Poll shows voters are increasingly disconnected from politicians' priorities – Sentinel and Enterprise

Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM). (Boston Herald archive photo)

Do these poll results match your opinion of the current state of Massachusetts?

Although based on a relatively small sample size, a well-designed survey that is objective and without hidden agendas can accurately capture the pulse of a much larger group – in this case, the state's registered voters.

If you agree with the general results of this survey, you have a bleak turn on the state of this state since last year.

A survey by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts found that wallet issues remain the top concern heading into the 2024 election year.

Results of the April 17-22 web-based survey of 600 registered voters, conducted by Andover-based Polity Research Consulting, showed that the cost of living, health care affordability, access to housing and the economy in general are critical are fundamental issues that concern voters.

In contrast, progressive priorities, including climate change, diversity and equity, land lower on the priority list among issues surveyed.

RAM commissioned the survey ahead of the State House Lobbying Day on May 14, where the retailer group, the local chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association invited lawmakers and staff to present the challenges facing Small businesses are facing the current economic environment.

Eighty percent of respondents said the cost of living in Massachusetts was a “very important” issue to them, the highest percentage of all 12 topics surveyed. Healthcare costs were “very important” to 72% of respondents, followed by economics/jobs and housing costs/availability, with both considered important by 68% of respondents.

Just over half – 54% – of state residents surveyed said they were “very likely” to stay in Massachusetts long-term, with another 28% saying they were “somewhat likely” to stay here.

“Voters are consumers too, and the sales and operating margins of small Main Street businesses are directly related to consumer confidence, the cost of living and the disposable income of our families across the state,” said RAM President Jon Hurst. “Consumers obviously have many of the same priorities and concerns as small businesses across the Commonwealth, namely that the cost of goods, energy, health care, housing and taxes are all too high right now.”

The RAM poll also asked voters specifically about organized retail crime, which poll respondents defined as “coordinated groups of people who steal large quantities of goods from retail stores.” 72 percent of voters said they consider the problem in Massachusetts to be either a “very serious” (33%) or a “somewhat serious” (39%) problem.

The general pessimistic mood also extended to respondents' opinions of the state's senior politicians.

In the year since the April 2023 RAM poll, voters have had less favorable views of Gov. Maura Healey, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.

This could be a response to several factors, including the way the state is handling the influx of migrants that is overwhelming the commonwealth's housing infrastructure and growing opposition to mandatory multi-unit zoning in communities considered by the MBTA are considered covered.

Healey's “favorable” rating fell from 60% to 54% in April 2024, while her “unfavorable” percentage increased from 21% to 32%. For Driscoll, the share of voters who viewed her favorably fell from 40% to 33%, while the share of voters with a negative view of the former Salem mayor rose from 15% to 24%.

And Wu's favorable rating fell from 53% to 47%, while her unfavorable rating saw a significant increase from 22% to 31%.

Voters' views on how Beacon Hill spends their money appear to be divided. While 34% think the state government is spending a lot of money, almost the same percentage (31%) think the state is spending about the right amount. Only 22% of respondents believe Beacon Hill doesn't spend enough.

Pocket money priorities also influenced respondents' views on an inescapable reality, taxes: 56% supported a 6.25% cut in the state sales tax and 59% supported a cut in local real estate taxes.

However, support for changes to the 5% state income tax rate was far less clear. 39 percent of respondents thought the rate should be lowered, but 49 percent said it should stay the same and 6 percent supported a higher rate.

Lawmakers eventually — reluctantly — bowed to the will of voters and gradually lowered the state's income tax over time to its current 5%, which may explain respondents' relatively satisfactory sentiment.

And the recent introduction of the millionaire tax – that 4% additional premium paid on annual incomes of more than $1 million – may also be responsible for this reaction.

Will these poll results raise concerns in the corner office on Beacon Hill or in the halls of the Legislature?

We doubt it.

In a state with a competitive two-party system, the feelings expressed may lead the party in power to act on voters' apparent displeasure with its policies and general direction.

However, in Massachusetts, where Democrats dominate at both the state and congressional levels, there is no viable opposition to worry about.

Although the majority of voters in the states register as unregistered, this group does not have a party apparatus in which to express different points of view, even if such a consensus exists.

It's the one issue likely to frustrate most voters in this state.

Anna Harden

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