Poll: Mass. voters split over major election reform

Boston Statehouse

A voting sign (Nexstar, file)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Massachusetts voters are split over whether to embrace a ballot question proposing a massive overhaul of the state’s electoral system, with more than a quarter still undecided, while a clear majority back another initiative that would increase access to automobile repair data, according to a new poll.

A MassINC Polling Group survey of 501 likely voters, sponsored by WBUR and released Thursday, found 36 percent in support of a ranked-choice voting ballot question, 36 percent in opposition and 27 percent undecided.

The poll was conducted from Aug. 6 to Aug. 9 and has a margin of sampling error of 4.4 percentage points.

Under a ranked-choice voting system, voters would order candidates according to their preference. A candidate who earns an outright majority of first-place votes automatically wins. If no one person surpasses that threshold at first, the last-place candidate is eliminated and the votes they earned are awarded to whomever each voter selected as their second-highest preference. The process continues until a clear winner emerges.

The reform stands to potentially significantly shake up the dynamics in future elections with many candidates.

Pollsters described the ballot question as “enacting ranked-choice voting (RCV) for primary and general elections” for a range of offices starting in 2022 without describing the logistics in depth.

Sixty-four percent of voters understand the ranked-choice system very or somewhat well, twice as many as the 32 percent who understand it not too well or not at all, according to the poll.

The campaign pushing for the change said crosstabs data show that voters are more likely to support the question when they understand how ranked-choice voting works, with 52 percent of those who understand it well saying they would vote yes compared to 37 percent who understand it well saying they would vote no.

“When voters well understand RCV they support it by a 15 point margin,” Cara McCormick, campaign manager for Yes on 2, said in a press release. “Our hard-working volunteers in every corner of the Commonwealth know that RCV is one thing we can do right now to help improve the health of our democracy and we are all more determined than ever to get Question 2 across the finish line.”

If a majority of voters support the initiative, which will be the second ballot question on Nov. 3, Massachusetts would become the only state after Maine to implement a ranked-choice voting system.

Twenty-seven percent of voters said they believe ranked-choice voting would be more likely to ensure more racial and ethnic diversity in elected officials, compared to 40 percent who did not think it would make a difference.

Similarly, 27 percent also said it could lead to fairer electoral outcomes, while 37 percent expected no difference. Only 15 percent said it would be more likely to prompt less negative campaigning, with 47 percent expecting no difference.

Pollsters also asked about the other ballot question set to go before voters on Election Day, which would update a 2013 state law and require vehicle manufacturers to ensure owners and independent repair shops can access telematic data.

Told that a yes vote “supports requiring manufacturers that sell vehicles with telematics systems in Massachusetts to equip them with a standardized open data platform beginning with model year 2022 that vehicle owners and independent repair facilities may access to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile-based application,” 57 percent said they would support the question if the election were today while 31 said they would vote against it. Twelve percent are still undecided.

The campaign around the vehicle repair question has been heated and expensive. Supporters have more than $1 million in funding, including many donations from independent repair shops and industry groups, while the opponents have more than $1.6 million in backing from auto manufacturers, according to data from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Conor Yunits, a spokesman for the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data leading the No on 1 campaign, said in a press release that the interests backing the question have been “spinning fairytales to the general public.”

“Here are the facts: Question 1 has nothing to do with fixing vehicles,” he said. “Question 1 is about consumer data, and it is being pushed by the $200 billion aftermarket auto parts industry. Question 1 will expose the personal driving information of everyone in Massachusetts to more risk: that’s why a similar proposal was defeated in California after strong opposition from domestic violence advocacy groups, and that’s why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says Question 1, ‘would raise substantial safety risks for American families.’ Question 1 is dangerous and should be roundly defeated on November 3.”

Tommy Hickey, a spokesperson for the Right to Repair Coalition backing the initiative, said the campaign’s internal polling reflects stronger numbers than what the poll from WBUR and MassINC found.

“This poll was actually not based on the language as it will appear on the ballot as we do see a 50 point margin based on our polling of the exact question but we are pleased to see we are ahead by almost 30 points in the WBUR poll as it echoes the sentiment that consumers want to continue to get their cars fixed where they want,” Hickey said in a statement to the News Service.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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