over the last month. During the second week in July, Baker appeared to brush off the importance in Massachusetts of a Supreme Court ruling affecting birth control insurance. He came under fire from Democrats and later said he misspoke. Baker advisers have acknowledged the statement gave an opening to Democrats looking to position him as unsympathetic to women.

    Baker still leads Grossman, 34 percent to 29 percent, in a head-to-head matchup, and Berwick, 37 percent to 24 percent, but his advantage over both has declined over the past two weeks.

    “That general trend that’s been in favor of Democrats the last couple of weeks has cut across regardless of who we’ve matched Baker up against,” Della Volpe said.

    Two unenrolled candidates, Jeff McCormick and Evan Falchuk, remain mired in single digits, with McCormick receiving 5 percent in a hypothetical race that includes Baker and Coakley, and Falchuk 2 percent.

    Potential change on the gambling front

    If gambling companies and their multitude of consultants want something new to worry about, the survey may have detected a whiff of decline in support for the state casino law, which measured 52 percent earlier this summer.

    The ongoing poll series has also been tracking public opinion on casino repeal since June, and this week found for the first time that casino supporters polled less than a majority. The latest poll found 49 percent of respondents support maintaining the 2011 gambling law.

    Forty-one percent want the casino law overturned, a figure that had held remarkably steady across multiple polls. The number of undecided voters has increased, however, from 7 percent in June to 10 percent in the most recent survey.

    The differences are still tiny, but voters switching sides often take a pit stop at “undecided” before reversing their original position, so the numbers bear watching.

    Gambling opponents in late June won a court fight to place a casino repeal measure on the statewide ballot, which will be Question 3 in November. Casino companies have pledged to defend the casino law, though the campaign has been quiet during the traditional summer political doldrums.

    Mark Arsenault of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Jim.OSullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.