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Poll: Biden has 18% lead in Massachusetts, voters think election-related violence is likely

People walk outside of the Southwick Senior Center polling place in Southwick, Mass.
Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative
People walk outside of the Southwick Senior Center polling place in Southwick, Mass.

A new poll of Massachusetts residents has President Joe Biden with a comfortable lead in his reelection bid. The GBH News/Commonwealth Beacon poll found 44% of those surveyed would vote for the Democrat, 26% for the former Republican president, Donald Trump, and 7% for independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. But Trump is seeing positive numbers in some parts of the state.

Steve Koczela, the president of Mass Inc. Polling Group, said the trends regionally are familiar ones.

Steve Koczela, Mass Inc. Polling Group: If you think back to almost any election recently, you've got a lot of blue around Boston, a lot of blue in the western part of the state, and then kind of a sea of red in between that, with a couple of blue islands floating in it.

So you're thinking, you know, Springfield, Framingham, etc., some of the gateway cities you've got looking blue, and then a lot of red in the middle. And that really is the regionality that we're seeing when we look at the west and central regions in this survey,

Adam Frenier, NEPM: Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. only checked in at 7% in this poll. But he's in the low double figures in western and central Massachusetts. Can he have much of an impact in this race?

I think that he can have an impact in the race and there's a couple ways of looking at it.

First of all, I think, when you look at how independents have done historically, one note of caution is that they often poll better at this point in the race than where they end up. So, you know, we think back to 2016 and we had the Bill Weld-Gary Johnson [Libertarian] campaign. They were polling in a similar range earlier on in the campaign — 8-10%, 11%, that kind of range — and ended up under 3.5%. So that's not to say it will happen, but certainly there is historical precedent for independents polling better earlier on in the race than where they end up.

Particularly among young voters, if Kennedy does have staying power, that's where the impact could really be felt. Young voters are very often a strong Democratic constituency. And to see that Kennedy's doing the best among young voters has to be of concern to the Biden camp.

And what about the level of tension surrounding this race? I know you asked a number of questions about that. Was there a particular regional trend you picked up on?

The biggest thing is that the level of tension is very, very high and it's very, very high pretty much everywhere.

We did break it out by region and found that in the western part of the state, 75% say that they think either very bad or a crisis describes the level of political tension in America today. We also asked whether or not people think violence is likely, major violence in relation to the election. There, in the central region, we found 62% saying very or somewhat likely. Similar range, 68% in the western region, saying they think violence is very or somewhat likely.

I think what's notable really is that there isn't a ton of regional variation. People are just worried everywhere. Who's going to win and who's going to vote for whom is a part of it. But I think, how do we get through this election in a way that avoids this kind of violence is one of the key questions that voters are really considering right now.

Let's shift gears to state politics for a second. There's one potential ballot question which could give the auditor's office the ability to audit the Legislature. More than half of those responding to your poll said they would vote yes. Just 12% said no, but 35% didn't know or didn't answer. Does that last number indicate that this isn't a big deal to a good number of folks?

Well, it indicates that there's a long way to go in this, and a lot of people haven't made up their mind. And in ballot questions, often what happens is those people end up voting no on the ballot question. And the basic reason for that is that no on a ballot question preserves the status quo.

You know, the questions are basically formatted as yes, do you want to change something or no, do you want to keep everything the same? So, it stands to reason that if you don't really understand what the thing is, or don't know a whole lot about it, then no is a natural place to go.

If you're the yes side, you'll be pretty happy with what is currently a huge lead, but also I think perhaps a bit nervous about where that percentage stands. You'd certainly want it to be higher than that at this point, just because ballot questions tend to see their support decrease as Election Day approaches. That's when the no side really kicks into gear, when ads start to be run, when voters start tuning in. So 53% isn't as strong of a position as perhaps you'd want to start in.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.