Poll: Capuano up double digits vs. Pressley

WBUR survey puts new challenger slightly ahead in Boston

Incumbent Michael Capuano holds a district-wide double-digit lead over Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley in their race for the Seventh Congressional District seat, according to a new WBUR poll of likely Democratic voters.

But the survey finds Pressley slightly ahead in the city of Boston, where voters are most familiar with her work.

“You see Ayanna Pressley very popular among young voters, voters of color, also with an edge in the city of Boston itself, so the voters who actually know her are showing a slight preference for her,” said Steve Koczela of MassINC, who conducted the WBUR poll. “So I think her challenge will be: Can she get outside of Boston and do as well as she’s doing inside the city?”

The poll shows Capuano up 12 points across the district, which includes Boston, Chelsea, Cambridge, Everett, Milton, Randolph, and Somerville.

Capuano relies heavily on the vote in Boston. According to the election data, roughly 64 percent of Capuano’s vote comes from voters in the city.

Roughly half of the district is white, while the other half is black, Latino, Asian, and other races. The poll suggests that race will play a major or minor role for nearly half of those who responded.

Capuano’s approval rating is less than half as high among blacks as it is among whites. Approval for Pressley, on the other hand, is 50 percent greater among blacks than it is among whites.

With two popular leaders contesting one another – both known for their progressive platforms – Koczela said the race factor could be front and center. “It’s almost a mirror opposite, with 63 percent of white voters saying they’re supporting Capuano, and 64 percent of black voters saying they’re supporting Pressley,” Koczela said. “So whatever voters are telling you about how they’re making their decision, I think there’s some evidence that [race] is playing a role.”

Even in the city of Boston, where the district’s African-American population is concentrated, the race gap is clear: Half of white voters support Capuano, while just 29 percent support Pressley.


David Marcus of Somerville is one voter who doesn’t see race as a major factor. As a long-time resident of the city, he remembers Capuano from his days as the mayor of Somerville. And as a self-identified progressive, Bernie Sanders voter, Marcus sees no reason to change the status quo.
“I get [Capuano’s] weekly email newsletter where he explains how he’s voting and mentions other issues that are going on and it’s rather rare I think that I would have a significant disagreement with him,” Marcus said, who added that he’s unfamiliar with Pressley, the five-term Boston city councillor and Chicago native. He said he checked out her campaign website, and wasn’t particularly impressed.

“It seems to me the only reason she’s running against Capuano, the only reason she gave why she would be better than him, was her gender and her ethnic background, and that she was new,” he said. “And just being new doesn’t seem like a good reason to run against someone who’s doing a good job.”

Others see newness as a virtue. At Pressley’s campaign launch in Cambridge this week, Damali Vidot, president of the Chelsea City Council, said Congress needs new blood. “Really, it is an honor to see someone that just has that firsthand knowledge, that intimate experience, what the needs are in the community, and wanting to bring that to Congress,” Vidot said. “And in these political times, I just think it’s crucial.”

The Capuano campaign declined to comment for this story, but after the launch in Cambridge this week, Pressley told reporters that it’s time for a change. “The district has changed considerably” since Capuano was elected in 1998, she said. “We see a growing number of single female heads of household, families living below the poverty line... so the district has changed. I think the priorities of the district continue to change, and I think the district deserves a choice.”

The WBUR poll finds both candidates are most favored among the highly educated, and people earning $150,000 or more. Koczela says the outcome of the Democratic primary in September will likely come down to turnout – which demographics, and which areas, are most inspired to vote. 

WBUR 90.9FM, Boston’s NPR News Station, have a partnership in which the news organizations share resources to collaborate on stories. Simón Rios is a WBUR reporter who is currently working from the Dorchester Reporter newsroom. He may be reached at srios@wbur.org. This story first appeared on the WBUR website and on air.