Recap of the 2013 Special Senate Election – Turnout Patterns

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With the special Senate election behind us it’s a good time to recap. I’m not getting into messaging or strategy here: this is a pure numbers post: where people turned out and where they didn’t. This builds on Brent’s post, and one of the first things I noticed was what he points out: that Markey did very well, outperforming Elizabeth Warren by quite a bit, in many upscale MetroWest suburbs (82% vs 74% in Brookline, 75% vs 65% in Lexington, 75% vs. 67% in Newton, 59% vs 50% in Wellesley, 63% vs. 56% in Wayland, 67% vs. 58% in Acton, 55% vs. 48% in Boxboro). It is important to note that a number of these towns are not in his House district. Brent offers the hypothesis that Markey’s message (anti-guns and pro-choice) resonated more here than Warren’s economic populism. That’s entirely possible, particularly in a town like Wellesley. Other possibilities I might suggest are that voters in these towns were less impressed with Gomez than with Scott Brown, or that it had something to do with the composition of the electorate in this, our lowest-turnout Senate election in decades, compared to November 2012, our highest-turnout Senate election ever.

About that low turnout: When I posted on May 30, warning about the dangers of low turnout for Democrats, I was right and I was wrong. I was right that Democrats suffer when urban turnout is low (more on that another day soon). I was very, very wrong that Markey couldn’t win a low-turnout election handily. Turnout for this one was far lower than I ever imagined. In recent years, there has been a remarkable consistency in the number of votes cast in Presidential vs. non-Presidential elections: about 3.1 million votes for a Presidential contest, about 2.2 million for a non-Presidential statewide contest. Remember this table?

Go back a bit more and the numbers remain consistent with this trend:

Non-presidential years:

  • 2006 Senate: 2.17 million
  • 2002 Senate: 2.22 million
  • 1994 Senate: 2.18 million
  • 1990 Senate: 2.42 million
  • 1982 Senate: 2.05 million

Presidential years:

  • 2004 President (Kerry): 2.91 million
  • 2000 Senate:2.73 million
  • 1996 Senate: 2.56 million
  • 1998 Senate: 2.60 million
  • 1984 Senate: 2.53 million

Well, compared to everything we’ve seen in the past three decades the June 25, 2013 special broke through the floor, accelerated through the cellar and lodged in a sub-basement of its own making: Only 1.17 million votes were cast, about as many as Scott Brown alone received in the January 2010 special. The turnout rate was about half that of 2010′s special election, and barely a third of November 2012′s record showing.

Reasons aplenty have been offered: strange time of year, oppressive heat, election fatigue, boring candidates, lack of press coverage, obsession with the Bruins and the Bulger trial, not to mention the unfolding Aaron Hernandez saga. I won’t belabor them here. Instead, I’d like to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since we’re looking backward, I’ll take them in reverse order.

The Ugly:

The statewide turnout. 1.17 million votes. 27%. However you look at it, it’s not good. It’s a sad thing for American democracy, even if it’s not in this instance a bad outcome for the Democracy, capital-D.

A few days before the election, Bill Galvin predicted “record-low” turnout of 1.6 million. At the time I thought he was being a Debbie Downer, because he wins no prizes for predicting turnout correctly and should not say such things, but also because I believed his prediction was unduly pessimistic.When an updated report came out saying absentee ballot requests were lagging behind January 2010 far more than previously reported, I thought he might be on to something. Now that the real numbers are in, I see I was totally wrong about his prediction being too low. If anything, Galvin looks like the Pollyanna of voting prognosticators. I therefore half-apologize. (The part where he should get of the public prediction business and do nothing but encourage people to vote still stands).

The Bad:

No more blowouts? Instead, a continuing trend of relative Republican strength. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry (admittedly facing minor league opposition most of the time) routinely used to be re-elected with 2/3 of the vote. Kennedy’s big scare came from Mitt Romney in 1994, a big GOP year, and he still won 59-41. Kerry’s big scare came two years later, in 1996, from Bill Weld, and he rode the spectre of Jesse Helms to a 52-45 win over the sitting governor, the strongest GOP candidate for Senate in Massachusetts (aside from Scott Brown, who did, after all, win) since the 1970s. Otherwise, their races were a cakewalk. Evidence: this map from Kerry’s (65-31) 2008 win over Jeff Beatty (2008 was, I admit, a great year for Democrats, but this was far from an unusual result for Kerry).

Kerry-Beatty 2008 Senate race

Those days appear to be gone. We’ve now had three post-Kennedy/Kerry elections for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, and the Republican scores have been 52% (Brown in 2010), 46% (Brown in 2012) and 45% (Gomez in 2013). The good news here is that we Democrats have won two of those three elections by decent margins and now control both seats. The bad news is that a pattern is emerging whereby the GOP floor in a statewide election might be 45% and the map looks very consistent, with huge swaths of Massachusetts where Democrats are not particularly competitive in a statewide race. The South Shore is a sea of red, the North Shore only marginally better.

See how similar these maps, from the 2010, 2012, and 2013 Senate races plus the 2010 Governor race, look? (All maps from boston.com)

Brown-Coakley 2010

Warren-Brown 2012 Senate race

Markey-Gomez 2013 Senate race

Patrick-Baker 2010 Governor race

Incumbency might change things for Warren and Markey, but it seems like we’ve entered a world where Democrats should win here, but also should count on a win no more than about 10 points.

