by Frank Schnittger
Wed Jan 20th, 2010 at 10:31:36 PM EST
Now also available in Orange and on Boo.
The received wisdom in mainstream US political discourse appears to be that Martha Coakley lost the Massachusetts special Senate election (to replace Ted Kennedy) because Obama's policies were too liberal even for the most liberal state in the Union. The US people, even in Massachusetts, it is said, want Obama to go back to the centre and govern in concert with moderate Republican and Democrat legislators.
I'm not usually all that enamoured of polls which appear to be designed to confirm a particular thesis, but the Research 2000 poll of Obama Voters in Massachusetts still makes compelling reading. Obama won the state with 62% of the vote in 2008, so how could Martha Coakley lose a seat which had been held by Ted Kennedy with such distinction for so long? This poll attempts to find out why.
Research 2000 Massachusetts Poll Results
The Research 2000 Massachusetts Poll was conducted for three organizations -- the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, and MoveOn.org -- on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 after polls closed in the special election for Senate.
500 Obama voters who did NOT vote in the special election were asked one set of questions. 500 Obama voters who DID vote -- and voted for Republican Scott Brown -- were asked another set of questions. Each has a margin of error of 4.5%.
2774 Obama voters from 2008 who voted Tuesday were reached -- of which 2274 (82%) voted for Democrat Martha Coakley and 500 (18%) voted against her.
Research 2000 is a reputable pollster, and the results appears to present clear evidence that Coakley lost because the vast majority of Obama voters felt that Obama had not been radical enough in pursuing his agenda and either stayed at home or voted for the Republican candidate in protest. So lets start with those Obama voters who switched their vote to the Republican Candidate:
Obama voters who voted Republican. Key Findings:
- Obama Voters who voted for Brown supported the Public Option by 82% to 14% but opposed the Senate's health care plan by 48 to 32%. Those who opposed the Senate plan were asked whether they opposed it because it went too far, or not far enough. 23% opposed it because it went too far, and 36% because it didn't go far enough. Thus even Brown voters thought the Senate proposals much too timid by a clear margin.
- More generally, a 57 to 31% majority of Brown voters did not think Obama was delivering enough of the change he promised during his campaign and a 37 to 15% majority felt that Democrats were not doing enough to challenge the Republican policies of the Bush years. Remember, these are the voters who just voted for a Republican candidate!
- 48% of Brown voters felt that the economy was very important in deciding how they voted, compared to only 32% for health care reform. Brown voters felt that Brown better represented their concerns on this issue than Martha Coakley by a margin of 25 to 13%. When given a choice of tightening Government regulation on Wall street or decreasing Government spending as a means of improving the economy, they opted for tightening Government regulation by a 43 to 25% margin and a 53 to 14% majority stated that such actions would make them more likely to vote Democratic in 2010.
- When asked whether Democrats in Washington were on their side, or on the side of the Lobbyists, a 47 to 23% majority said they were on the side of lobbyists. A 52 to 23% majority felt that Democrats hadn't really changed how Washington works, and a 51 to 31% majority felt that Democrats' policies were more focused on helping Wall Street than main street.
Thus large majorities of Obama voters who voted for Brown felt that health care reform had not gone far enough, that Obama had not delivered enough of the change he had promised, had failed to regulate Wall street effectively, and were too beholden to lobbyists.
Obama voters who stayed at home. Key Findings:
- A 49 to 37% majority of Obama voters who didn't vote in the Special Senate Election felt that Obama and the Democrats were not delivering enough of the change they had promised in the 2008 campaign and a 39 to 12% majority felt they weren't challenging Republican/Bush policies enough.
- A 43 to 34% majority opposed the Senate health care reform proposals (53% because they didn't go far enough, and 8% because they went too far). 86% supported the public option, and 55% opposed the Mandate to require American to buy health insurance from Private companies (i.e. without a public option).
- A 26 to 9% majority felt that Coakley better represented them on economic issues than Brown, but this obviously wasn't enough to sway them to go out and vote. Stronger regulation of Wall Street would make them more likely to vote Democratic by a 56 to 5% margin and a 46 to 21% majority would opt for tighter regulation rather than reduced taxes as a means of improving the economy.
- Similar majorities (to those that voted for Brown) also favoured the notions that Democrats in Washington were too much on the side of Lobbyists, hadn't really changed how Washington worked, but were almost equally divided on whether Democrats favoured Wall Street or Mains Street.
Massachusetts isn't representative of all of America, and a Special election in January isn't the same as a general election in November. You can take issue with how some of the questions were framed, but overall I think the poll was a fair attempt at trying to discover whether those people who voted Obama in 2008 but had stayed at home or voted Brown in Jan. 2010 did so because the Obama administration had been too liberal, or not enough.
The resounding conclusion has to be that it was because they were disillusioned with the Obama/Democratic administration because it had not done enough to promote radical reform in health care, the economy, and the way in which business is done in Washington.
I have to say that the logic of voting for (even a relatively liberal) Republican in response to that disillusion escapes me, but then politics is as much about emotions as it is about rationality. Scott Brown may have been a very marketable candidate but it is hard to believe that the Obama voters who voted for him (or stayed at home) could not but have been aware that voting for even a liberal Republican is to put the Obama administration's current strategy and legislative program in peril.
Obama simply hasn't delivered on his promises to them, and if the Democrats are to win the 2010 midterms in the North East, they are going to have to take that message on board. The question is whether they can do that without losing everywhere else. In a divided nation, those who attempt to straddle the middle tend to get shot down from both sides.
Obama's attempt to address the unpopularity of the Wall Street bail-out obviously came too late to effect the out-turn in Massachusetts. The question is whether he can now do enough (with a 59 vote senate majority) to turn things around before November. The price of raising peoples hopes is that to are judged on those raised expectations.