What more can be said about that Massachusetts Senate race that hasn’t already been said? Rather than repeat anything, allow me to offer up some observations on the Massachusetts electorate that might help place tonight’s results in their proper perspective. I draw contrasts to the 2008 election and to President Obama because this election, it is safe to say, has morphed into a national referendum on the president and his policies.
First, candidate Obama carried Massachusetts by 800,000 votes, which translated into an overwhelming 26-point margin of victory, 62 percent to 36 percent margin. Translation: This is about as Blue as a state electorate gets.
According to the 2008 exit poll for Massachusetts and subsequent polling from Gallup and Reasmussen, we know the following:
* Independents, who comprised what could be an artificially low 40 percent share of the 2008 electorate, favored Obama by a healthy 57 percent to 40 percent margin. In contrast, Rasmussen’s last survey indicates that Massachusetts’s Independents have done an historic about-face. GOP candidate Scott Brown receives an overwhelming 71 percent to 23 percent advantage among Independents. And, Gallup’s 2009 tracking data suggests Independent voters could account for a much larger share — as much as half — of today’s turnout. If true, this could be all she wrote for Democratic candidate Coakley. The Gallup tracking data, by the way, consists of 8,580 interviews in Massachusetts, an enormous sample. The Bay State, the study found, “has significantly more residents identifying as political independents (49 percent) than as Democrats (35 percent).”
* Conservatives: Over one-quarter (28 percent) of self-identified conservatives pulled the lever for candidate Obama on Election Day. Coakley will be lucky to break double digits with conservatives in today’s political environment.
* Big government: There was considerable sympathy for big government solutions. On Election Day 2008 63 percent of Massachusetts voters wanted the government to “do more” while only 35 percent thought it was “doing too much.” Now, over half of those voters (56 percent), and 73 percent of those pesky Independents, say that tax increases will hurt the economy. A plurality (44 percent), including 62 percent of Independents, say the same about increases in government spending.
* The economy: More than six in ten voters (63 percent) said that fixing the economy was the most important issue facing America. Obama won their allegiance by a 61 percent to 36 percent margin. A year later, quite a few of these Obama acolytes must be having second thoughts. According to Rasmussen, only 41 percent of likely voters in Massachusetts believe the stimulus plan “helped” the economy. And, for two of the most motivated voter groups, the stimulus plan is even less popular. Fewer than a third of seniors (31 percent) and less than a quarter of Independent voters (23 percent) give it a passing grade.
* Health reform: Given his obsession with health reform, it is significant that on Election Day 2008 only 8 percent of Massachusetts voters identified health care as the most important issue facing America. To Bay State voters, in fact, health care was first and foremost not a health-policy issue, but rather a cost issue, with 72 percent saying they worried about health costs. To the extent that voters in today’s election believe the health bills now before Congress will increase their taxes and health premiums, it makes sense that the health issue is breaking big time for Brown.
* Reagan Democrats: Even amidst last year’s Obamania, there were indications that all is not lost in the Bay State. 68 percent favored opening up more offshore areas to drilling for oil and natural gas, with only 27 percent opposed and a thin majority (51 percent) opposed the $700 billion TARP financial bailout.
* Hope and Change: Obama carried those disapproving of Congress’s job performance by a margin of 59 percent to 40 percent, perhaps reflecting the sense on the part of these disenchanted voters that Obama would finally be The One to shake things up in Washington. A year later, with backroom negotiations yielding one putrid special interest health deal after another, tonight’s race may be a referendum, not merely on an unpopular health-reform bill, but on these dashed hopes as well.
* Libertarian candidate Kennedy: That last Rasmussen poll suggests that the libertarian candidate, Joseph Kennedy, draws much of his support from voter groups one would assume to be part of Coakley’s coalition. While Kennedy polls at 3 percent overall, he receives fully 15 percent of the vote from younger voters age 18–29 and those with incomes below $20,000.