Losing Blue-Collar Voters. It really does not seem to matter if the GOP candidate is a novice with no substance whatsoever ike Gabriel Gomez. The Democratic message is not connecting with a large number of Massachusetts voters, particularly white blue collar voters. Like Coakley and Warren before him, he did poorly in many blue-collar towns (losing in Woburn, which he’s represented for ages; Saugus, which borders his hometown of Malden; Rockland, where he did worse than Warren; losing 60-40 in Billerica and Wilmington). Even though, as Brent points out, Warren did better in blue-collar towns than Markey did, she still didn’t do all that well: Scott Brown got 61% in Wilmington, 55% in Woburn, 57% in Saugus, 60% in Billerica, 54% in Weymouth.

This trend may have started over social issues several decades ago, but it seems clear to me right now (from the numbers and personal experience) that many white blue-collar voters in Massachusetts have an antipathy to Democrats on every issue across the board. Perhaps thanks to the mischief of the Herald, Eagle-Tribune, and Sun. Perhaps because they see Democrats getting 3/4 of the vote in Newton and Lexington.

Hampden County. This area has been the exception to the solid blue wall west of the Quabbin, and it’s starting to get to be a trend. Markey got killed in town after town there, in many cases far worse than Warren before him, as Brent’s map illustrates (most of Hampden County a steel blue, showing a big Markey dropoff from Warren’s scores). He took 66% in Springfield, 61% in Holyoke, and lost every other town in the county. As a result, he lost the county overall by 2,358 votes (48-52). Senator Warren, benefiting from higher turnout in those two cities and her higher percentage elsewhere (44% vs 39% for Markey in the rest of the county), took Hampden 55-45 in 2012.

Obviously Massachusetts Democrats can win statewide while getting killed in much of Hampden County, but it might be worth looking into the reasons why we’re doing so badly there (Kerry, in 2008, didn’t run as far behind his statewide totals in these towns.)

The Good:

Well, of course, we won. And we won by ten points. So that’s the most important good news.

Had you told me a month ago that only 1.17 million votes would be cast in the election, I’d have said Markey was toast. As June wore on and I gave it more thought, it occurred to me that January 2010 was unique because GOP voters were super-energized and many Democrats were not. I started to think that, in a pure base election with each side equally (un)motivated, the numbers had to favor Democrats. It seems I was right. Democrats should take significant comfort in the fact that in a high-wattage, high-turnout 2012 election we were able to defeat a very popular incumbent by almost 8 points with a first-time candidate, and then we came back and won by a slightly larger margin, running a 37-year Member of Congress against a first-time candidate, in the lowest turnout Senate election in Massachusetts since practically forever.

How’d we do it? Ground game. It sounds counterintuitive to laud the Democratic ground game when turnout was so abysmal (and it was significantly lower than November 2012 and January 2010 tunout in all of the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns), but the drop in votes cast generally was much lower in Markey-friendly towns than in Gomez-friendly towns. Let’s visit some crude statistical analysis to see how this worked.

In my May 30 post, I focused on the importance of urban turnout to Democrats. So how we’d do? Short answer: Compared to 2010, the urban turnout was pretty good (not that it was higher than in 2010 — it wasn’t — but it fell off less than it did elsewhere). Compared to 2012, it was pretty lousy. More on that coming in another post soon; for now let’s look statewide.

I divided the 351 cities and towns into three groups, depending on how the number of votes cast last Tuesday compared to the number cast in the January 2010 special election. Statewide, the number of votes cast on June 25 was only 52.11% of the number cast on January 19, 2010, and I used that figure as my point of departure.

  1. Group 1 consists of 87 towns where turnout dropped by a smaller amount relative to January 2010. These are the towns where the number of the votes cast was 57.11%, or higher, than the number cast in January 2010. That is, these towns had June 25 turnout (I am using votes cast as a proxy for turnout percentage in the absence of good numbers re: registered voters per town), relative to the Brown-Coakley election, at least 5 percentage points higher than statewide average.
  2. Group 2 consistes of 172 towns in the middle, where the number of votes cast was within 5 percentage points (in either direction) of the statewide average relative to January 2010. In other words, about the same dropoff as the state had as a whole.
  3. Group 3 consistes of 92 towns where turnout dropped by a larger amount relative to January 2010. In these towns the number of votes cast was 47.11%, or lower, than the number cast in January 2010.

Here’s what I found:

Group 1: In Group 1, where we kept the bottom from totally falling out on turnout, Markey won 68 of 87 towns, and many of them by a lot. He took 11 of the 87 towns with at least 80%, 38 of the 87 with at least 70%, 52 of the 87 with at least 60%, and 62 of the 87 with at least 53%. All told, Markey got 70% in the 87 towns in Group 1, up from 63% for Martha Coakley and 67% for Elizabeth Warren. In those towns there were 349,550 votes cast, representing just under 30% of the statewide total. The same towns represented exactly 25% of the statewide total in January 2010, so their relative importance rose by nearly 20% (from 25.01% to 29.83% of the statewide vote total) compared to 2010; in November those towns were 26% of the statewide total. So he did better in those towns, and those towns counted for more, which is a winning formula.

