GovernorDeval Patrick (D)
SenatorsJohn Kerry (D)
Paul Kirk (D)
- 10 D
- 1 through 10
It would be a city upon a hill, John Winthrop wrote of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that his fellow Puritans were building, an example to the entire world. And Massachusetts, in the nearly four centuries since, has always assumed that it has a lot to teach others. The Puritans’ austere creed taught that only the elect would be saved and that they must extirpate the forces of Satan—Indians, Papists, tolerationists. For 150 years, New England was partial to learning, but it also was insular, hostile to outsiders, and economically stagnant. But after the American Revolution, the international war between royal Britain and revolutionary and Napoleonic France allowed New England’s ship owners to cross enemy lines to become the world’s leading merchants. They made vast profits and invested the money in textile mills, then railroads, then coal mines and steel mills, providing much of the capital that made industrial America.
Massachusetts remade the country in other ways. Intellectually, New England flowered in the 19th century, more than 200 years after Plymouth Rock. Writers from Boston, Cambridge, and Concord—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry David Thoreau, John Greenleaf Whittier, Nathaniel Hawthorne—created an American literature and popularized an American philosophy. Hawthorne was as far away in time from the Salem witch trials as he is from us. Demographically, New England Yankees surged across the continent. Long blocked from upstate New York by mountains and the British-Iroquois alliance, they only reached Syracuse in the 1820s. By the 1850s, they were in Iowa, Kansas, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and by the 1870s in Los Angeles. They helped found the Republican Party and did much to start—and win—the Civil War. They planted their economic system and their values, articulated in the McGuffey Readers, across the continent.
In the meantime, Massachusetts itself and Boston, the hub of the universe, were being remade. The Irish potato famine of the 1840s and an imploding economy sent Irish immigrants across the Atlantic, and many came to Boston, looking for work in the mills, docks, and factories of Massachusetts. Yankee Protestants had seen Catholics as their great political and cultural enemy since the 17th century, and they felt that their commonwealth was under siege. As Catholics became a majority, first in Boston and then statewide, Protestants feared that the Irish would use their political clout to ladle out government jobs and benefits to their own—and the Irish had a much better flair for politics than an instinct for commerce. But they encountered such bigotry and rejection by the Yankees that even as successful an Irish Catholic as Joseph Kennedy abandoned Boston for New York in 1927. Politics in Massachusetts for years was a kind of culture war between Yankee Republicans and Irish Democrats, an argument not so much over the distribution of income or the provision of services as over whose vision of Massachusetts should be honored, and whose version of history should be taught—an argument not unlike the battles being fought between cultural liberals and conservatives today.
Sometimes, the stakes were concrete—control of patronage, command of the Boston Police Department—but more often they were symbolic. Yankee Republicans tended to back activist government programs: public works and protective tariffs to help business; the Civil War and Reconstruction to help suitably distant oppressed people such as Southern blacks; uplifting (and productivity-enhancing) social movements such as temperance. The Irish found the 19th-century Democratic Party and its philosophy of laissez-faire more congenial. The Irish had come from a place where the government was the enemy, and they didn’t want government spending money to help the rich or to stimulate commerce. They also didn’t want government to restrict immigration, to advance blacks (potential competitors in the labor market), or to ban alcohol.
The Irish and Catholic percentages rose slowly over the years. Yankees had smaller families, moved west, intermarried with people of immigrant stock, and lost their Yankee identity. The Irish mostly stayed put, raised large families, and maintained their Catholic identity. Slowly but surely, Massachusetts moved from being one of the most Republican states to one of the most Democratic. Economically, early-20th-century Massachusetts progressed little. The descendants of the Yankees who had been so venturesome in the early 19th century became cautious investors in the early 20th. The predominance of the textile mills in their home state meant that for a century beginning in the 1820s, Massachusetts imported low-skill labor and exported high-skill people. As textile mills started moving south in the 1920s, Massachusetts started exporting low-skill people as well. From the waning of Yankee authority until the national rise of the Kennedys, Massachusetts seemed to run out of things to teach the rest of the nation. The state’s Yankee Republicans were backward looking, out of power in Washington, on the defensive at home, and without a cause to champion. The Irish Democrats, not least the Kennedys, were hostile to Franklin Roosevelt’s pro-British internationalism and were receptive to the anti-Communism of the very Irish Sen. Joe McCarthy.
