Author Archives: Maurice T. Cunningham

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.

The Scott Brown-Barack Obama Correlation

Is there anyone whose political fortunes are more tied to President Barack Obama than Scott Brown? According to Joshua Miller in the Boston Globe today, Scott Brown riding an anti-Obama wave in N.H.  Obama played a large role in electing Brown in Massachusetts in 2010, Obama atop the ballot helped usher out the Scott Brown Era in Massachusetts in 2012 (and Brown himself out of Massachusetts), and Obama’s unpopularity may help usher Brown into yet another Senate seat in 2014.

Before we get back to New Hampshire though, le me return again to what really mattered in 2010. No, it wasn’t Martha Coakley’s supposed gaffes.

My University of Massachusetts at Boston colleagues Tom Ferguson and Jie Chen produced a working paper for the Roosevelt Institute, 1,2,3, Many Tea Parties that offered a much more likely explanation for the Democrats’ demise in 2010 than Coakley taking the days around Christmas off: the failure of Obama and the Democrats to address the economic devastation being felt by American working and middle-class families.

Posted in Mass Politics, New Hampshire Politics, U.S. Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

We’re Not Data Points. We’re Citizens.

Wilson Carey McWilliams was a wonderful political scientist and one of the best political essayists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. His tools of analysis were not statistical computations but his education in classical liberalism, his understanding of thinkers from Aristotle to de Tocqueville and beyond. Every four years he contributed an essay on the meaning of the presidential election, which were eventually collected into a book titled The Politics of Disappointment: American Elections, 1976-1994. I’ve been re-reading it lately.

I can’t imagine what Prof. McWilliams would make of “Big Data.” Not much I guess. He didn’t write of dependent variables and crosstabs. He wrote of the soul of democracy and the experience of the citizen in a democracy that seemed to be inexorably drifting away. So let me offer some of the thoughts of the late Prof. McWilliams on how the citizen experienced the campaign of 1988. I’ll then see if I can’t contribute something to his thoughts as musings on where we find ourselves in 2014.

Posted in Mass Politics, U.S. Politics | Tagged | 2 Comments

Polling as a Commodity in a Saturated Market

Before last week’s mini-controversy over the inaccuracy of media polls fades and we lustily return to our media-prescribed diet of several polls a week perhaps we should ask, what do we need these polls for, anyway? Or, do the interests of the citizenry align with that of the media?

Posted in Mass Politics, Political Analysis in the Media | Tagged | 4 Comments

Coakley and Baker: What the Speeches Mean

Although politics is often represented as a mean and low undertaking it is essential to our common lives together. Entertaining yes, but in the higher sense of presenting the citizens with contrary views of what our lives might be like and especially, how to get there. In that regard the stylized set-piece of primary night speeches might offer few clues of the higher meaning of politics. Still, there are insights to be had.

Posted in Mass Politics | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Primary Misgivings

Primary day dawns with misgivings about what we know and why we think we know it. We will apparently not be lacking for new polls as the election season continues or debates among the leading candidates. But how well is the media equipped to carry out the gatekeeper function it proclaims for itself? Thus far the business driven entertainment imperative has often overtaken the information function.

Posted in Mass Politics | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

What John Cook and John Walsh Mean for Democracy

The candidates are churning to the primary finish line and have even come to the attention of a few sentient voters. Yet candidates may not be the most important people in their parties. The Boston Globe’s Stephanie Ebbert contributed an excellent piece in last week’s “Capital” on John Cook, perhaps the most important man in the Massachusetts Republican Party: he’s the GOP’s Fundraising Guru.

That caught my eye because in a 2012 HuffingtonPost article my colleague Professor Ubertaccio declared then Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh The Most Important Person for Democrats in Massachusetts.

I’m sure Cook and Walsh are very important people but their true importance is in what they symbolize for the conduct of American politics. It’s bigger than either of them. And it goes to whether we have a true democracy or not.

Posted in Mass Politics | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

From the Archives: Lincoln and Religion

Even on vacation I think of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It beats the latest polling news, which I don’t get anyway.

