Are you there, Massachusetts? It’s me, the primaries

The Topline

Ahhh, the Fourth of July. When we come together to commemorate the beginning of the grand experiment that is America, celebrating government for and by the people. And in Massachusetts – the birthplace of the revolution – the gravity of the moment is not lost on voters as they march toward the purest expression of democracy: elections. They’re reading up on candidates. They’re absorbing the nuance of their policy positions. They’re choosing carefully between their many options.

Just kidding. Unless all the fireworks shake voters from their slumber, the big statewide contests will pass with little fanfare or voter attention. New WBUR polls of Democratic and Republican primary voters show little voter interest in the challengers running in statewide primaries on either side. Despite blistering fundraising and a strong showing at the party convention, Boston City Councilor and candidate for Secretary of State Josh Zakim is unknown to 62 percent of voters in the Democratic primary.

In the governor’s contest, voter attention is similarly hard to come by; 61 percent of Democratic primary voters haven’t even heard of Jay Gonzalez, whom delegates endorsed at their convention earlier this month, and 55 percent are unfamiliar with Bob Massie.

Whoever wins will face off against Governor Charlie Baker, who is beloved by voters on both sides. Majorities in both of the primaries have a favorable opinion of him — 66 percent on the Republican side, and 68 percent of voters planning to pull a Democratic ballot. This continues a long string of polls finding little distance between how the two parties view him. He holds a wide lead in his own primary, with 70 percent support to challenger Scott Lively’s 17 percent.

Elizabeth Warren has been a polarizing figure since her election, drawing strong support on the left and dedicated opponents on the right. But Republican primary voters are paying little mind to her would-be challengers. Geoff Diehl, the Republican-endorsed candidate, is an unknown entity to 51 percent of GOP primary voters, and he is the best known of the three candidates running.

These are polls of likely primary voters, who are typically the most tuned in and dedicated partisans. And yet none of the challengers in either contest are familiar to a majority of their own voters.

Regular readers of the Topline will recall back in April that the high proportion of “never heards” was unusual for that point in the cycle. Since then, both parties have held their conventions and resources should be coalescing around frontrunner candidates. A recent Pew Research Center report found that registered voters nationwide are notably more engaged in November’s elections than they were during the 2014 midterms. And yet, here in Massachusetts…crickets.

To be sure, there are major and consequential contests further down the ballot. Some of them may draw more interest and attention than the top of the ticket. But such intense lack of interest in on-cycle statewide contests is very unusual, particularly for primary voters.

So as we grill up burgers and dogs next week, is it too late to add some sizzle to our races? Maybe, or maybe we’ve all just been a little distracted.

Meet The Authors

Maeve Duggan

Chief Operating Officer, MassINC

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

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