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MA-Sen: Town Benchmarks

by: Crisitunity

Tue Jan 19, 2010 at 2:50 PM EST


The county baselines post has become a game day staple at Swing State Project for advanced elections-returns-watchers, and today's no different. The basic idea here: find the bare minimum percentage in each major county that's necessary to get the Democratic candidate over the hump at 50%. (That, of course, is predicated on all the counties moving the same direction as the presidential election the benchmarks are based on, which doesn't actually happen in real life, but it's a rough estimate.) As election returns come in, compare the benchmarks to the actual returns to see if we're on track to win.

There's one small problem here, which most of you are probably already familiar with: Massachusetts, and the other New England states, don't report election results by county, but rather by town. With hundreds and hundreds of little towns, that's a lot of ground to cover, so we'll just look at the biggest, plus some towns in what seem to be the key areas to watch in this race.

In fact, let's take a look at the state's town-by-town map, created by our own DavidNYC (you can click on the map to see a full-size version):

This map is based on the relatively close 1996 Senate election between John Kerry and William Weld (a better choice here, because a map of the 2008 Presidential race would be almost entirely blue, and the 2002 gubernatorial race would be almost entirely red, with Romney winning the vast majority of towns). But it gives the general lay of the land in the state: the Democratic votes are heavily concentrated in Boston and its immediately surrounding cities. (There's also a lot of low-density blue out in the college towns and arty enclaves of the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley in the west.) The red on the map is mostly rural and low-density too, so the real areas that we're focused on today are the purplish and pinkish suburban turf to the north, west, and south of Boston.

Rather than just one model, I'm using two different models: one based on the high-turnout, high-Democratic-intensity 2008 presidential election (won by Barack Obama, 62-36), and the low-turnout, low-intensity 2002 gubernatorial election (won by Republican Mitt Romney, 50-45) -- more generally, a best-case scenario for Dems and a worst-case scenario for Dems. With turnout projections high but not as high as yesterday (SoS William Galvin is predicting 40%), and weather mediocre, we're probably looking at something somewhere in between, so consider these the bookends. Nevertheless, after making the necessary adjustments, both models, in most towns, point to very similar benchmarks.

Let's start with the largest cities in Massachusetts (the ones that provide more than 1% of the state's votes each). These aren't really the places to watch, as they're heavily Democratic (with the sort-of exception of Quincy) and the real question with them is whether turnout is keeping pace proportionately with the rest of the state.

Town % of
state vote
in 2008
2008 % What's
needed
in 2010
2002 % What's
needed
in 2010
STATEWIDE 100.0 62/36 50/48 45/50 48/47
Boston 7.7 79/20 67/32 61/33 64/30
Worcester 2.0 68/30 56/42 52/42 55/39
Springfield 1.7 77/22 65/34 59/37 62/34
Cambridge 1.5 88/10 76/22 69/22 72/19
Newton 1.4 75/23 63/35 54/40 57/37
Quincy 1.3 58/40 46/52 48/47 51/44
New Bedford 1.1 74/25 62/37 70/26 73/23
Brockton 1.1 70/29 58/41 49/47 52/44
Somerville 1.1 82/16 70/28 61/29 64/26
Lowell 1.0 65/33 53/45 47/47 50/44
Fall River 1.0 73/26 61/38 67/29 70/26

Democratic performance in most of the state, as you can see above, stayed fairly consistent with the rise in the tide from 2002 to 2008. Statewide, Democratic performance went from 45% to 62% (a 17% gain), and, for example, Boston followed that closely, going from 61% to 79% (an 18% gain). Many other towns tracked that, too; for instance, the most conservative parts of the state (like Falmouth and Sandwich on Cape Cod, or the suburbs around Lowell) also moved about 16 to 18% in the Dems' direction.

The interesting areas are the ones where the movement was much greater -- these tend to be the wealthier areas in the state, fancy Middlesex Co. suburbs like Wellesley or North Shore towns in Essex Co., consistent with Obama's overperformance nationwide among high-income voters -- and where the movement was much less -- mostly in blue-collar towns of the South Shore, as well as other blue-collar outposts in the state's west. To me, these seem to be the swingy areas, and the ones most worth watching, especially since the trends may (or may not) continue to accelerate today -- upper-middle-class voters may be attracted to Coakley's technocratic image (especially those in Middlesex Co., where she was DA) or they may revert to liking the fiscal conservatism that they saw in Romney, while blue-collar voters seem likely to respond to Brown's regular-guy shtick but may also be motivated by their ancestral Democratic loyalties and union or local machine GOTVing.

