The Massachusetts Miracle – what happened ?

There will be many lengthy post mortems written about this election, so the historic victory of Scott Brown (the last time a Republican Senator in Massachusetts was victorious was in 1972) deserves some “behind the scenes” analysis.

Of the many things that can be written about this race, I will focus on several items so that you can appreciate how stunning this victory really was:

(1) Since the 1980 Reagan landslide over Jimmy Carter, Scott Brown will now be only one of two Republicans to receive more than 51% of the vote statewide  (the other was former Governor William Weld, who was re-elected in a landslide in the GOP landslide year of 1994).

(2) Those tempting to write off this election as a low turnout affair with a lousy Democratic nominee would be wise to note that Matha Coakley was elected Massachusetts Attorney General in 2006 with 69% of the vote. Additionally, Scott Brown received 75,000 more votes than Mitt Romney did in his victorious 2002 campaign for Governor.

(3) Only two Republicans have received more votes than Scott Brown: former Governor William Weld, and Ronald Reagan in his landslide 1984 re-election.

(4) The most notable part of Scott Brown’s election was where his vote came from. Despite conventional wisdom, only 5% of the Massachusetts vote comes from liberal and/or university towns (which Coakley carried 76/23%), while only a paltry 14% of the vote comes from gritty inner cities like Boston, Springfield, and Worcester (Coakley carried these 64/35%). The remainder of the vote comes from white and blue collar suburbs and small towns, and in this broad area of Massachusetts, Brown scored an impressive 57-42% victory. This map, courtesy of the AP, graphically shows the results by town.

(5) Even more important than the vote breakdown by region was the extent to which there was an “Obama plunge” (i.e, the percentage drop in support between the 2008 Presidential election and the recent election results). In the case of Massachusetts, the “Obama plunge” of 15% was distributed unevenly. In liberal and/or university towns, the “Obama plunge” was 6% (i.e., he got 82% while Democrat Martha Coakley got 76%). In the inner cities (with more of a blue collar and/or multiethnic presence), Obama received 76% while Coakley got 64% – a 12% plunge. However, the real story of the election was in the suburbs and small towns – Obama received 58% while Coakley received 42% of the vote. If this 16% plunge in a pale blue area were to continue this fall, Democrats will be in serious trouble in all but the inner city Congressional districts.

In a future article to come out later in February, we will analyze what we think the impact of the “Obama plunge” will be. We already know that in four of five races since the 2009 elections (a special Congressional election in California, the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia, and now the Senate election in Massachusetts), the “Obama plunge” has been remarkably consistent: a dropoff of between 12 and 15% of the vote in Democratic support.