Importantly, Markey cleaned up in the biggest towns where turnout remained (relatively) high. He won 19 of the top 20 municipalities, in terms of votes cast, among the 87 in Group 1 (North Attleboro being the exception, Boston being the most important). The margins were impressive: Markey won 15 of the 19 with more than 60%, 12 of the 19 with more than 70% of the vote, and all of the top ten with at least 75% of the vote except Falmouth, where his victory was narrow. He also outperformed Elizabeth Warren, in terms of percentage, in all of them but Northampton (79.5% vs. 81.6% for Warren). As a result, within those 20 towns (which themselves represented almost a quarter of the electorate), Markey won 74% with a cushion of 71,000 votes. Pretty nice.

Even better: Markey’s top 11 towns (by percentage of the vote) were in Group 1, and 31 of his top 34 towns. In all of those towns Markey got 73% or higher. In many of these super-Markey towns the drop in turnout was far, far lower than state average (e.g. Northampton down only 10% from January 2010, and Cambridge and Somerville down 35%, compared to a 47.89% statewide drop). That’s what I call identifying where your voters live and getting them out as much as possible in a cycle marked by apathy.

Group 2: These 172 towns, where turnout compared to January 2010 was about as much lower as it was statewide, were pretty evenly split. Interestingly, the electorate’s composition in Group 2 during this super-low-turnout affair was more like 2012′s than 2010′s:

  • In 2012, when they represented 49.1% of the votes, these towns gave Warren a narrow 50.2% win.
  • In 2013, they represented 49.6% of the vote and Markey won 50.3% of the votes in those towns.
  • In 2010, by contrast, they represented an almost identical 49.5% of the vote, but Martha Coakley got only 43.7%.

This suggests that some people in those towns switched from Brown in 2010 to Warren in 2012 and Markey in 2013, or (my guess) turnout was disproportionately high among liberals in 2012 and disproportionately low among conservatives in 2013. Either way, it balanced out and Markey matched, or narrowly surpassed, Warren’s performance in this cluster of towns.

As is clear from Markey’s winning more votes than Gomez in Group 2 despite winning far fewer individual towns, Markey tended to win the larger towns in this group (e.g. Worcester, Quincy, Framingham, Lowell, Lynn, Brockton) and win by larger margins. He also won most of the towns at the top of the group, where turnout was at 52-57% of 2010 levels, and fewer in the bottom half, where turnout was at 47-52% of 2010 levels. Thus the trend of Markey doing well in the the towns that had less dropoff in turnout continues.

The graph below shows the trend. Each blue mark represents one of Massachusetts’s 351 towns. Markey won the towns above the thick black line, Gomez those below it. The red vertical line represents the statewide average of 52.11% of the number of votes cast in January 2010. The orange lines to either side of it represent 5 percentage points away from that mean in each direction. Thus Group 1 towns are to the right of the right-hand orange line, Group 3 towns to the left of the left-hand orange line, and Group 2 towns between the two orange lines. As you can see, there are many towns in the bottom left corner of the cluster: strong Gomez towns were turnout, relative to the 2010 special, was far lower than state average. The line of best fit, heading from there to the top right, shows that Markey did very well in places where turnout (relative to January 2010) remained higher. It doesn’t hurt that the many of the marks at the top right are high-vote towns like, most importantly, Boston (ID’ed in black). In general, the top right was (1) higher Markey percentage; (2) higher population; (3) less dropoff in turnout from January 2010 relative to the rest of the state. Again, a good formula.

Markey-Gomez turnout chart

Group 3: The group containing the final 92 towns, where turnout was even farther below 2010 levels, was much more Gomez-friendly: he took 78 of the 92 for an overall score of almost 56% in these towns, with Markey getting 43.7%. But they counted for less than in the past. In 2010, these towns represented 25.3% of the electorate. In 2012, they represented 24.8%. This time they only represented 20.7%. It thus mattered less that Markey underperformed Warren here (43.7% vs. 45.9%; Coakley received only 38.2%) because the relative importance of these towns to the statewide race fell significantly. Compared to the 2010 special, the influence of conservatives within these towns fell sharply as well.

To be sure, there were important Democratic cities in this group (New Bedford and Fall River come to mind, each at under a quarter of 2012 turnout and under 40 percent of 2010 turnout). But most of Markey’s towns in Group 3 were small Western Mass. towns whose individual impact on a statewide election is small. Other towns where the number of votes cast was under 40% of those cast in 2010 include conservative bastions like Wrentham, Attleboro, Carver, Blackstone, Bellingham. When I issued my turnout warning a month ago, it was predicated on the assumption that conservatives almost always show up to vote. This time they didn’t.

One reason I’ve heard for low conservative turnout is that Gomez’s attempt to present himself as a moderate turned off the GOP base. To the extent that’s true, it may bode well for Democratic candidates going forward. As a commenter on Daily Kos noted last week, astutely I believe, in recent years the floor has been rising for Massachusetts Republicans, but the ceiling has been falling as well. Just by being Republicans, and particularly if they must work to hold the social conservative base, Republican candidates will be associated with policies that a majority of Bay State voters oppose.

And perhaps Massachusetts Democrats do best in elections with either very high or ridiculously low turnout, but have a challenge where turnout is low, but not abysmally so. You might liken it to the Patriots in recent years: like the Democrats, they tend to do better in high-scoring (analagous to high-turnout) contests. You’d expect them to have trouble in a low-scoring game. But maybe — if it’s a situation like a blizzard — their exceptional offensive prowess would make them more likely to get the touchdown needed to win 7-3.

Still, there is reason for concern. We can’t count on low conservative turnout all the time, nor can we continue to win if cities like Lawrence or New Bedford continue to show such pitiful voting numbers. We have to crank it up – even more – and make sure our supporters come to the polls.