Let's start with some well-to-do suburbs west of Boston:

Town % of
state vote
in 2008
2008 % What's
needed
in 2010
2002 % What's
needed
in 2010
Acton 0.4 68/30 56/42 41/52 44/49
Belmont 0.4 69/29 57/41 42/53 45/50
Concord 0.3 71/28 59/40 45/48 48/45
Needham 0.6 66/33 54/45 41/54 44/51
Wellesley 0.5 65/34 53/46 37/58 40/55
Winchester 0.4 60/39 48/51 37/58 40/55

And here are North Shore suburbs. (Lawrence is a little out of place here, as it's working-class with a large Hispanic population, but it had the same large 02 to 08 shift that its wealthier neighbors did.)

Town % of
state vote
in 2008
2008 % What's
needed
in 2010
2002 % What's
needed
in 2010
Andover 0.6 56/43 44/55 32/63 35/60
Danvers 0.5 55/44 43/56 35/61 38/58
Lawrence 0.6 80/19 68/31 57/37 60/34
Marblehead 0.4 61/38 49/50 36/60 39/57
Newburyport 0.4 66/32 54/44 43/52 46/49
Peabody 0.9 57/42 45/56 43/53 46/50

Now turning to the more blue-collar locales where the trend seemed less favorable to Democrats, starting with the South Shore towns. (Looking up to the biggest towns list above, you can see that same trend happened not only in Quincy, but especially in Fall River and New Bedford, which are strongly Democratic but barely moved at all from O'Brien to Obama. In their cases, I'm not sure if that's indifference to Obama, or particularly strong local machines good at keep turnout consistent.)

Town % of
state vote
in 2008
2008 % What's
needed
in 2010
2002 % What's
needed
in 2010
Braintree 0.6 50/48 38/60 42/55 45/52
Bridgewater 0.4 49/49 37/51 37/59 40/56
Middleborough 0.4 46/52 34/64 35/59 38/56
Taunton 0.7 59/39 47/51 51/45 54/42
Weymouth 0.9 54/45 42/57 43/53 46/50

And finally, a mix of western mill towns and blue-collar suburbs around Springfield:

Town % of
state vote
in 2008
2008 % What's
needed
in 2010
2002 % What's
needed
in 2010
Agawam 0.5 53/45 41/57 40/56 43/53
Chicopee 0.7 61/36 49/48 51/45 54/42
Fitchburg 0.5 60/38 48/50 46/49 49/46
Pittsfield 0.7 76/22 64/34 64/32 67/29
Westfield 0.6 53/45 41/57 42/54 45/51

Now for the bad news... Suffolk polled several bellwether towns over the weekend, and found that Coakley is polling well below the level she needs to meet the benchmarks, in fact slightly below even Shannon O'Brien levels from 2002. They found a 41/55 race in Fitchburg (see the western mill towns chart), and a 40/57 race in Peabody (see the North Shore chart). I have no idea about the sample size or any of the other innards, but this suggests that for Coakley to pull this out -- as has been more broadly evident for several days -- the only way is for the pollsters to have been missing large swaths of heretofore unactivated voters who just got transformed into Democratic likely voters in the last few days.

Blue Mass Group has an interesting post that lists some other bellwether towns that you might want to keep an eye on. UPDATE: (And Cook's Dave Wasserman has made available a Google spreadsheet doing more or less the same thing for every single freakin' town in the state, albeit only for the 2008 model. Check it out.)

Crisitunity :: MA-Sen: Town Benchmarks
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Great Work!
For us newbies who only have knowledge of their general area, the South in my case, this is a great break down of Massachusetts

This is incredible!
This is my first time spending election night with you guys. This is really phenomenal - thanks!

22, male, VA-10

First Comment
My first comment off the bat is that Kerry in 1996 is showed winning Fitchburg and Gardner both which have polled heavy for Brown. I also don't see Waltham and Needham going for Coakley this time. Which leaves Coakley trying to get turnout up in Boston/Brookline/Cambridge/Somerville/Arlington. My biggest concern at this point is not Brown will win but he will grab the King/Silber/Cellucci/Romney towns plus the more left leaning place Bill Weld got as governor in the early nineties. Coakley has several people holding signs in Arlington but none in Lexington Center leaving Brown supporters to themselves up Mass Ave.

I voted in Needham this morning
One sign for Coakley, no signs for Brown!

Fall River
probably has a good Democratic machine. I took the ACTs at Durfee HS in Fall River and the classroom I was in had some posters related to the mayoral election. I don't remember what specifically gave me the idea that Fall River has some hardcore machine politics, but there was definitely something there. (Maybe because Fall River is in the crapper and kind of fits the profile of what people imagine to be a machine city.)

