Brown-Warren Post Mortem

The network “calls” are all in and we have expensive exit polls as well, all to inform us of what my colleague Professor Duquette has been telling us all along: Democrat Elizabeth Warren would decisively defeat Republican Senator Scott Brown, and there wasn’t a lot Brown could do about it. Henceforth a few observations about what happened Tuesday and what the exit polls tell us about it.

A Republican is in big trouble against a Democrat statewide in a presidential election year instead of a special election and that is what happened to the best politician in the state. Republicans are about 12% of registered voters and according to the exit poll published at CNN they consisted of 17% of the electorate (higher turnout among Republicans is common). Brown won them big of course, but Warren won 89% of Democrats and they made up 39% of the vote. Independents were 45% and Brown won them 59%-41%, not enough.

The win among the Democrats should quiet the “Reagan Democrat” myth for a while. This would be the “working class” Democrats and we have a definitional problem here: is working class low-income or low educated? I’ve argued that the working class should be reviewed by income and the exit has Brown and Warren tied among the 72% of voters with income over $50,000. Ah, but the 28% of voters with less than $50K income broke big for Warren: 61%-39%. Thanks, working class! And if you think working class should be defined by education level, Warren won high school or less voters too, 55%-45%. Warren had an interesting performance by education, winning lower educated and post-grads, essentially splitting some college and college grads.

In addition to reminding voters of her opponent’s party affiliation, Warren tied him to the Republican agenda that she argued harms women. That worked too. Women made up 53% of the electorate and she won them 59%-41%. Brown had been well within single digits in earlier polls. He won men, but by only 53%-47%.

Could Brown have done anything to win this? Probably not. But to build on some advice Scott Lehigh of the Boston Globe had for him the other day, Brown might have announced he would back filibuster reform (better, he should have pushed for it during his term, when he had some skin in the game). He might have said, listen if these crazies Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are in the Republican caucus I’ll find someplace else to go, maybe become an Independent in registration. He could have announced he was reclaiming his manhood by renouncing his pledge to Grover Norquist and making a similar pledge to the people he represents, the citizens of Massachusetts. That raises the question Warren kept skewering him with, how can you vote against tax cuts for 98% of the population as hostage for the top 2%? He never had an answer for why an Independent bipartisan bring-people-together type couldn’t make that compromise. Ronald Reagan would have taken 98% of what he wanted.

More likely fundamental factors in the state doomed Brown to awake on November as the most well-liked politician in the state and an ex-senator to be. Republican is an awful brand in this state. Look no further than Richard Tisei’s defeat against a scandal-ridden Democrat John Tierney in a reasonably competitive district. The Republicans also gave up state representative districts they captured in 2010 and the party is in its familiar state of distress. The party chair is likely to abandon ship, his comically inept babysitting job for Mitt Romney terminating about 12:55 Wednesday morning. The Democrats need to be held accountable in this state but the Federalists (one of my favorites) probably have a better chance of being competitive than the modern GOP.

Take a look at the poll aggregator at Huffington Post. Warren makes a steady climb into contention and by January-February the race is basically in a tie, with minor fluctuations. It stays that way (through the heritage flap which dominated the news but had no impact on the race) into September. After the “traditional” Labor Day start of the campaign (how quaint) Warren’s numbers go up, Brown’s stay flat. That is when she really turned the focus to party and women.

How different is Massachusetts? One exit poll question asked voters if government should do more or if government is doing too much, and Warren won “should do more” with 76%; Brown won “doing too much” with 76%. But 53% of Massachusetts voters said government should do more, only 43% say it is doing too much.

You won’t see those numbers too many other places.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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