Politics, polls and our role in civic engagement

October 14, 2021

By Keith Mahoney, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs

Wednesday morning, you may have caught word of results from a new poll on the Boston mayoral race, conducted by MassINC Polling Group and sponsored by WBUR, the Dorchester Reporter and the Boston Foundation. It’s not an unusual scenario. The Boston Foundation has sponsored polls that look at issues, as well as the state of the “horse race” among candidates for Mayor, City Council, or statewide office.

Housing poll graphic
The most recent WBUR/MassINC/Dorchester Reporter/TBF poll explored a number of issues beyond the candidates, including key issues, education and housing affordability.

The “horse race” is often what captures the headlines. And because the Foundation does not support or endorse individual candidates for office, it may seem odd that we would invest in polling.

We do so for a few reasons. If you go a layer deeper into the poll, you find the issues that matter most to Boston voters. Improving Boston’s public schools, controlling the cost of housing, and reforming Boston police are among the top issues on voters’ minds, and they give us and other civic leaders a sense of where we should be focusing our own attention. Those issues won’t vanish after Election Day, and it will be the job of the next mayor, and of her administration more broadly, to turn the care for critical issues they demonstrated during the campaign into action. And the job of the rest of us to hold them accountable.

More than that, it’s important for citizens and residents to hear their own voices represented within the collective. The investment in polling reminds all of us that we each have a voice in how problems in our city and region are resolved. And we all have a hand in solutions. At the Boston Foundation, we believe deeply that only true partnership between government, the private and nonprofit sectors, philanthropy and the people who live and work here can address the serious challenges facing our city and region. A crucial part of that joint effort is that residents’ voices be heard.

Lastly, the Foundation is able to use its philanthropic resources, as in this case, to ensure that voices that might not otherwise be heard are reflected in a way that better represents the diversity of our city. In this poll, the Boston Foundation supported oversampling, which is the practice of selecting respondents so that some groups, in this case Latinx, Black, and AAPI residents of Boston, are heard in large enough numbers to reveal trends among them as distinct groups. In order to advance equity, it is critical not just to hear the overall voice of the city, but also to ensure that the voices of these often-underrepresented groups resonate as well.

As the full results of the polling come out this week, I encourage all of us to explore the opinions expressed in the polls more deeply. Those opinions are one of many tools that we have to better understand both the challenges we face and the possibilities ahead.