The geographical pattern of the vote shifts, showing that the shifts occurred in the Boston suburbs and exurbs, argues against the notion that this was largely a matter of angry working-class Democrats abandoning their party. More likely, it was borderline independents punishing the incumbent party for poor economic performance, along with Republicans who had no interest in George W. Bush coming home to support a national Republican who could string sentences together to make paragraphs.
I must confess that this doesn’t surprise me, as I had assumed Brown’s victory was powered by Massachusetts’s large number of unaffiliated voters. According to the 2008 CNN exit polls, 40 percent of Massachusetts voters are self-described independents, 17 percent are Republicans, and 43 percent are Democrats. Moreover, “working class,” as the endless exchange between Thomas Frank and Larry Bartels demonstrated, is a very contested term. One assumes that many of those “borderline independents” are the children of Kennedy Democrats of another era. And Brown’s strong performance in South Boston and some of the region’s less affluent suburbs is suggestive.
I’m sure that someone out there advanced an “angry working-class Democrats” theory of Brown’s election rather than one focused on independents and voters in the suburbs and exurbs.