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Koh Holds Lead Among Dems Vying for House

August 24, 2018

The top five candidates in the new 3rd Congressional District poll conducted earlier this month by UMass Lowell and The Boston Globe. Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- If the latest public polling is any indication, the ground game is playing a key role in the crowded 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary.

Almost 30 percent of 553 likely primary voters surveyed in mid-August said they still had not made up their minds on which candidate they back, according to a UMass Lowell-Boston Globe poll released Thursday. Dan Koh led the poll with 19 percent support, and that figure crucially coincided with Koh being the most recognizable candidate.

In a race that could still go several different ways, experts say direct interaction with voters through canvassing and phone-banking -- as opposed to, say, a specific policy pitch -- has a significant chance of deciding the outcome.

“What we’ve really seen in the data in the poll is that campaigns that are doing the most direct voter contact, on the phone and at the doors, are the ones that are the furthest ahead,” said John Cluverius, a UMass Lowell professor who helped produce the poll. “The campaign that ends the race having contacted the most voters, I think, is the one that’s going to be most likely to win.”

The poll, conducted from Aug. 14 -21 and released Thursday, was the second public poll in the race following an earlier UMass Lowell-Boston Globe version in April.

Behind Koh’s 19 percent support, Rufus Gifford and state Sen. Barbara L’Italien tied for second with 13 percent each, followed by Lori Trahan with 8 percent, state Rep. Juana Matias with 6 percent, Alexandra Chandler with 4 percent, Beej Das and Jeff Ballinger with 2 percent, and Bopha Malone and Leonard Golder with 1 percent.

The poll has a margin of error of 5.2 percent.

The top three also appear to be the operations contacting voters the most. More than 15 percent of respondents said they had been called by Koh, Gifford or L’Italien’s campaigns, while no other candidate broke 7 percent in that category. The same pattern held for face-to-face interactions as well.

Koh was the most recognizable candidate by a sizable margin, with 50 percent viewing him favorably and 11 percent unfavorably. A majority of respondents said they either had never heard of or had no opinion on the other nine Democrats in the race.

“If you look at all of the favorable or unfavorable margins, they’re all good to very good,” Cluverius, who is also associate director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion, said. “If people have had any interaction with these candidates, they have a positive impression of them. The thing is that Dan Koh’s campaign has been able to have more of those interactions than any other campaign.”

Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist and political commentator, said she believes Koh has had more success balancing every portion of campaigning than his opponents, putting him in a front-runner position.

“Dan raised a lot of money, put together a grassroots organization, and they’ve been able to do voter contact and TV ads,” Marsh said. “Dan is the only one who’s really put together a complete campaign in every category, and that’s making a difference.”

Despite Koh’s lead at this point, experts said the race remains volatile. He has raised $3 million for his campaign, more than twice as much as any other candidate, and that allowed him to run television ads for months and coordinate a team of hundreds of canvassers. Despite the financial advantage, though, the polling numbers remain close.

The Sept. 4 election is the day after Labor Day, which could deflate turnout -- but forecasting the exact effect is a challenge.

“Anyone who’s trying to predict turnout for an election the day after Labor Day is just guessing,” Marsh said.

And less than a month away from the primary, almost a third of likely voters in the UMass Lowell-Boston Globe poll still have not decided who to support. That uncertainty is perhaps expected with a field of 10 candidates who, despite differences in background and occasional policy disputes, frequently agree with one another.

“We would expect that a competitive primary with a lot of candidates, a lot of choices for voters, people would be able to make that decision,” Cluverius said. “But because the candidates share a lot of positions and none of them are easily identifiable with ideological segments of the party, it’s difficult for people to make up their minds.”

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.

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