Inside The Numbers: Breaking Down The Senate Returns

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Statewide results from the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.
Statewide results from the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.

The numbers in Tuesday's U.S. Senate election were extraordinary on all counts. More voters showed up at the polls than in any non-presidential general election in Massachusetts since 1990. And when they did turn out, 52 percent of voters cast ballots for Scott Brown, the first time in decades that the liberal state has elected a Republican to federal office.

WBUR's Steve Brown breaks down some of the most interesting numbers from Election Day.

While Tuesday's turnout was great for a special election, it was still off considerably from the November 2008 election, when Massachusetts went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.

A little over 3 million people turned out in 2008. On Tuesday, 2.2 million people cast ballots, so 800,000 people stayed home. That's just about what Secretary of State William Galvin predicted — he predicted 2.2 million at the top end of the scale — but, still, that fewer number meant a fewer number of people that would be voting for Martha Coakley.

The Candidate Strongholds

Martha Coakley was expected to win in the cities and Scott Brown was expected to do well in the suburbs. They did what they were supposed to do, but it was Brown's margin of victory in the suburbs that gave him the edge.

In some of the key communities where John McCain beat Barack Obama in 2008, Brown improved on those numbers. Take the town of Middleborough, for example. McCain beat Obama 51 to 48 percent there. Pretty close. But Brown got almost 70 percent of the vote there — much better than McCain did. Only 30 percent of voters in Middleborough backed Coakley.

Even in many communities where Obama had a narrow victory over McCain, Brown blew Coakley away. In Weymouth, for example, Obama got 53 percent of the vote in 2008. On Tuesday, Weymouth went red, giving Brown 61 percent to Coakley's 38 percent.

Conversely, while Coakley did win as expected in the large cities, her margin of victory wasn't as big as it needed to be to make up for Brown's wins in the suburbs.

Take the largest city, Boston. Obama got 79 percent of the vote there in 2008, to McCain's 19 percent. On Tuesday, Coakley got 69 percent of the vote in Boston — 10 percent less than Obama did — to Brown's 30 percent. So she lost ground there.

Not only that, there were 80,000 fewer voters in Boston on Tuesday compared to 2008.

In Worcester, Brown only finished 4 points behind Coakley. Back in 2008, Worcester went overwhelmingly for Obama, 67 to 30 percent.

The Lesson For Campaigns To Come

It's pretty clear that you don't need to win the big cities of Massachusetts to get elected, Scott Brown proved that Tuesday, so long as you can post a pretty good margin in the suburbs.

These are numbers that Gov. Deval Patrick --  along with challengers Charlie Baker, Christy Mihos and Timothy Cahill — will be analyzing for months.

This program aired on January 20, 2010.

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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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