Then came the Kennedys. Rose Kennedy was born in 1890 (and died in 1995), the daughter of John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, who was elected to Congress at age 31 and was mayor of Boston in 1906-07 and 1910-14. Her husband, Joseph Kennedy, was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the 1930s and ambassador to the Court of St. James from 1937 to 1940. He was Catholic and uncommonly rich, and he was a shrewd and ruthless political operator. Their only residence in Massachusetts after 1927 was their summer home in Hyannis Port. In 1946, Joseph Kennedy moved his oldest surviving son, John, to Boston, and helped steer his election to the U.S. House that year, to the U.S. Senate in 1952, and to the presidency in 1960. With their elegant manners, charm, and great achievements, the Kennedys seemed like royalty to the Irish Catholics of Massachusetts. And Catholics across the country, 78% of whom voted for John Kennedy, greeted the Democrat’s election in 1960 with great pride. Joseph and John Kennedy were, on many issues, conservative or skeptical. But JFK’s administration was increasingly, even before his untimely death, identified as liberal. His example and that of his brother Edward Kennedy, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, moved Massachusetts Catholics to the left. At the same time, the leftward direction of the state’s elite campuses in the 1960s influenced Massachusetts Protestants. The universities also provided the basis for a surging high-tech economy, to the point that Massachusetts started importing high-skill people even as it exported those with low skills.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Massachusetts, with one interval, had the most liberal governance and outlook on national politics of any state in the country. It was the only state to vote for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972 and, although it voted twice for Republican Ronald Reagan, the son of an Irish Catholic, its Democratic percentage in presidential contests from 1968 to 1988 was 53%, just 0.4% behind Rhode Island and well ahead of every other state. During that span, it elected to the Senate Edward Kennedy, liberal Republican Edward Brooke, and Democrats Paul Tsongas and John Kerry. Liberal governors such as Republican Francis Sargent and Democrat Michael Dukakis vastly increased spending and endorsed policies that helped sink Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign, notably the law that granted weekend furloughs to prisoners sentenced to life without parole. As historian David Hackett Fischer points out in Albion’s Seed, the mind-set of the settlers remains strong even when the ethnicity of current residents is far different, and the spirit of the Puritans, the faith that they had much to teach the rest of the world, is strong in Massachusetts liberals: in the smug liberalism of Michael Dukakis, the hearty liberalism of Edward Kennedy, and the combative liberalism of John Kerry.
Then, in the early 1990s, Massachusetts had a momentary political revolution. The 1980s “Massachusetts miracle” had turned into a curse, as the state’s economy sagged badly, as defense cutbacks sent unemployment rising, and as high-tech firms like Wang and Digital withered and Cambridge-based Lotus’ software was eclipsed by Microsoft’s. The Northeast real estate bubble burst, and Massachusetts banks foundered. The state government essentially went bankrupt. In 1990, as Dukakis retired as governor, voters embraced big tax cuts and elected Republican William Weld in his place.
Four different Republicans held the governorship for the next 16 years. Weld favored a government that taxed and spent lightly, that was friendly to gay rights, that exerted some effort to protect the environment, and that was tough on crime. Referenda limiting taxes and Weld’s sharp spending cuts reduced the burden of government, and the state’s private economy began recovering. Re-elected with 71% of the vote in 1994, Weld later left the state, but his basic approach prevailed, with variations, under his successors—Paul Cellucci, who took office in 1997 when Weld resigned; Jane Swift, who took office in 2001 when Cellucci resigned; and Mitt Romney, who was elected in 2002. But they were able to reduce the cost of government only so far. The biggest policy innovation was the health care plan passed by the Legislature and supported by Romney in 2006. It required all residents to buy health insurance, levied taxes on employers who do not provide it, and subsidized it for low-wage earners. Romney argued that universal coverage would reduce the need to provide free care to the uninsured.
The Massachusetts economy sagged noticeably after 2000. The state held its own in competition for high-tech and defense industries, but it showed little growth even as the nation’s economy surged. Massachusetts experienced a net out-migration of nonimmigrants of some 298,000 people between 2000 and 2008; this migration slowed as the economy perked up in 2006 and 2007, only to be smacked down by the national recession in 2008. Most who left were young, many were professionals, and many were unable to afford Massachusetts’ high housing costs. They have been only partly replaced by about 212,000 immigrants, about half of them Brazilians. Massachusetts has many descendants of Portuguese and Azorean immigrants, and the Brazilians have evidently been attracted to the most Lusophone part of the United States.
At the same time, the cultural liberalism that Weld championed has prevailed. Weld was one of America’s first politicians to endorse gay rights, and he appointed Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, who pushed through the 4-3 decisions in November 2003 requiring the Legislature to give gays equal marriage rights. When the Legislature declined, the judge in May 2004 declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry. A short-lived stampede of same-sex couples to clerks’ offices began: Some 2,500 same-sex marriages occurred the week after the court’s decision but only 1,700 took place in the next six months. Romney opposed the decision, and state House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a Democrat, pushed the Legislature in 2004 to vote 105-92 to send to the voters a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and endorsing civil unions.
But under the Massachusetts Constitution, the Legislature must vote for an amendment twice before it goes on the ballot. In the 2004 Democratic primaries and in the general election, opponents of same-sex marriage fared poorly, while Speaker Finneran was ousted by Salvatore DiMasi, a same-sex marriage backer from the gentrified North End of Boston. Signatures were gathered for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but throughout 2006, DiMasi refused to let it come to a vote. After Romney sued to force the Legislature to act, the Supreme Judicial Court unanimously concluded that it was required to vote, but said it couldn’t compel it to do so. Same-sex marriage advocates made gains in the 2006 elections, and opinion seemed to accept a change that was already occurring without notable disruption. In June, the state House voted 151-45 against the amendment, five votes shy of the 50 needed to place the measure on the ballot. Once again, there were lessons to be learned from the Massachusetts experience. Courts in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Iowa, as well as the Maine and Vermont Legislatures, had legalized same-sex marriage by May 2009. The California Legislature and the New York Assembly also voted to do so. However, more than 40 states, stunned by the Massachusetts court’s decision on same-sex marriage, have gone the other way and passed statutes or constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage (as California did in 2008). Their actions make it harder for these states to follow Massachusetts’ example if opinion shifts, as the attitudes of young voters in most of the nation suggests it will, in the Bay State’s direction.
The continuing allegiance of Catholic voters (still a majority, according to the 2008 exit poll), the cultural liberalism of the Yankees and university elites, and the out-migration of Bay State natives who are not similarly minded has made Massachusetts one of the nation’s most Democratic states. With Deval Patrick’s 56%-35% victory in 2006 over Romney’s lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, Democrats now hold all six statewide offices, all 12 U.S. House and Senate seats, and 176 of the 200 seats in the state Legislature (whose official name is the Great and General Court). Republicans failed to contest six U.S. House seats and 154 state legislative seats in 2008. The state voted 62%-37% for John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president in 2004, and 62%-36% for Democratic nominee Barack Obama in 2008. In recent elections, the most heavily Democratic parts of the state have not been the blue-collar wards of Boston (they’re mostly either gentrified or heavily African-American or immigrant), but the university towns such as Cambridge, the Berkshires, and the college-rich Pioneer Valley in the west, and variously fashionable resort areas such as Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Provincetown. The most heavily Republican (or less Democratic) areas are what political scientist Robert David Sullivan called the “Offramps”—towns near the Interstate 495 ring road and “cranberry country” in Plymouth County and Cape Cod; working-class Worcester County in the center of the state; and high-income Essex County in the northeast.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
Over the last 11 presidential elections, Massachusetts has been the most Democratic state, giving Democratic nominees on average 56% of the vote. It was Bill Clinton’s best state in 1996, Al Gore’s second best state in 2000, John Kerry’s best in 2004, and Barack Obama’s sixth best in 2008 (after Hawaii and Vermont, and barely behind New York, Rhode Island, and Illinois). What is also striking about Massachusetts is how many serious presidential candidates it has produced over the last three decades: Edward Kennedy in 1980, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Paul Tsongas in 1992, Kerry in 2004, and Mitt Romney in 2008. Only California and Texas have produced more serious candidates over that period, but they are the No. 1 and No. 2 states in population, respectively, while Massachusetts is now No. 15, having recently fallen behind Washington and Arizona. Some credit must be given to New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary: The state is just north of Massachusetts and most of its residents receive Boston television stations. But even more credit must go to the hyperpolitical culture of Boston. Only Chicago seems as preoccupied by its local political figures, but for half a century, until 2008, that Midwestern city didn’t share Boston’s confidence that one of its own was capable of national leadership.
