There weren't many surprises in Massachusetts' election results this year, but there's more to learn from the votes than just the clear-cut wins and losses. Here are three takeaways from parsing the numbers and studying the map of town-by-town results.
Trump Did Not Grow His Support, As Hoped
Massachusetts may not have been in play, but that doesn't mean the Trump campaign ignored the state entirely. Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, the honorary chairman of the president's Massachusetts reelection committee, told me on election night that his team worked hard to grow support here, with the goal of hitting 40%. Trump earned 33.5% of the vote in 2016. With nearly all precincts reporting, Trump's level of support is slightly less than it was four years ago. Even if the president makes up some ground, as the remaining ballots are counted, it is clear that he will not hit the 40% target.
Massachusetts is always a tough state for Republican presidential candidates, but some incumbents have managed to win converts in their first terms. George W. Bush got 32.5% of the vote in 2000, then upped his share to 36.8% when seeking reelection in 2004 — despite running against John Kerry, who was then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Ronald Reagan, the last Republican to win Massachusetts, collected 41.9% of the vote in 1980, then captured 51.2% in 1984.
It appears Trump was unable to expand his local base in the same way.
Markey Is Raising His Profile
Last fall, Sen. Ed Markey appeared vulnerable enough that he drew a Democratic primary challenge. The challenger happened to be Rep. Joe Kennedy, which naturally attracted national attention to the race — and to Markey's record.
Markey made the most of the spotlight. Instead of clamoring for change, progressive voters — particularly young climate activists — rallied to Markey's defense and helped deliver him a double-digit win over Kennedy in September.
As expected, Markey cruised to victory over Republican Kevin O'Connor in the general election. What's notable is the way he ran up the score. With just a fraction of state ballots still outstanding, the senator's margin stands at roughly 33 percentage points. He won by 24 points in 2014 and by 10 points in 2013. (Recall that Markey initially won his seat in a special election and had to run for a full term the next year.)
It looked, in early polling last summer, like Markey might not get out of the primary; now, it looks like he is more popular and better known than ever.
On the phone shortly after Tuesday's result, I asked Markey about raising his profile.
"Well, you know, my goal in introducing the Green New Deal was to elevate climate change, to make it a national issue, to make it a front-burner issue," he said. "And I think that's what happened when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and I put it out there in February of 2019. And then I ran on that."
Mass. Showed Traditional Side, Rejecting Ranked-Choice Voting
Massachusetts may be known for liberalism, but the land of Pilgrims and blue laws has a traditional side, and it showed when voters decisively answered "no" to ballot Question 2.
Though ranked-choice voting is not a strictly partisan issue, the system "has lately gained a reputation as a new, progressive reform," as the New York Times explained in February. Former Democratic congressional candidate Mac D'Alessandro led the campaign to bring ranked-choice voting to Massachusetts, and the idea proved most popular in deep blue pockets like Cambridge and Amherst.
In lighter blue places such as Worcester and Springfield, however, voters were not ready to change the way they cast ballots.
It's a disappointing defeat for the Ranked Choice Voting 2020 Committee, which raised more than $10 million and had to gather tens of thousands of signatures just to get on the ballot.
When I visited the group's Boston headquarters last fall, D'Alessandro pointed to the messy Fall River mayoral race as a case in point for ranked-choice voting. The incumbent at the time, Jasiel Correia, was overwhelmingly recalled while under indictment, yet he was instantly reelected with 35% support because voters who wanted to remove him divided their ballots among four other candidates.
"That kind of vote splitting deprived the will of the majority in Fall River, and it happens in a lot of places," D'Alessandro told me. In a ranked-choice system, Correia might have lost to a candidate who amassed more second-place votes.
Despite having watched Correia cling to power when most of the city wanted him out, Fall River voters rejected the ranked-choice ballot measure by a 26-point margin.
Here's a look at the town-by-town election results in Massachusetts for the presidential race, the U.S. Senate race, and the two ballot questions: