POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Further on Massachusetts Ballot Question 2

by David Trumbull -- November 30, 2012

One of the most liberal States in the Union, in an election in which the Democrats at the top of the ticket won by comfortable margins, narrowly defeated physician-prescribed suicide. Let's examine the data from the election and see what they may tell us about the voters.

1. Working class Democratic cities opposed Question 2.

The top 15 (by population) communities account for 30% of the total population of the Commonwealth. Question 2 was defeated in 10 of these communities: Brockton (63.8% opposed), Fall River (63.1%), Haverhill (53.8%), Lawrence (69.4%), Lowell (57.6%), Lynn (59.2%), New Bedford (62.5%), Quincy (54.1%), Springfield (65.5%). and Worcester (58.7%), by large margins. In Boston it barely (51%) passed. 26 municipalities account for 40% of the population of the Commonwealth; Question 2 was defeated in 20 of them.

The cities where Question 2 was defeated are, generally speaking, those that, historically, had large Catholic immigrant populations (French Canadians, Italians, Poles, and Portuguese) or substantial recent immigration of Catholics and conservative Evangelicals (Brazilians, Cape Verdeans, and Hispanics). They are also among the poorer communities in Massachusetts. Some of the cities most opposed to Question 2 also had sizeable African-American populations.

In the United States Senate election these communities most opposed to Question 2 went heavily for liberal Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Moderate Republican Scott Brown carried one of the top 15, and 5 out of the top 26. He was not even competitive in most of the rest of them. The cities populated by more affluent professionals, Brookline, Cambridge, and, Newton, also went heavily for the Democratic candidate, however they went equally heavily in favor of Question 2.

2. Many, but not all, Republican-leaning towns and small cities opposed Question 2.

Of 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth 166 had vote totals on Question 2 that were majority opposed. Once we look past the largest communities, find 156 small to medium sized communities where Question 2 was defeated. Scott Brown won 133 of them. These communities are among those that traditionally have supported Republicans and are among the more conservative in an otherwise liberal State.

My hypothesis is that Question 2 was defeated in part due to a competent organized opposition and the nature of turnout on Election Day, as driven by the candidates for the two major parties. Strong candidates from both parties and a hotly contested race brought high turnout. The large Democratic turnout for Ms. Warren in the cities may have brought to the polls a large number of economic liberal/social conservative voters in blue-color immigrant cities. While that also brought large numbers of social liberals to the polls in affluent cities and suburbs, the strong Republican support for Mr. Brown in the smaller more conservative communities may have brought out offsetting economic and social conservatives in those municipalities.