Discuss

28 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I don't know who you are

    But I want to shake your hand for doing all that analysis.

  2. I worry about big blocks of GOP advantage

    Hampden County, for example. North and South Shore. They don’t matter for a US Senate or Gov race [one vote is one vote], but they do matter for House of Representatives, and of course for state legislative seats. They also help paint a “Three Massachusetts” story (Boston-metro, exurbs, suburbs, Western Mass) which doesn’t bode well for compromise and holistic policy goals… or for the Dems maintaining all nine House seats.

  3. Yes- nice work.

    I think this part

    Losing Blue-Collar Voters. It really does not seem to matter if the GOP candidate is a novice with no substance whatsoever ike Gabriel Gomez. The Democratic message is not connecting with a large number of Massachusetts voters, particularly white blue collar voters.

    is one of the more interesting. I would slice it a little differently, because “blue collar” used to be synonymous with “works with his hands” and “probably belongs to a union.” it’s now sort of an income bracket I think.

    I think this is very astute:

    Perhaps because they see Democrats getting 3/4 of the vote in Newton and Lexington.

    But that would need some data collection to verify.

    Thanks for this. I learned a lot.

    • Thanks

      I would slice it a little differently, because “blue collar” used to be synonymous with “works with his hands” and “probably belongs to a union.” it’s now sort of an income bracket I think.

      It’s probably more an income bracket than “blue collar” as traditionally understood. Democrats are getting killed in MA in roughly the 50-90K household income range. The same crowd that, for 40 years after FDR, voted overwhelmingly Democratic and believed Democrats were on the side of the “working man.”

      I think GOP economic policies have been disastrous for people in that income range, but it seems they feel like they make to much to benefit from “programs” and not enough to feel secure. What they really need is a better economy than they’ve had for the past 30 years (yes, I include the Clinton years there since the gains to the lower middle class were minimal).

      But it’s not just an income bracket. There’s something cultural. I know people in the same income bracket who are 20-somethings in Cambridge or JP and they’re very liberal. There’s some combination of income, education, demographics, etc.

      • Fantastic analysis

        And one that was sorely missing from the Coakley post-mortem and we have had significant recent success since then so we have not bothered to think about this. Burlington and Woburn as well as post-industrial North Shore towns (Haverhill, Andover, Danvers, Peabody) were once bastions of lunch pail Democrats and have now moved into toss up columns and are gradually moving to ‘red town’ status. Former bastion of WASP Rockefeller Republicanism like Beverly, Wellesley and Salem are now rock rib blue. But it’s a trade off we can only win for another 10 years. Social issues won’t be sufficient enough to win a statewide race anymore. We need to make the economic case that our policies are better, I would also argue making that case across the board and the ballot will give us a friendlier house and less DINO detritus that is more concerned about a Howie Carr column than doing the right thing.

        Continuing to knock on doors, talk to neighbors, as emphasize pocket book issues should win the day.

        This will be a national problem as well, the Obama coalition is a lot more fragile than we think.

      • While there is something to that...

        I think GOP economic policies have been disastrous for people in that income range, but it seems they feel like they make to much to benefit from “programs” and not enough to feel secure. What they really need is a better economy than they’ve had for the past 30 years .

        …it’s a hard sell in a CommonWealth that has elected exactly one (1) Republican to the Federal level in 15 years. That’s not to say you are wrong. Rather that the reality is a subtle

        (yes, I include the Clinton years there since the gains to the lower middle class were minimal)

        Disagree. Taken in a vacuum, sure, the Clilnton economy was rather meh… However, given the context, at least here in the CommonWealth, I think the Clinton years were so good that they provided quite the bulwark against the feckless Weld administration and it’s bastard progeny… the listless Cellucci administration which was followed hard upon by the utterly directionless Swift administration… which then gave way to the five actual minutes Mitt Romney spent thinking positive thoughts about the CommonWealth. Think about it. Four governors in a row, Weld, Cellucci, Swift and Romney barely made an impact upon the CommonWealth and they all, ultimately, wandered off: 16 years of Republican administration just melted away. I do not think that that could happen absent the Clinton years.

        Don’t get me wrong: things could have been better. I think those sixteen years, had they been spent in actual governance and effort, would have yielded gains and advances unthinkable to us now. At the least, we could have had somebody trying to reign in the wayward House Speakers we’ve had. But it is what it is.

  4. General pattern

    Markey outperformed Warren inside 495 and underperformed her beyond it. Lynch’s district is a bit of an exception, where I suspect there was some lingering bitterness from the primary.

  5. A Different View

    Your analysis is impressive, but I think that you are reading too much into these numbers. Here is my view the last three Senate elections. I don’t think that the number of votes cast reflects any trend:

    2010: There was a lot of Republican/Independent enthusiasm for Scott Brown and very little enthusiasm for Martha Coakley. That’s why there were 2 million votes cast. Many Dems did not vote

    2012: There was a lot enthusiasm for both Brown and Warren, which is why there were 3 million votes cast. Of course, it was also a presidential year.

    2013: There was almost no enthusiasm for either candidate, which is why there was only 1 million votes cast.

    • Yes and no

      To me the key is, as the numbers at the top of the post show, the 2010 special turnout of just over 2 million matched normal midterm election turnout. It surpassed 2006 Gov turnout. The issue there is not how many people voted, but who they were.

      In 2012, conservative turnout (high in 2010) was up since it was a presidential, but not up as much as liberal turnout, which went from low to very high.

