Is Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a spot of political bother back home in Massachusetts? A series of recent polls seems to indicate “yes”; though the reason why that may be so is not entirely clear.
A University of Massachusetts survey apparently out this week shows what Business Insider’s Josh Barro terms “weirdly soft numbers for Warren” in hypothetical matchups against some well-known Republican figures in Bay State politics.
Against former Gov. and current Libertarian Party nominee for Vice President Bill Weld (no longer a resident of Massachusetts, it bears mentioning), Warren holds a meager 40-37 lead.
Against Massachusetts Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito, she fares barely better: 40-36, with just slightly more voters undecided.
Against former Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, she has a seven-point lead, with a yet higher number of undecideds.
Against Red Sox legend Curt Schilling and former Gov. (and Republican presidential nominee) Mitt Romney, she fares the best, with an obvious path to re-election in an extremely blue state. But it seems more likely that a Tisei or a Polito would take her on than a Romney—and that gets us back to the point that she’s evidently in a weaker position than a lot of people might assume, looking at a very liberal senator from arguably the most liberal state in the nation.
The dog still likes her… we think…
The UMass poll tallies with other weak results for Warren in other recent surveys.
A YouGov poll conducted between September 15 and September 20, 2016 shows her with a net positive favorable rating of just 3 points (46 percent favorable to 43 percent unfavorable; the poll has a 4.1 percent margin of error).
An earlier WBUR poll shows her doing better, but still trailing Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who scores a sweet 62 percent favorable rating to Warren’s 53 percent, and a mere 16 percent disapproval rating versus her 36 percent.
Yep: Something not all that great for Warren is going on in the Bay State; the question is, what?
Warren came to prominence as a fierce advocate of enhanced financial sector regulation, but one who at least appeared to try to cultivate a not-totally-partisan-hack-y image once forced to let go of her ambition to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and instead run for Senate in Massachusetts. (Libertarians will remember her attempts to mollify the Reason-reading free marketeer crowd by touting her strong belief in contracts).
Recently, that image has slid quite a bit, as she’s positioned herself as a top Democratic surrogate, and was considered as potential vice presidential nominee for Hillary Clinton (who instead passed her over for the nicey-nicey, less fire-brand, and less fire-power) Tim Kaine. Perhaps Warren’s constituents aren’t wild about her move from Harvard professor type to chief Democratic attack-dog.
Or perhaps Warren is becoming seen as too much a national-level player all-around, and too little someone focused on doing Massachusetts’ business, specifically, in Congress.
Consider this: Of 26 press releases she’s put out in the last two months (according to her Senate site), just 7 (arguably 8) relate to Massachusetts-centric issues, as opposed to national-level topics like corporate political spending, the Flint water crisis and FBI records relevant to the financial crisis.
Admittedly, in this time, a brouhaha has emerged over Mylan’s pricing of Epipens and news of the Wells Fargo scandal has broken. The latter is a topic one would reasonably expect a senator of Warren’s profile to spend a lot of time and attention on (true not only because financial sector matters are her pet topic, but also since the CFPB she conceived of is sometimes knocked for going easy on bigger, established financial sector actors like Wells Fargo, so goodness knows, she’d want to be seen as targeting them, hard).
Warren’s Twitter feed, too, is pretty national-issue dominated, and not very “local”: A grand total of three tweets (that’s right, three) out of 80+ since August 30 (inclusive) relate to specifically, obviously Massachusetts issues.
Assuming her in-state press coverage tallies with what she’s physically putting out there via release and social media, the fact is, Warren looks a tad more focused on issues of national-level import that generate enthusiasm from the Sandernistas and MSNBC viewers in, say, Chicago or California than the back-home nitty gritty that people in Lowell, South Boston or anywhere else in-state are probably thinking about, top of mind.
Consider this also: Earlier in the year, when Warren was less in the spotlight than she arguably has been as the vice presidential nomination announcement loomed, as the Democratic National Convention (at which she prominently spoke) played out, and as the election in which she is a sought-after endorser and surrogate has approached, Warren’s numbers looked better.
According to Morning Consult polling, between January and April of this year, Warren ranked in the top 14 of 100 senators in terms of her approval rating. Morning Consult also put that approval rating, through April, at a higher level than it apparently now sits per these more recent polls (Morning Consult’s own more recent polling puts it lower, too), after increased spells by Warren in the national spotlight, weighing in on big national issues.
Now, maybe that just means that Massachusetts residents prefer her inveighing against Wall Street exclusively as opposed to cultivating an image as being the patron saint of Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, the anti-Citizens United movement, SEIU, and any other pet liberal cause one can find.
Or, maybe the increased focus on her relative to the FBI and the financial crisis, or Wells Fargo (much as the bank may deserve it) isn’t working as well politically with average people in her backyard as it is with progressive activists and the “base” nationwide—because let’s be clear, one look at her press releases and her Twitter feed make clear that the national issues she has been hyper-focused on recently really are those pet financial sector-related ones, about which she has been making a lot of noise.
Whatever the reason, correlation between more focus on the national, less focus on the local and soft numbers appears evident. If you believe the maxim that all politics is local, it’s easily conceivable that there is causation, not merely correlation, there, too.
Or perhaps what’s at the root of all this is that Bill Weld, Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito really are just that awesome, and no matter how much of a star Warren has appeared to be, she just looks a bit unimpressive (for now) measured against them.
Massachusetts being what it is, it’s virtually impossible to see her losing her re-election race there (which is, in any event, a long way out). But it is interesting to watch her poll numbers for now, and fun to speculate as to what’s behind their (current) softness.
Update: Josh Barro clarifies that Weld is resident in Massachusetts again. Uh-oh… maybe?