A post-convention bounce for Elizabeth Warren?

September 18, 2012

Elizabeth Warren is back. And she may have the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte to thank for shoring up support among Democrats and supporters of President Obama.


(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

A Suffolk University poll released late Monday night was the third survey in as many days that showed the Democratic Senate candidate either leading slightly or running neck and neck with Sen. Scott Brown (R) after a summer in which the Republican appeared to have most of the momentum in the race.

The Suffolk University/7NEWS survey showed Warren leading Brown slightly, by a margin of 48 percent to 44 percent. In the May poll, the race was well inside the margin of error, with Brown leading Warren, 48 percent to 47 percent.

The Suffolk poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday, just as Warren launched the first of two new ads that represented a change of pace from previous commercials. The new spots relied more on supporters making the case for Warren, whereas in most of Warren's summer ads, she was the main messenger.

“Fresh off a new TV ad buy and a prime time convention speech, Elizabeth Warren has improved her popularity and overtaken Scott Brown head-to-head,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling conducted a survey during the same three-day period and found the Massachusetts race to be neck and neck. A late August PPP poll showed Brown leading Warren outside the margin of error.

A Western New England University poll conducted Sept. 6-13 for the Springfield Republican newspaper and Masslive.com showed Warren leading by six (a slight advantage, considering the poll's margin of error).

It's not as if Brown is unpopular, unlikable, or doing a poor job in the eyes of Bay State voters. The surveys show that his approval rating and net favorability are very good. Brown has been running feel-good, every-man ads all summer that feature him driving around in his signature pickup truck that became a symbol of his upset special election win in 2010. And he is doing well among independents, a crucial subset of voters in Massachusetts.

So what's going on here? A couple of things. Voters identifying as Democrats appear to be moving more heavily toward Warren. Voters who plan to support Obama (many of whom are also Democrats) are coalescing behind Warren as well. In other words, Brown's much-need crossover support appears to be weakening.

In the May Suffolk poll, 24 percent of Obama voters were crossing over to support Brown. That number has shrunk to 19 percent in the latest poll. Meanwhile, the PPP poll shows Warren's support among Democrats is up 8 points from the previous survey.

It's possible that Warren's support waned in the summer (there was no public live-caller polling between late July and the end of the convention) then rebounded following the Democratic convention in Charlotte, where she delivered a prime time address. The Suffolk and PPP polls were conducted beginning a week after Warren's convention address (which was the same night Bill Clinton spoke), and the Western New England University survey was conducted during the week directly following Warren's speech.

“The Democratic National Convention appears to have connected the dots for some voters in Massachusetts,” said Paleologos. “They’ve linked Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Congressional candidate Joseph Kennedy, whose district includes Southeastern Mass. Warren benefited not only from her own speech, but from the oratory of others, both inside and outside of Massachusetts.”

Warren is not the only Democratic Senate candidate who appears stronger on the other side of the convention. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) released an internal poll conducted last week showing her holding a slight lead over former Republican governor Tommy Thompson, 50 percent to 45 percent. In an August internal poll, Baldwin trailed Thompson by six points. PPP, meanwhile, showed Baldwin running about even with Thompson in a recent survey.

Whether or not the convention itself is the source of new momentum for Warren and Baldwin can certainly be debated. But regardless of the origin of the movement, both appear to be in better positioned following Charlotte. And if Democrats are victorious in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, the Republican path to the majority becomes extremely difficult.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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