      In 2012, liberal turnout went back to being low, in fact lower than 2010, but conservative turnout went so low I’ve never seen it that low.

  6. Composition, and illusory Republican "strength"

    First: I’m nearly sure that Markey outperforming Warren in very liberal cities/towns is a matter of composition, partly because I’d bet a lot on the assertion that almost all of the Markey voters in places like Brookline and Newton are also Warren supporters. Since this election had such very low turnout, a much higher than usual percentage of the vote that did turn out was turned out directly by field campaigns. In these liberal towns, I expect the Markey campaign had loads of volunteers and did a lot of turnout stimulus, while the Gomez campaign probably focused more on other places where their support was denser.

    Second: I’m also confident that you’re misreading the supposed trend of Republican performance. I don’t know what the level of support is for Republicans in US Senate races, but the three elections you’re looking at don’t tell us what it is.

    Two of them are special elections. Special elections are much lower turnout than regular elections, and give Republicans an advantage because they have a better baseline among those who vote most consistently than they have among the broader population.

    So that leaves one election on your list of three, and that happens to be the only one in decades in which a Democratic challenger was running against a Republican incumbent. Given the very large benefit incumbency gives, that number more plausibly represents a Republican *ceiling* than a floor.

    We’ll probably see Elizabeth Warren re-elected with Kennedy-like margins.

    • We'll see soon enough

      On your first point, that’s exactly the point I spend most of the second half of the post making: in a low turnout election, the ground game for Markey made the difference. I was part of that here in Newton and I know the Wellesley team did fantastic work, a big reason Markey got closer to 60% whereas Warren barely won.

      On your second point, I don’t think so but we’ll see. Markey will be up next year and we’ll be electing a governor.

      What really struck me with this one is how, despite the huge dropoff in number of votes cast, the map is virtually identical the last four times out. Not just the red and blue, but the percentages haven’t changed much in most towns. That’s with 3 different GOP candidates, 4 different Dems, record high turnout, record low turnout, and a couple in between.

      One thing is clear: I don’t consider the 2010 Special an aberration because it was a special. As I’ve said above, the turnout was at a standard midterm November turnout level, though I think the composition was tilted more conservative. So I count it, and I count the 2010 Governor’s election, because all four elections in the Obama (and post-Kennedy/Kerry) era have remarkably similar maps.

      People on the ground in the “red” towns have told me it’s a very hard sell to canvass for any Democrat at all there these days, and I know from personal experience that precincts within Newton are remarkably consistent in their behavior, and that some of them are going to be relatively hostile territory.

      I hope you’re right and Warren is re-elected with Kennedy-like margins. But that’s almost six years off and could depend on who’s President and what’s happening in 2018. In the shorter term (read: 2014), I’d be surprised to see a huge shift from the map we’ve had, but I hope you’re right.

      • map vs. margin

        I don’t find it striking at all that these maps look similar. I’d find it surprising and meaningful if the maps looked very different; similar is exactly what to expect in elections only a few years apart. It doesn’t tell us anything about margins.

        A map where the Democrat wins 55-45, and a map where the Democrat wins 60-40, would still show approximately the same geographic pattern. Some of the closer towns would flip color but most cities and towns would keep the same color and eyeballing the map you’d see something very similar. Same goes for a 50/50 result – it’d look quite similar to the 55-45 map.

        Over longer periods of time you can see bigger geographic shifts, but I don’t see why you’re taking any meaning from the fact that we didn’t see big geographic shifts in less than a decade.

        You were trying to make the case that Democratic strength is less than what it was by comparing these recent elections to Kennedy and Kerry’s re-elections, but none of the elections you’re looking at is an incumbent Democratic Senator running for re-election. Two of them are special elections for open seats and you wouldn’t expect those to predict a normal re-election result. There’s only one election in your sample that’s a regular election, with an incumbent running for re-election, except in that one the Republican is the incumbent – and he lost 54-46.

        So, overall, I don’t think this set of elections tells us anything resembling what you say it does about Democratic Senators compared to Kerry & Kennedy. I think it only says one thing: Look at the Warren-Brown race and perhaps you see the Republican ceiling for normal re-election contests, mid-40s. We can’t see a Republican floor from any of these, though.

        • Indeed

          We’ll see what happens when an incumbent Democratic Senator runs for re-election next year, and we’ll also see a Governor’s election. I feel like the Governor’s race is wide open and no slam dunk for the Dems. Markey I’d expect to win, but I’m not really expecting 60%+. I’d love to be wrong.

          But I do find it compelling that the map is the same in four straight statewide elections, including two with normal non-Presidential turnout, one with barely half of that, and one with half again as many voters. I say four because, again, I’m counting the 2010 Governor’s race in there and I count the 2010 special as having the same turnout as any midterm year in November.

          The map was not at all the same from election to election in the 1990s, or from say, 2000 to 2006. Since Obama entered office it seems the opposition to him and to Democrats, both in Mass. and nationwide, has hardened. For 2014 at least, I’d not expect much difference in that map.

          And the margin does vary, but not by that much. In almost 300 towns out of 351, Markey’s percentage was within 5 points of Warren’s. In over 200, it was within 3 points. But these were very different elections. Last year was in November, had huge turnout, and posed a Democratic woman who’d never run before against a popular incumbent. This year was a special in June, very low turnout, and an 18-term Democratic Member of Congress running against a first-time Republican candidate. I’d expect those elections, though not far apart in time, to have very different results, and I think it’s telling that they didn’t. The pre-primary polling showed Markey (or Lynch) crushing the GOP nominee by 20+ points, and I think it’s telling that Markey didn’t.

