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Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren and the ‘Have a beer’ factor

at 12:00 PM ET, 04/02/2012

A new Boston Globe poll Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and former Obama Administration official Elizabeth Warren (D) in a statistical dead heat.
Elizabeth Warren, left, holds up a poster of herself as Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) right, looks on during the annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast in Boston last month. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

But apart from the topline number, the poll reveals a study in two very different candidacies. And the one thing that appears to be keeping Brown viable in a very tough state for any Republican is an unusual and hard-to-quantify quality. Let’s call it the “have a beer” factor.

The new Globe poll doesn’t show Brown more popular than Warren — both have favorable ratings about 25 points higher than their unfavorables, which is very good.

What it does show, though, is that a majority of voters just, well, like Brown. And, at least at the moment, it’s a different brand of “like” than what Warren engenders in voters. It’s more intense.

Despite their similar favorable ratings, when likely voters are asked which candidate is more likeable, 57 percent point to Brown and just 23 percent name Warren. Even a plurality of Democrats (42 percent) say Brown is more likeable than Warren (38 percent).

In other words, while people genuinely like both candidates, it’s not exactly apples-to-apples. People admire Warren, who has a resume chock full of impressive accomplishments. They want to hang out — or have a beer — with Brown.

Now, it should be noted that this “have a beer” brand of support should not be overestimated. After all, elections aren’t just about personal appeal.

(Then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle lost his 2004 reelection race despite the fact that more than six in 10 South Dakota voters viewed him favorably.)

What’s more, Brown is currently leading by a huge margin among independents — 42 percent to 14 percent — and just 63 percent of Democrats support Warren. Both of those numbers suggest Warren has plenty of room to grow her support as she gets better known in the months ahead.

But as long as Brown keeps the profile of a senator who is independent of his party and is preeminently likeable, he’s got a fighting chance. After all, those were the two characteristics that really spurred him to victory in his 2010 special election.

In that race, state Attorney General Martha Coakley was blamed by many for her loss. But Globe polling on the eve of that election showed her favorable rating was over 60 percent — not exactly the sort of ratings a hated politician would score.

Instead, what cost Coakley was her lack of a personal connection with voters. While Brown built an image around his pickup truck and average Joe-ness, Coakley scoffed at the idea of shaking hands outside Fenway Park and inexplicably suggested Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was a Yankees fan.

Coakley never became unpopular because of these things, but she did lose a connection with voters, and Brown was able to exploit that. By election day, the contrast was abundantly clear.

There’s a similar question with Warren, whose Harvard professorship has already been the target of Republicans seeking to define her as an elitist. She’s gotten strong reviews early in her campaign, but likeability is a more than just delivering a strong speech or raising lots of money. It’s more about innate feelings and, if you don’t have it naturally, it can be tough to manufacture. (Ask Mitt Romney.)

Her progress on that measure won’t necessarily show up in her favorable/unfavorable numbers, but it will play a huge role in whether she wins in November.

Right now, Brown still has a clear advantage on that measure, which gives him a fighting chance under a very tough set of circumstances.

 
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