At Public Policy Polling we are very proud of the surveys we did in Massachusetts. We first showed Scott Brown in the lead on Saturday, January 9th, 5 days before any other public poll was released showing him with the advantage. And it appears our final poll released this Sunday night will have nailed the final outcome almost perfectly.
Here are my biggest takeaways from tonight's results:
-This was a repudiation of Barack Obama. Certainly Martha Coakley was a bad candidate and ran a terrible campaign but that doesn't change the fact that we found Obama's approval rating at only 44% with the electorate for today's contest, a huge drop from the 62% of the vote he won in the state in 2008. Brown won over 20% of the vote from people who cast ballots for Obama in 2008, and we found that most of those Brown/Obama voters were folks who no longer approve of the job the President is doing. And in one of the bluest states in the country barely 40% of voters expressed support for the Democratic health care bill.
-Republicans win when they nominate mainstream candidates. Among voters who thought that Scott Brown was either a liberal or a moderate, he won 79-18. Among voters who thought that he was a conservative Coakley won 63-32. There are certain places where the GOP can get away with running far right candidates but they aren't the places where they're going to need to win to get the House back this fall and the White House back in 2012. Brown didn't come across as an ideological extremist and that helped him win over a lot of people who never would have voted for John McCain or George W. Bush- and sure won't vote for Sarah Palin.
-Voters hate both parties right now and that's to the GOP's advantage. One of the most remarkable things about Brown's victory is that it comes even though only 22% of voters in the state have a favorable opinion of Congressional Republicans, with 63% viewing them unfavorably. He was able to overcome that because almost 20% of voters held a negative opinion of both Congressional Democrats and Congressional Republicans. And with those folks Brown had a 72-24 advantage over Coakley, reflecting the reality that in a time when voters are disgusted with all politicians they'll vote for the one that's out of power.
Things could turn around for the Democrats between now and November but it's hard to dispute the notion that this could be 1994 all over again.