          I think most voters here are now in one camp or another virtually every time out. A very small number of people actually change sides from election to election, and the real game for the campaigns is making sure their supporters show up. From a series of results that resemble each other this much, and from stories on the campaign trail in places like Rockland and Billerica and Attleboro, I think Democrats ignore the possibility that they’re losing large swaths of people at their peril.

        • It does tell us *something*

          four elections GOP vs. Dem, with different permutations, all had very similar maps. That tells me that specific candidates aren’t an obvious way to swing a region of the Commonwealth. Instead of trying to “flip” any particular region, the strategy of just going out and getting votes from where they’re available (volunteer locations, micro-targeting, etc) may just be the straightforward way to go.

          Here’s the maps for the MA Senate and the MA House. Cities or towns with both Dem and GOP legislators are colored purple. I don’t know if this will work (png files), but here ‘goes:
          MA Senate

          MA House

          Compare these maps with the four above and we get a feel for where MA is “blue”, “red”, and “purple”. One word of caution: land doesn’t vote, people vote. Don’t get suckered by the size of the red or blue paint into mapping that into number of votes in your brain.

          • Map links

            didn’t come through

          • I'm probably to blame

            for the focus on the maps. My major concern is not to flip a particular region (though, as has been pointed out, that might become relevant for U.S. House races) but rather to flip an economic demographic.

            A decade or so ago, the Republicans benefited nationally from anti-immigrant and anti-gay sentiment. These days the Dems are benefiting from a majority view that the GOP’s position on those issues is awful. I don’t know if jconway’s correct in saying that advantage will only last another decade or so, but I do know that it gives too many Democrats a pass to be lousy on economics. Millions not thrilled with Obama’s economic performance voted for Obama and Democratic candidates in 2012 anyway because the alternative – largely on social issues – was unacceptable (e.g. Akin, Mourdock).

            The progressive economic position is far better for people in the 50-90K income range than Reaganomics, but Dems are getting killed in that bracket. Partly because the progressive case hasn’t been made well and is more complex than “cut taxes.” Partly because today’s Dems largely do not implement progressive economics. I think we should win on economic issues, and if jconway’s right we may have to soon. That we’re not bothers me a great deal.

            • A necessary step

              There is a cultural gap between the Democratic Party and the so-called “Reagan Democrats.” That group was always a little vulnerable to the depolyment of culture war “wedge issues” but I do not think that these differences alone explain the gap, and the failure to reach this group on with economic issues.

              We have discussed this gap before– probably every time some Republican calls a Democratic candidate an “elitist” and everyone here points out “Hey, that Republican candidate is rich!” by way of retort.

              There is, or at least there is perceived, a certain superficial cultural condescension at play that is very hard to identify specifically, but seems palpable every time a Democratic candidate is viewed painfully bumbling through an appearance at a NASCAR race or a hunting lodge, or prentending to know about the local sports teams (“Manny Ortez”). Sure it is superficial, but an awful lot of Democratic candidate’s interactions with the “Reagan Democrat” demographic over the last 30 years seemed to play thusly:

              “Why, sure I would love to sit on your porch and have a beer! That would be great! What? Oh. Don’t you have something besides Budweiser?”

              Over time, that dynamic is damaging. Some people have the skill to cross that gap like it is nothing– Clinton certainly could. Outside the political arena, Bruce Springsteen has made a successful career of doing so. Senator Kerry, on the other hand, could make that gap seem like a yawning chasm.

              I am not sure why this is the case– it seems a totally superficial matter– but it strikes me as a problem that has plagued the Democratic party for quite some time. Locally, the problem is masked by a combination of a big population of cultural “campus” liberals and decades of protracted incompetence by the Massachusetts GOP.

              What these maps suggest to me is that if the Massachusetts GOP ever manages to get its act together (and boy is that a great big “if”) then Massachusetts could look like the other northeastern states in the makeup of its legislature and Congressional delegation.

              • Totally agree

                And I think we will be in a pickle in 10 years, maybe sooner. Christie scares me for 2016. The smarter conservatives like Frum and Douthat (lucky for us they are both ostracized right now) understand they need to win over that 30k-90k households. And even if I am exaggerating this threat, it’s essential for progressives that we get a working class base for our policies. We don’t want the Democratic Party to espouse Bloombergism (libertarian paternalism coupled with neoliberal economics and a privatized public sector). This is why I hope Pallone or Rush Dan beat Booker. He may be the Upper East Side and Aspens definition of a progressive but he ain’t mine.

                • Agree it's a superficial matter

                  but one that has real meaning in today’s largely superficial politics. I can say that I’ve experienced firsthand. In private life and out there campaigning. Last fall I knocked on doors for Elizabeth Warren in a Bruins t-shirt and was accosted by a gentleman who didn’t believe a Democrat could be a real Bruins fan. He all but accused me of wearing the shirt deliberately to pass myself off as a “regular guy.” Then we talked Bruins for 20 minutes and he saw that I was for real. I happen to be an ex-hockey player who follows the team. I shouldn’t have to be, but the phenomenon is real for whatever reason.

                  In NJ, to my chagrin I think Booker will get at least 65%, probably much more, in the primary.

