Voters expect Attorney General Martha Coakley to be elected to the U.S. Senate in the January 2010 special election, but they express a marked preference for Joe Kennedy to succeed his uncle, according to a poll released today by Suffolk University/7NEWS.

Voters also said they support a move to allow the governor to appoint an interim senator, with 55 percent favoring a change in state law to make this possible, and 41 percent opposed.

Kennedy preference

Fifty-nine percent of Democratic voters polled said they would have voted for Joe Kennedy in the Senate primary race, and 62 percent of all voters have a favorable opinion of the former congressman, who has said that he will not run for the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

"If Joe Kennedy runs, Joe Kennedy wins," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. "Across every demographic, Kennedy was strong. In fact, fifty-four percent of Martha Coakley Democratic Primary voters said they would vote for Joe Kennedy, if he ran."

Coakley's favorability rate is 53 percent. Her favorability was 56 percent in a March 2009 poll by the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

Name recognition a factor

Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano, who is expected to announce his candidacy this week, had a favorability rate of 16 percent, but 33 percent of those polled had never heard of him. Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca's name was added to the poll for the last of the four days the poll was conducted -- after his name was floated as a potential candidate. Again, name recognition was a problem: 72 percent had not heard of him, and 3 percent viewed him favorably.

On the Republican side, state Sen. Scott Brown, who has declared his candidacy, had 20 percent favorability; 39 percent did not recognize his name. Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, said to be considering a run, had no trouble with name recognition; 12 percent did not know him. His favorability was 29 percent in the Suffolk/7News poll, outweighed by his unfavorable rate of 39 percent.

Voters were asked to choose from among potential Democratic Primary candidates, some of whom have since withdrawn from the fray. They chose Coakley (47 percent), Capuano (9 percent), U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (6 percent) and City Year founder Alan Khazei (3 percent). Thirty-three percent were undecided. Voters who chose Lynch were surveyed again after he dropped out of the race on Tuesday.

When asked whom they would choose in a head-to-head race between Coakley and Brown in the final election, 54 percent chose Coakley, and 24 percent chose Brown, with 20 percent undecided.

Voters said the most important issues facing the next U.S. senator from Massachusetts are health care (45 percent) and the economy/jobs (27 percent).

Methodology

The statewide survey of 500 Massachusetts registered voters was conducted Sept. 12-15, 2009. Of those polled, 39 percent were registered Democrats, 15 percent Republicans, and 44 percent independent. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and 140 pages of cross-tabulation data will be posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.