21, dude, RI-01 (registered) IL-01 (college)
please help Japan. click "donate funds" in upper right and then "Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami." http://www.redcross.org/


Wow
this article really makes me want to vomit: http://www.boston.com/news/loc...

Mostly because of this part:

"I respect Martha Coakley and what she's accomplished in her career. But I think she's going to preserve the status quo," Kidd said. "Scott Brown can take us to the next level ...  [Brown] is going to decrease my taxes and get rid of all the wasteful spending that Deval Patrick has done. Cutting taxes fuels the economy, not charging more taxes and spending it on social programs."

Can someone explain to me how that makes ANY sense at all? You want to take Scott Brown away from his job at the state level and give him a job at the federal level so he can stop state-level spending? Like wow, this is almost as bad as "get your government hands off my Medicare."

21, dude, RI-01 (registered) IL-01 (college)
please help Japan. click "donate funds" in upper right and then "Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami." http://www.redcross.org/


The American people
are the best argument against democracy out there

[ Parent ]
(Cross-post:) 2009 Dem own-by-town primary data wanted
(Sorry for the cross-post.)  I'd like 2009 primary town-by-town data to compare to Coakley/Brown results and per-town turnout from today's election.  See http://swingstateproject.com/d... and post there on this topic for clarity please.

Thanks for putting this together
  Crisitunity! and David and, Miss Laura (Clawson) for FP'ng at DKos. My favorite thing is analysis of Elections results and projecting from returns on Election night and this is a big assist. Luckily I've got one parent who is a Native of Mass. (Worcester), and so I'm familiar with the voting patterns and demographics.

Of course Coakley needs a.)Large Turnout, b.) Turnout in the Urban areas.
Hopefully her stint as Middlesex County DA will be of help and hopefully the Capuano Primary Voters will turn out to prevent a Brown-R win. Almost hard to believe this is close given her approx. 73% win in 2006.
Well, at least this one is interesting!!
Cheers! (Waves at James)

(-8.50/-7.44) "Real Democrats don't make promises they can't keep." Dr. Howard Dean


Nice to see you again!
Glad you enjoyed the map and charts!

[ Parent ]
Hey Dude
I luvz my maps and charts. I called a Brown win after I saw full results from New Bedford & Lynn, those were my key Cities in projecting.

And, Brown was doing better than Romney (2002) in those Blue-Collar working class old factory towns.
Was not a good sign, then the Boston Precincts..ugh

Hope all is well with you & yours, I'm just handing out at the "Orange Satan", check out my photoblogging if you get a chance, that is 99% of what I post.

Cheers,Ed

(-8.50/-7.44) "Real Democrats don't make promises they can't keep." Dr. Howard Dean


[ Parent ]
Small nitpeckery..
Fitchburg, listed in the "Around Springfield western mill towns", isn't really around Spfld.  It's in the center of the state, in Worcester county, which tends to be one of the least Dem leaning parts of the state, though Fitchburg State College is obv in Fitchburg, so perhaps it does lean more Dem than the rest of Worcester county.

Great analysis nevertheless.

Middlesex county, of which Martha was the DA for years, was indeed the key that allowed Martha to win the primary.

I looked for primary data.  Do you have it?  I imagine she did well in Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire counties as well during the primary because she is from North Adams in Berkshire county, but Middlesex was the key; it had to be.

I still have my fingers crossed.  I hope she wins.


Sorry, probably
should have had a comma in there (western mill towns, and blue-collar suburbs around Springfield). It's up in the north-central part of the state. I actually have fond memories of Fitchburg; I saw a few great concerts at the municipal ice arena there, most notably Jane's Addiction with Lush. (Although maybe most notable for apparently catching chicken pox at the show.)

[ Parent ]
No, I'm sorry...
Now when I read it, it is perfectly fine (after you pointed out the "mix" and the "and"...lol...my bad.

I guess maybe because the other towns Agawam etc are indeed close to me here in Hamshire county (plus my sister went to Fitchburg State AND she's a staunch Republican, even elected to some office in NY so I was probably just trying to naturally distance myself from Fitchburg..lol).

Good work.


[ Parent ]
Fitchburg was actually recently featured in a New York Times article
Regardless, I'm not happy with Fitchburg thanks to this election. FSC will always be Framingham State College to me. :)

21, dude, RI-01 (registered) IL-01 (college)
please help Japan. click "donate funds" in upper right and then "Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami." http://www.redcross.org/


[ Parent ]
This is geek candy.
Straight up. Nicely done, a reminder of why I keep coming back to this site.


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