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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Massachusetts Special Senate Election: Aftermath

It’s been a bit since the Massachusetts election, in which unknown Republican Scott Brown emerged to upset the favored Democrat Martha Coakley in one of union’s deepest-blue states. Since then, Democrats have been recalibrating their strategy.

In a previous post, I outlined the results of how a tied election might look like. Let’s take a look at the prediction:


Now let’s see the actual results:


More below.

A clear pattern emerges: counties that the model forecast Ms. Coakley to win turned out more Democratic than expected, while counties that the model forecast Mr. Brown to win turned out more Republican than expected. The model, in predicting results, relied – incorrectly – on a uniform Republican shift from previous elections which Democrats won. The actual deviations indicate that Massachusetts shifted in a polarized manner: Democratic strongholds shifted Republican to a lesser extent than the state at large, independent areas shifted far more.

Here is a table of the results:


A number of outlets – especially us folks at swingstateproject – have gone even further, taking a look at the results by town. Here is the NYT:


The red areas constitute suburban Massachusetts, home to many of the white working-class Catholics that supported for Senator Hillary Clinton. These areas usually almost always vote Democratic, but they do so based off economic appeals rather than any innate liberalism (much like how West Virginia used to vote).

Republicans generally win Massachusetts by taking away suburban Massachusetts. Mr. Brown’s coalition replicated previous Republican victories:


Interestingly, President Barack Obama did relatively poorly in these suburbs – his performance was the worst since President Bill Clinton’s first run in ’92. He still won them, of course (Massachusetts, lest people forget, is a Democratic stronghold), but by less than previous Democratic candidates. In fact, Mr. Obama underperformed throughout the Northeast, which is something few people know.

The areas Ms. Coakley won generally constitute the “liberal Massachusetts” Republicans love to insult. They are college towns and generally well-off, liberal places.

On the other hand, a number of  towns do not fit these stereotypes. Minorities in Boston, for instance, are responsible for it being a Democratic stronghold (unfortunately for Ms. Coakley, they did not turn out). Much of the rural west, which supported Ms. Coakley by a wide margin, is very white and not that wealthy.

If there is any good news from this election for Massachusetts Democrats, it is that they now have this information. The data provided by Mr. Brown’s surprise victory should prove useful for redistricting, future campaigns, and even predicting the future of Massachusetts politics. Hopefully they will not be caught off guard a second time.


1 comment

  1. jsfox

    and now living across the boarder in NH there is one thing that has always struck me about the state. While yes it blue on National elections,  Presidential. I am not so sure and never have been that it is a claim that be carried over to state wide or House and Senate elections. The number of Republican governors the state has had over the years is one indicator and the very tight race for governor this year. Then again if you look at Romney, the last Republican Governor he ran and governed as a very very moderate Republican. As have all Republican governors of the state. Historically MA where it is Republican is not conservative Republican, most Republicans in the wealthier North and South Shore and Western Suburbs of Boston tend to be very moderate. Yes it get’s more conservative the farther west you go, but the population also thins. The votes are in the eastern part of the state.

    As to the Scott Brown surprise. I think a lot of moderate Republicans and Indies who might have normally voted for the Democrat got turned off to Coakley for a number of reasons. One, the whole it’s Teddy’s seat approach and two, Coakley’s belief that it was a done deal and she did not need to put in the effort.

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