Democracy is breaking out all over Massachusetts

The Topline

2018 was supposed to be the year of blockbuster match-ups in Massachusetts. The de facto leaders of both parties are running for reelection, offering the prospect of bruising contests for both Senate and the Governor’s office. Instead, the two main event races are blowouts so far, while a bevy of interesting and important elections are taking shape elsewhere. These other contests could impact voters’ pocketbooks, bring competition to our sputtering congressional and legislative politics, and spark debate about reform to key parts of our state government.

Both Governor Charlie Baker and Senator Elizabeth Warren are running away with their respective reelection contests. Our WBUR poll out this week finds both incumbents leading their potential general election opponents by 34 to 39 points. Those challengers remain unknown to large majorities of voters statewide. Election Day is still 7 months away, but something fundamental would need to shift to provide challengers with the jolt of energy they need.

The action appears to be further down the ballot. Several key ballot questions could make multibillion dollar differences to the state budget and change economic realities for residents across the state. The State Supreme Judicial Court appears poised to decide the fate of the so-called millionaire’s tax ballot question within weeks. Backroom negotiations on the sales tax, paid family leave, and the minimum wage are contributing to the palace intrigue. Complicating the dealing is the fact that all three are supported by majorities of voters. Whether or not a settlement is possible, the ballot questions have already brought attention to issues of economic inequality and workers’ rights in the state.

Meanwhile, a growing number of primary candidates are bucking the state’s penchant for unopposed reelection campaigns. This is true in congressional elections, where there are four Democratic primaries, up from none in 2016.  A very diverse field of more than a dozen candidates are running for an open seat in the Third Congressional District. In the First, Seventh, and Eighth Congressional Districts, women are challenging longtime male incumbents.

The surge of women running for office all across the country seems likely to bring progress on a long-needed rebalancing toward a more equal representation. That includes in the state legislature, where Democrats are challenging other Democrats in ways some longtime insiders find impolite and hard to understand.

There is even unexpected competition for often-overlooked positions, like District Attorney. The surprise retirement of Suffolk County DA Dan Conley has created an open race. The Democratic incumbents in Worcester and Middlesex counties are both facing primary challenges from the left, all but guaranteeing an ongoing debate over sentencing practices and other criminal justice reforms. In Plymouth County, Republican DA Timothy Cruz is facing a general election challenge from John Bradley, who is currently an independent but says he may switch and run as a Democrat.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin also finds himself with both primary and a general election challengers, a prospect which seems to have initially irritated him greatly. The Democratic candidates are already discussing reforms meant to expand ballot access, even as a nationwide debate roars over voting rights. Meanwhile, Republicans have posted challengers for each of the state’s constitutional offices, other than Auditor.

And while the grownups are lacing up their canvassing shoes, the kids are giving us all a refresher in grassroots advocacy, marching and organizing their way toward making a real political difference on gun regulation. The WBUR poll shows most voters support both the students actions and their policy goals. None of the specific policies they are proposing are new, but their media and political savvy, combined with their unignorable passion, are forcing the powers that be to take notice.

To be sure, we remain some distance from perfection. The state legislature is in a bit of turmoil. Sexual harassment and assault allegations have cost the Senate its leader and led to a shocking display of spontaneous debate in the House. Meanwhile, the House has abolished term limits, allowing Speaker Robert DeLeo to serve basically indefinitely. And there are still many, many races where incumbents are unopposed as of now.

But the burst of democratic activity suggests people are setting out to change policies, and possibly their representatives, each in their own way. That’s a healthy thing, and the way it’s supposed to be. We thought the focus this year would be at the top of the ticket; instead it seems to be coming from the bottom up.


This week’s WBUR poll covered a lot of ground, and spawned several stories:

  • So does Gov. Charlie Baker, although his job performance numbers are less stellar than his overall favorability.
  • And in an ambitious crossover event, The Horse Race jumped over to Morning Edition to discuss Baker, Warren, and the new tax law, which is still viewed skeptically in Massachusetts.

Speaking of The Horse Race, last week we recapped some of the developing topics we’ve covered since starting the pod, namely the race for the third congressional district and the rising tide of women in Massachusetts politics. The episode also looked at the literal rising tides in our first “storm politics” segment.

This week, we took a detailed look at WBUR poll data for the senate race and gun policy, and spoke with a representative from Our Revolution Massachusetts on their emerging political power.

The Crosstabs

FiveThirtyEight puts Trump’s approval rate at 40 percent, disapproval at 53 percent. They also have the generic ballot with Democrats at 47 percent, Republicans at 41 percent.

A recent NBC News/WSJ poll has the generic ballot farther apart, with Democrats holding a 10 point lead.

Pew is out with a major new report on changes in political affiliation. Perhaps the biggest change has to do with education, where Democrats are gaining college-educated voters but losing those without college degrees.

Read more…

Meet The Authors

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

Rich Parr

Senior Research Director, The MassINC Polling Group

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