Obama received 61.8% of the vote in Massachusetts—slightly trailing Kerry’s 61.94%, which is understandable given the latter’s home-state status. Obama did particularly well among young voters (78%) and women (68%; Massachusetts has a big gender gap). There’s evidence in the exit poll of a split between the university elite and the private-sector affluent. Obama carried those earning more than $100,000 by only 50%-47%, while he won those with postgraduate degrees 69%-29%. Married voters with children voted 58% for Obama, but they made up only one-third of the electorate; the others voted 70% for Obama.
Massachusetts’ presidential primary has long been held in early March and was once the scene of great commotion. It produced victories for native sons Dukakis, Tsongas, Kerry, and others. In 2000, it voted solidly for Democrat Gore and Republican John McCain, as many independents reregistered as Republicans. Candidates contesting New Hampshire always buy time on Boston television stations, which reach of much of the Granite State (most of the cost does not have to be charged against the low limit on spending in New Hampshire), and so their ads are widely seen in Massachusetts.
In 2008, Massachusetts voted on Super Tuesday, February 5, and it was one of the few states where polls showed close races in both parties. Obama was endorsed by Gov. Deval Patrick, Kerry, and U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano and Bill Delahunt. Sen. Edward Kennedy gave a rousing welcome to Obama at a rally the night before the primary in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. But Hillary Rodham Clinton also had her Massachusetts supporters, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Barney Frank, and Stephen Lynch. And, as in New Hampshire, she had the support of downscale Democrats. While Obama carried the university towns, she carried the mill towns. She won majorities from Latino and Jewish voters, in a state where each of those groups outnumbers black voters, who overwhelmingly backed Obama. Clinton won 56%-41% in a turnout of 1.2 million voters.
Far fewer people, 500,000, voted in the Republican primary. Many Massachusetts Republicans are liberal on cultural issues, and Romney’s turn to the right on those issues earlier in the election season may have produced a backlash. His two predecessors as governor, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift, endorsed McCain of Arizona. Romney won, but by just 51%-41%. And because Massachusetts Republicans, unlike those in many other states, didn’t have a winner-take-all rule, his delegate haul was minimal, while McCain on the same day was harvesting delegates in winner-take-all states such as New York, New Jersey, Missouri, and California.
|111th Congress: 10 D|
Massachusetts’ convoluted congressional district lines deserve their own biographer, someone with a sure political instinct and a touch of whimsy. This is, after all, the state whose Gov. Elbridge Gerry gave his name to the term “gerrymander” in the early 19th century. The state lost two seats in the 1960 census, and one each in 1980 and 1990.
It survived the 2000 census without losing another seat, but it will likely lose one in the 2010 count. And that will mean a Democratic loss. The last time a Republican won a U.S. House seat here was in 1994; although the 5th District had a close special election in 2008, no Republican seems likely to win in 2010. (And if one did, he or she would probably lose out in the redistricting to follow, which would affect the 2012 election.) Demographics suggest that western Massachusetts, where population growth has been minimal or negative, will lose a seat, but the final decision will likely be a battle royal. The two most senior members of the delegation, Edward Markey and Frank, hold important committee positions that the state would not want to lose. The permutations and combinations—and the machinations of Beacon Hill politics—make predictions hazardous.