                  • Agree on both points

                    Just canvassing in my own neighborhood in North Cambridge for Patrick in 2006 revealed some of this. Yuppies were happy to see me and were for Patrick, and the old school white ethnics were either for Reilly or undecided. Had to convince a few of my neighbors I wasn’t a yuppie (luckily some remembered me from St. John’s, through their kids, or by reminding them of my grandpas old store). It’s a cultural divide and an attitude one. And I am also worried ideologically that the social liberals are less committed to economic progressivism. We need both. I think Warren bridged the divide quite well in the latter half of the campaign (I’d argue her DNC speech began a turn around, it wasn’t good before that), by bashing the banks instead of running on exclusively on abortion rights like Coakley did. If a Harvard professor can win over some blue collar voters imagine what a blue collar candidate like Murray could’ve done in a gubernatorial campaign. Also my brother is a staunch Democrat, HUGE Bruins fan (and plays in a work league) and has run into similar issues.

                    As for NJ, Holt and Pallone gotta have a talk soon to consolidate the anti-Booker vote or his ass is crowned.

  7. Not sure the Republican floor is 45

    If Senator Warren were up again in 2014, I bet she’d win by quite a bit more than either she did last year or Markey did last month. It’s tough to compare elections where there were popular, long-term incumbents statewide with the last few we’ve had now. Especially with the extra issue of a major recession tossed into the mix.

    In any case, though, thanks for the very interesting analysis.

    • Could be

      For the reasons in my comment above, I’m not totally convinced. I do hope incumbency provides some boost to both Warren and Markey, but I’m raising the concern that we’re becoming less competitive in certain parts of the state.

      When I canvassed for Markey one voter asked me if I also supported Warren. I said I did. He said, “Well, she hasn’t done a damn thing since she got there.” That’s crazy talk. For a freshman Senator she’s been off the charts. But it seems there are many voters determined not to reach any positive conclusions about her. The polarization of where we get our news from hasn’t helped.

      • There's definitely a floor as well, but

        she’s only been in office for half a year or so. It’s still pretty early for Senator Warren [I just love writing that phrase] to be reaping the benefits of incumbency among people who don’t pay very close attention to politics.

        Obviously that person is wrong and chooses not to weigh actual evidence before forming an opinion, but I’m cautiously optimistic that’s not 45% of the electorate. I do believe her favorability ratings will rise considerably from the election.

  8. Hampden County

    I think the blue collar analysis more or less correct, but there are a lot of complications. Namely, there is a lot of atrophying of the Democratic party, despite improving turnout mechanisms in Springfield & Holyoke (thank God!). Party platform just does not resonate as well at least on a non-presidential level. This is ultimately an organization/messaging problem. Institutional changes need to happen out here in order for that to happen effectively outside of big turnout operation elections.

  9. Woes in the West

    Thank you to the author for working so diligently to create this recap post. I concur with some posters that we have a “blue collar problem.” However i may characterize it a little differently.

    Losing te 50k to 90k group is of great concern to me. As Democrats, we campaign for candidate after candidate who wish to work to sustain the middle class and work to expand and defend it, As Senator Warren said time and time again, “the middle class is being chipped away at and hammered.” How are we supposed to defend the middle class wen we are losing such huge swaths of it? Clearly there is a messaging issue occurring, and even deeper faults which are harder to repair.

    As a resident of the Quabog Hills region, I see these elements first hand on a daily basis. Democratic activists must be made aware of our attitudes and issues if we hope to remain a party that is viable statewide. If we so not so something in the next decade, Republicans will continue to gain stronger footholds and new “red communities” will spring up. God forbid that the national GOP moderates its tune on the social issues and becomes a big tent, because I foresee the fiscally conservative/socially liberal voters on places like Welsley and Newtown feeling comfortable enough to return to their old stomping grounds in the GOP.

    In Central and western Massachusetts, Democrats are losing the interest of enough interest among voters in The Quabog Hills, North Quabbin, Hampden County and the foothills of the Berkshires to be concerned. I hope to provide you with some insight into the attitudes of my western and central Massachusetts neighbors. There are economic and cultural concerns to address; because as we sit here tonight residents from Athol to Agawam, Wesfield to West Warren are gaining antipathy for our party in unprecedented ways.

    Economically, our region was once a manufacturing powerhouse. Industries from paper to plastics, metal working to Forrest products, tools to textiles, and wire to machinery dotted the river valleys and edges of long neglected villages. Family farms flourished in greater number than they do today. Paychecks were abound and money was spent mom and pop commercial businesses from diners to regional department stores. Families were able to sustain themselves as part of the middle class and their children remained stable, working in the fields of their parents and grandparents before them, or were able to attend college and become professionals of various sorts. The schools were performing and every town had a strong sense of community which is being frayed and torn at by outside forces today.

    Over the past 40 years, my family and our friends and neighbors have taken a beating of epic proportions. Plant after plant shuttered their doors, leaving thousands of people out of work. In the early years of economic change, it was easy to pick yourself up and move down the street or a town away to a different industry. The dominently Democratic Congressional delegation and State House were not to be blamed. Management was easily considered te biggest culprit. Democrats had been the bedrock d support for workers for decades, ensuring fair labor practices, the sustainability of the middle class, and a social safety net. However, a region can only go ignored for so long before suspicions leave no stone unturned. After the plants closed te towns started to feel the strain of a depressed economy and local businesses shuttered their doors and te per capita income of the region continued to decline. We are in a perms any depression, an the attitudes of many out here are that the Democrats were the party on charge while it happened, and did nothing to change it.

