By Sam Doran
State House News Service
While he hasn’t publicly indicated an interest in the seat, former Gov. Charlie Baker holds a significant lead over U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a hypothetical U.S. Senate matchup, according to newly-released poll results.
Released Thursday by the conservative-leaning Fiscal Alliance Foundation, the survey also found voters split on reviving rent control and supportive of the tax cap law that sent $3 billion in rebates back to taxpayers in 2022.
The poll sampled 750 Massachusetts voters last week, and showed Baker with 49 percent to 34 percent support for Warren, who has already announced her campaign to seek a new six-year term in 2024.
Among those surveyed, 49 percent had a favorable opinion of Warren, while 44 percent disapproved of her and 7 percent were unsure.
“Senator Warren has significantly higher unfavorable numbers than her fellow Democrats statewide and that seems to be creating an opening for Baker, who always enjoyed large amounts of cross-party appeal,” said foundation spokesman Paul Diego Craney.
Craney said the poll showed Republicans coalescing behind Baker in a way that Democrats do not around Warren, and that Baker leads with independent or unenrolled voters by a two to one margin.
A Warren/Baker matchup also featured in a Change Research poll conducted in mid-April for Northwind Strategies, which found the two politicians within 4 or 5 percentage points of each other, with a margin of error of 4 percent. Warren had the support of 46 percent of the 643 likely voters surveyed in April, to Baker’s 41 percent, according to Northwind. Counting “leaners” brought Baker’s support up to 43 percent and Warren to 47 percent.
Northwind founder Doug Rubin, a political advisor to Warren’s 2012 campaign and a former chief of staff to Gov. Deval Patrick, said his firm’s poll was intended to test the waters.
“I don’t believe that Charlie Baker’s going to run for Senate, I don’t. I think he’s very happy where he is right now. But I do believe he’s the strongest candidate that the Republicans theoretically could put up against Warren, and I think what our poll shows, is even with their strongest, best candidate, they don’t beat Elizabeth Warren. And that’s why we tested, I just wanted to see if they had any candidate in Massachusetts that could beat her, and it looks like, from our data, that they don’t,” Rubin told the News Service.
He added that he felt “very confident” in the Change Research poll numbers and called Warren a “very strong candidate in Massachusetts.”
Baker now works as president of the NCAA.
Last November, as he served out his second term, Baker told WCVB-TV there was a “pretty small” chance he would be on the ballot in 2024, before saying he was “not going to be a candidate in 2024, period,” and then adding he was “not going to rule out ever running for anything.” Earlier the same week, he had invited CNN to the corner office for a nationally televised conversation about federal politics.
Responding to a News Service inquiry Thursday, Baker political advisor Jim Conroy said a run for office next year was off the table.
“Governor Baker is focused on leading the NCAA, and will not be a candidate in 2024,” Conroy said.
Warren took office in 2013 after knocking off Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, a former state senator, with 53 percent of the vote to Brown’s 46 percent.
The Cambridge Democrat’s reelection in 2018 saw her face off against a conservative Whitman Republican, Geoff Diehl, who garnered 36 percent of the vote to Warren’s 60 percent.
Name recognition played into that election, a Suffolk/Globe poll found that September, with nearly 45 percent of surveyed likely voters saying they had never heard of Diehl, who had already won the Republican nomination contest.
Warren came up short in her run for president in 2020, and this week President Joseph Biden, who is seeking a second term, announced that Warren would serve on his campaign’s National Advisory Board.
Washington-based pollster Jim Eltringham, who conducted the new Fiscal Alliance poll, called the Baker/Warren matchup an interesting “simulation” to run because it shows “a little bit about how voters feel about the incumbent, Sen. Warren, and you also put out someone who’s got a certain profile and you see how that person would do.”
“So it’s kind of fun to think about, and throw out the what-if’s, but also looking at how people react to that gives you some insight into their mindset going into the election,” Eltringham said.
The poll showed appeal for Baker among unenrolled voters — 56 percent of the independents surveyed said they would support Baker, compared to 25 percent for Warren — and support from Democrats, 28 percent of whom said they would favor the former Republican governor.
Those numbers led Craney to say Baker could be “the perfect candidate against someone like Elizabeth Warren.”
The poll surveyed 382 independent or third-party voters, 279 Democrats, and 89 Republicans over May 6 to 7, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.
Asked whether they would support allowing Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to reintroduce rent control in the capital city, 40 percent of respondents said they supported the idea, while 38 percent said they opposed it. Twenty percent were undecided.
Boston’s city government filed a home-rule bill with the Legislature this year to allow it to revive the practice, which was banned statewide 29 years ago by a voter-approved ballot initiative.
The local bill (H 3744) has sat since April in the Joint Committee on Housing, which has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the matter.
Craney said he sees the Legislature as “pretty cold on rent control,” and called Beacon Hill lawmakers “pretty accurate to not want to move on this” based on the lukewarm support for the proposal in his organization’s poll.
Craney also said that support in the 40-percent range is “way under” where he would imagine proponents would want to start if they planned on pushing the question into a statewide ballot campaign. He said supporters considering a ballot initiative usually want to see their issue poll in the 60-percent range before moving forward.
On the tax cap law, known as Chapter 62F, 64 percent of the sample group said they support the law “as written,” while 17 percent said they like the law but would like “to see it change,” and 7 percent said they outright oppose the tax cap statute. Eleven percent weren’t sure.
Pollsters asked a followup question on 62F, quizzing respondents on whether they supported a proposal that “legislators are pushing” that would “pay all taxpayers a flat rebate, regardless of if and how much they paid in taxes,” and “also make it harder for the rebates to be triggered.”
The House advanced changes to 62F last month through a couple vehicles. Top Democrats added a provision to the branch’s $1.1 billion tax relief bill that would send out any future 62F payments as equal shares to all taxpayers, and the House’s fiscal 2024 budget features language exempting future millionaire-household surtax revenues from applying to the cap on how much revenue the state is allowed to collect and retain.
Craney said “we tried to look at it in the context of [Speaker Ronald Mariano] and what he’s trying to do.”
The Senate’s budget proposal up for debate this month, which was released after the poll was conducted, also includes a cap exemption for surtax revenue.
A quarter of the polled voters said they weren’t sure about those specific alterations to the tax cap law, while 18 percent supported the idea, and 56 percent said they oppose the changes.
Out of the 750 Bay State residents in the poll, 146 said they were considering leaving Massachusetts in the next two years or had already made plans to do so. Out of that group, 26 percent cited the “political climate” as their top reason, followed by 21 percent who said the cost of living here was too high. Nineteen percent answered that “taxes are too high.”
Jobs and the economy are top of mind for 19 percent of voters, the poll found, followed by issues of concern like inflation (14 percent), taxes (10.2 percent), and abortion rights (10.1 percent).
As for the state’s current leader, 20 percent (155 people) said they weren’t sure whether they liked or disliked Gov. Maura Healey. Around 51 percent had a favorable opinion of her, and 27 percent viewed her unfavorably.
Craney said the “sizeable segment” who were unsure of their opinion of the new governor remained about even with where that question stood in a January poll (22 percent).
By comparison, only 6 percent were unsure what to think of President Joseph Biden, 3 percent didn’t know how they felt about former President Donald Trump, and 22 percent in the statewide poll were unsure of their opinion of Boston’s mayor.