Charlie, I Have Good News and Bad News

Things should be looking up for Charlie Baker. He heads into the Republican convention this Saturday with only a Tea Party opponent.  As the five Democratic candidates scramble toward their own convention, one thing is sure: none of them can match the charismatic appeal of Deval Patrick. But then the master of political poetry has endured multiple calamities attending the prose of governing: the Department of Children and Families, the medical marijuana licensing controversy, and now the news that the state is firing CGI, the contractor that bungled the state’s health care connector system. It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good and managerial wizard Baker is poised to take advantage of Governor Patrick’s administrative woes.

Unless it doesn’t matter; and it may not due to the increasing electoral polarization of the country that has resulted in gubernatorial results closely tracking presidential outcomes in each state. That is the case made by Prof. Dan Hopkins of Georgetown University in a post, All Politics is Presidential.

Yes candidates differ, election contexts differ; but here is what Professor Hopkins’ research shows:

despite those differences, the candidates for governor in 2014 share something important in common: From Colorado to Florida, voters are likely to see them as Democrats and Republicans first, and as individual candidates a distant second. In recent years, gubernatorial elections have become increasingly nationalized, to the point where voting patterns in these races bear a striking resemblance to those in presidential races.

Link above to see Prof. Hopkins work including regression analysis of the correlation of gubernatorial to presidential vote in states since 1930 (excluding the “solid south”). The correlation peaked in 2010: “To a surprising extent, 2010’s gubernatorial races looked like a rematch of 2008’s presidential race, albeit with much higher baseline GOP support.” The correlation has increased between gubernatorial and presidential elections in presidential election years as well, but the relationship is even stronger in the mid-term cycle.

Just to refresh our memories, President Obama won Massachusetts by 61%-38% over former governor Mitt Romney.

That seems like a million years ago, however. In the most recent Suffolk University poll, just under 51% of respondents viewed President Obama favorably, while 41% viewed him unfavorably. About 45% thought Obamacare is good for Massachusetts while 40% regarded it as a bad thing for the state. In Suffolk’s last poll before the Brown-Coakley vote in 2010, the president was actually more popular in the state than he is right now: 55% regarded him favorably, 35% unfavorably. In 2010 it is likely that the poor performance of the economy played a large role in Coakley’s defeat; things are better now.

Still if, as Prof. Hopkins argues, voters now see the candidates as “Democrats and Republicans first, and as individual candidates a distant second,” then Charlie Baker is facing very stiff headwinds, indeed.

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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