    Sure, we as educated voters know a lot about how President Reagan’s economic agenda was the absolute worst for communities like these, but I agree with my neighbors that we as Democrats have been entirely ineffective to turn the tide. Our lackadaisical approach towards free trade, especially in local industries which would never be able to compete against foreign subsidized factories is sickening. We faught hard for an end to child labor, the 5 day work week, pensions, overtime and a variety of workers rights here at home, only to endorse it trough our policies abroad. My neighbors don’t want a handout, they just want a decent job. Some of you may say that this is simply “economic evolution,” from a manufacturing society to a high tech one. That is not the case. The East has its biotech, high tech, and “innovation employment.” We have nothing butbaome of the poorest communities in the state. Western Mass is far more than the bastions of academia in Amherst and Northampton. There is a lot of hopelessness going unnoticed.

    On the cultural level, there is both the issue of messaging and acceptance. The western part o the state has some of the highest percentages of gun ownership, predominantly for sport and defense. While most of the folks I know own various hunting rifles and shotguns, the way in which we discuss guns frightens them. Sure we are not trying to take their guns away, but the manner in which we express the need for fun control is a concern. Showin images of Charlton Heston waiving a non-assault style weapon in the air and villanizing him in an eerie fashion tells legal gun owners that they are not welcomed in our party. Saying that the NRA must become “not relevant anymore” is equally a harmful. If we want to encompass “the hick vote” as Senator Warren once hoped to do, citing her rural routes; we must become determine to express our views on the issues in a way which will disenfranchise the least amount of Bay Staters. Many in these parts want the discussion to include one on mental health. Clearly ironic as the mental health of the underemployed and the poor isn’t that great in itself!

    On abortion and euthanasia, this area contains some of the larger swaths of Roman Catholicism in the region. Many folks believe in the limitation of abortion and this is very evident in some of Congressman Neal’s votes such as for Stupack and the positions of some of the regional State Reps and Senators. If we cannot have dialogue and e open tithe fact that some of our Democratic brothers and sisters believe that life exists from conception to natural death in a humanitarian fashion, then we will have further losses in this region.

    The truth is folks that when our party fights harder for abortion rights and firearm restrictions than trade issues and job creation in our depressed communities, it’s a losing game. We aren’t reddening ou here because we believe in management over workers, big banks over borrowers, or a laissez fair economy over government support; my neighbors are simply voting Republican because its an alternative and we are desperate for anything which brings back a sense of economic stability once again, when over half of your children are on free or reduced lunch, when unemployment and crime reign king, and everything else seems to too your regional issues, it doesn’t take much to me angry. We’ve seen this kind of anger all over the country, and as Massachusetts Democrats we have a duty to not let it continue in our own backyard. I’m sick of it.

    • Thanks for your thoughts

      In Massachusetts we have a situation similar to New York and many other states. In New York State, a nice Victorian house may run a million or more…if it’s near New York City. The same house can be had in places upstate for well under $100K because there’s no employment base there anymore. So NYC and Greater Boston are super-expensive and crowded, while other parts of these states are suffering from lack of good jobs. Nobody’s winning here except the select few who call the shots.

      I agree with you that the Democratic Party needs to focus more on economic issues. But most importantly, we need Democrats who push a vision of economics that emphasizes investing in our people — all of our people, everywhere. At the federal level, I see much of what the Obama administration has done (and the Clinton administration before it) as neo-liberal Rubinomics rather than people-first progressive economics. In the 80s Rep. Henry Coehlo of California started pushing hard to raise money for the Dems from the rich corporate interests, who were willing to play ball since the Dems had controlled Congress for over 30 years straight. Congressional Democrats began to turn rightward on economic issues. At the state level, our Democratic legislature, well…we all know about that.

      The problem with this is that most people will see this as the “Democratic” agenda being implemented. Someone like me will not be taken seriously trying to tell the average voter in your town, “They may call themselves ‘Democrats,’ but they’re not really acting like Democrats should. What we need is real Democrats.” Instead, in our two-party system, people displeased with the Democrats tend to give Republicans a try. Even if they’re worse. And they are. This to me is the biggest sin of elected Democrats who refuse to pursue progressive economic policy: their actions create the sense that “the left” has nothing to offer, when in fact nothing approximating “the left” has been tried in decades.

      You are right to say we have a messaging issue. After so many years of this, and people feeling so squeezed, it seems that many people in that 50-90K demographic are not too open to a progressive economic pitch, at least not if it involves any increases in taxes, which it must. We’ve cut state tax revenues by 25% since the late 70s and it shows. Everything’s falling apart. It would be best to get the funds to fix it from that top 1%, they’re the only ones getting ahead these days. But here in Massachusetts we have a constitutional problem making that difficult. I do hope, as more and more people find themselves struggling, that issues like the minimum wage will resonate with people, but I see too many people in the 50-90K demo buying the Fox News version of economics. And many of our “Democrats” who vote against revenue are from areas like yours, voting no because they’re convinced their constituents won’t go for it. So, yes, we have a messaging problem.

      On the NRA issue, I think there is plenty of room for responsible gun owners to realize that the NRA has become extreme and irresponsible and is actively thwarting common-sense reforms with huge public support.

  10. Please

    Excuse any typos. It’s hard to type on a cell phone when you don’t have high speed Internet. That’s right folks, the digital divide. Oh and we are full of designated medically underserved areas too

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Tue 2 Sep 12:40 PM