Washington (CNN) – A majority of voters in Massachusetts say that Republican Sen. Scott Brown deserves to be re-elected next year, according to a new poll.
A Suffolk University/7 News survey released Wednesday night also indicates that more than half of Bay State voters say that Brown's kept his promise to be an independent voice in the Senate.
Fifty-five percent of people questioned say that Brown deserves re-election, with 29 percent saying they would like to give someone else a chance, and 16 percent undecided. The vast majority of Republicans questioned and more than six in ten independent voters say Brown deserves a full term in office, with Democrats divided.
"Brown's surprising re-election rating among registered Democrats could make it a monumental task for any potential Democratic challenger to defeat Brown," David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, tells CNN.
Brown won his seat in a January 2010 special election to fill the office formerly held for nearly five decades by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. Brown's upset election victory over the Democratic candidate, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, to fill the final two years of Kennedy's term, changed the power structure in the Senate at the time, as the Democrats lost their 60 seat supermajority.
Brown won the contest, thanks in part to strong support from many in the Tea Party movement. But in Brown's 14 months in the Senate, he's sided at times with the Democrats, infuriating some in the Tea Party movement. Late last month, in the most recent example, Brown disagreed with the efforts by House Republicans to cut off support for Planned Parenthood as part of the on-going budget negotiations.
While Brown says he's a proud Republican, he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a February interview on "The Situation Room" that he tries instead to be an "independent voter and thinker and focus on the very real issues and where we find commonality."
The poll indicates a majority of Massachusetts voters agree. By a 56 to 24 percent margin, voters say Brown has kept his promise to be an independent voice, with one in five unsure. Most Republicans, a majority of independents, and even a plurality of Democrats say Brown's kept his promise.
"Even though he votes the majority of the time with the Republicans, Brown keeps saying he's an independent vote, and that's the perception among Massachusetts voters. Even Democrats believe it," adds Paleologos.
According to the survey, Brown leads by double digits and is above 50 percent in six of the seven hypothetical 2012 general election matchups against possible Democratic challengers. The only close showdown is with former Rep. Joe Kennedy. The poll indicates Brown leading Kennedy 45 to 40 percent. The former seven-term congressman said last month that he won't challenge Brown next year.
Besides his advantage in the poll, Brown is building a large campaign chest. He plans to report later this month that his campaign raised $1.7 million in the first three months of this year, with more than $8.3 million cash on hand.
The Suffolk University/7 News poll was conducted April 3-5, with 500 registered voters in Massachusetts questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.
– Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn