Likely voters in the Bay State have turned expectations upside down as Republican State Sen. Scott Brown (50 percent) now leads Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley (46 percent) in the race to be the next U.S. senator from Massachusetts, according to a Suffolk University/7News poll. Independent candidate Joseph L. Kennedy -- no relation to the legendary Kennedy clan -- had 3 percent, with 1 percent undecided.

“Although the results show a race within the statistical margin of error, Scott Brown has surged dramatically,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “He is attracting independent support by a wide margin and even winning some Democrats who won’t vote the party line this time.”

Statistical breakdown

  • Among men, Brown led Coakley 55 percent to 41 percent but trailed among women 50 percent to 45 percent.
  • Seventy-eight percent of registered Democrats preferred Coakley, while 91 percent of registered Republicans and 65 percent of independents favored Brown.
  • Brown led in most areas of the state, except Suffolk County, where Coakley crushed Brown 69 percent to 31 percent.
  • Brown (57 percent favorable to 19 percent unfavorable) was viewed more positively than Coakley (49 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable).

The supporters of third-party candidate Joseph L. Kennedy may have the final say in who will electorally succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

“Two weeks ago, who would have thought that Libertarian-leaning independents supporting Joseph L. Kennedy might be critical to the Democratic and Republican nominees?” said Paleologos. “A late rotation away from Kennedy to one of the major candidates could have a significant impact.”

Perceptions

When likely voters were asked who they thought would win the election, apart from whom they personally support, 64 percent said Coakley, compared to 26 percent for Brown.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of those surveyed said Coakley’s endorsement by Vicki and Joe Kennedy would make no difference in their vote, while 27 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for her.

When asked about performance expectations for a Senator Coakley, 24 percent said she would be an independent voice in the Senate, while 64 percent said she would toe the Democratic party line.

Pressing Issues

The survey asked whether the recession was over in Massachusetts, and 90 percent of voters said no. The most important issue facing our next U.S. senator is the economy/jobs, according to 44 percent of voters polled; 38 percent said health care.

The survey also found:

  • 54 percent support Massachusetts’ near-universal health care law
  • 62 percent believe Massachusetts cannot afford its health care system
  • 51 percent oppose the proposed national health care plan
  • 61 percent believe the federal government cannot afford the proposed national health care plan
  • 48 percent approve of President Obama’s performance; 43 percent disapprove
  • 56 percent disapprove of Gov. Deval Patrick’s performance; 35 percent approve
  • 55 percent think Massachusetts is on the wrong track

Methodology

The statewide survey of 500 Massachusetts registered voters was conducted Jan. 11-13, 2010. The margin of error is +/- 4.38 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and 240 pages of statewide cross-tabulation data will be available on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site after 11 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, 2010