Religion in Politics: It’s Not the Certainty, It’s the Doubt

One of the most fascinating columns I’ve read in some time is from the Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh, his Gay Marriage: A Look Back After 10 Years.  He vividly recalls the turmoil at the State House as conservatives fought to overturn the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision. Lehigh especially decried “fanatics and fundamentalists” “who believed they had a direct line to God.” It’s enough to make many of us wish religion would just go away from American politics.

Posted in Political Science, U.S. Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Archives: The Coakley Media Narrative

Prof. Cunningham is on vacation but has left behind some favorite posts from the archives. Read on to consider that Martha Coakley’s 2010 mistakes did not cost her that race but could cost her this one.

The Stumbling and Bumbling Martha Coakley

coakleyMartha Coakley, this time you’ve gone too far. When the Boston Globe ran an article in which Democrats fretted that you are a political bumbler and fumbler, my colleague Professor Ubertaccio rose to your defense.  I made fun of the Democratic knee-knockers too. Then in The Myth of Martha Coakley’s Mistakes I argued that the AG’s fumbles and bumbles didn’t really impact the 2010 special election loss to Scott Brown.

So how does the AG thank us? With this, from Frank Phillips of the Globe: Martha Coakley’s Campaign Funds in Disarray.

I’ll continue to maintain that Coakley’s fumbles and bumbles didn’t cost her the election in 2010. But they might cost her the election of 2014.

That is because the media frame established on Coakley from 2010 is one of an inept politician who commits serial unforced errors. A frame is a window through which we perceive reality.

Coakley seemed to recognize the stark force of the Globe story depicting Democratic insiders as anxious that she could fall apart in a gubernatorial contest.   Even though those experts were wrong that her miscues cost the party the special senate election, the story is strong enough that it had to be addressed. So she set about to combat the notion that she isn’t a hard working campaigner by getting all around the state. She did her mea culpas. She even campaigned outside of Fenway Park, adding to the list of miracles occurring at the lyrical bandbox this year. Her announcement video didn’t offer any reason to vote for her but still, some polls showed her beating the Democratic field and Republican Charlie Baker.

But then along comes the Phillips story in the Sunday Globe revealing that Coakley has so mismanaged her leftover federal campaign account from the senate race that she may have committed “a violation of campaign finance law.” It’s hard to tell if the account is flush or in deficit because the records are so inaccurate. Oh, and one of the individuals paid to oversee the accuracy of the account is Coakley’s sister.

Plus as AG, Coakley has pursued state political figures including former Lt. Governor Tim Murray for campaign finance violations. Naughty naughty Tim.

So in other words, she has completely blown the effort to alter the media frame.

Let’s also remember this bit of inside information from a September 5 Globe story by Phillips and Jim Sullivan, Baker Enters Governor’s Race, Coakley Weighs Bid:

Coakley insiders say she has yet to make a final decision about whether to run, but confirm that much of her decision depends on whether she can assemble a highly talented group of organizers, media consultants, and pollsters.

Organizers, consultants, and pollsters; that ought to do it.

In one piece of good news for the Coakley campaign, Massachusetts has no statewide version of Saturday Night Live. Tina Fey would have a field day.

Posted in Mass Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Globe Poll: So Much Data, So Little Context

Conflict and controversy are marketable media commodities and stability is just plain boooooorrrring. Thus we have Sunday’s Boston Globe story based on the newspaper’s poll showing that if Martha Coakley loses to Charlie Baker in November it might be attributed to disloyal Democratic followers of Steve Grossman.

Posted in Mass Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Massachusetts Madisonianism

Recently in thinking about the Massachusetts legislature I’ve come across some academic arguments that the power of the legislature has deteriorated significantly over the years. These arguments take the long view – legislative dominance from the time of the 1780 Constitution, a draining of power while the executive’s power increased from the early twentieth century onward. Then there is my colleague Professor Duquette’s argument that there is no need for business interests to support Republicans because the Democratic legislature already acts like it is Republican.

The work of these scholars is important in understanding how our legislature conducts the public business. I tend to agree that the legislature’s power has receded some through history, but that it retains enormous power that only a legislature can properly exercise. Moreover in the differences the legislature has had with both Republican governors and the progressive Democrat Deval Patrick a sort of Massachusetts Madisonianism may be at work.

Posted in Mass Politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment