It turns out that the prospect of Boston electing a woman of color as mayor for the first time was more exciting to pundits and observers than to the voters themselves.
Despite new and expanded early voting options, only 108,000 of the city’s 438,000 registered voters turned out for Tuesday’s preliminary election to choose among a field of diverse and accomplished candidates. The number of raw votes cast actually fell short of the last preliminary election without an elected incumbent, in 2013. And because of the increase in the city’s population and voter rolls since then, the turnout percentage fell even further, from 28% to a dismal 25%.
But while the turnout fell short of 2013, the result was similar in some ways. Three Black candidates, including acting Mayor Kim Janey, were shut out of the final in favor of two women from more heavy-voting corners of the city: Michelle Wu from Roslindale by way of Jamaica Plain, and Annissa Essaibi George from Dorchester. In 2013, voters whittled a historically diverse field down to two white men from the same traditional voting strongholds: John Connolly from West Roxbury and the eventual winner, Marty Walsh from Dorchester. The next mayor of Boston will be a woman of color, but the city’s Black community remains on the outside looking in.
Wu and Essaibi George were the two at-large city councillors in the race, and they were the top two finishers for at-large in 2019. It appears their experience running city-wide benefitted them, although their respective maps show different paths into the final. Wu, as polls predicted, came in well ahead of the rest of the field, with a third (33%) of the vote. She won or tied for first in 124 of the city’s 255 precincts and came in second in another 72.
Essaibi George’s 20% of the vote, meanwhile, was more concentrated in the city’s most reliable-voting neighborhoods: Dorchester, South Boston, West Roxbury, and parts of Roslindale and Hyde Park. She won or tied 54 precincts and came in second in 38. Our pre-election poll, for Priorities for Progress, showed Essaibi George would benefit most from a lower-turnout election dominated by consistent municipal voters. That appears to be exactly what propelled her to second place. In precincts she won, the average turnout was 32%, higher than the precinct average for any of the other four candidates.
Essaibi George’s challenge in the final round will be growing her vote beyond these reliable strongholds. The preliminary results suggest that effort will be a heavy lift. Looking at all precincts, including those won by other candidates, Essaibi George finished above Wu only in the 54 she won, plus three won by Kim Janey. Wu was preferred over her in every other precinct won by Janey, Andrea Campbell, or John Barros. Wu, meanwhile, came in second in all but one of Essaibi George’s precincts.
These results track with the findings of our pre-election poll, which found Wu was the preferred second-choice of most other candidates’ voters. Wu finishing ahead of Essaibi George in most precincts would seem to suggest she is better positioned to pick up support from candidates who didn’t advance to the final round. Wu received more support from the city’s people of color, both in pre-election polls and in the actual vote tallies, while Essaibi George’s support was more concentrated in the white areas.
District 4 City Councilor Andrea Campbell finished just behind George, with a near identical voter tally to Janey. But the results maps shows they took very different paths. Pre-election polls suggested Janey was losing support in the final weeks of the campaign. In the end, she drew strong support from a broad swath of majority-minority precincts in the heart of the city: Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park. Janey won 68 precincts outright, more than Essaibi George. But because turnout was lower in Janey precincts — 21% compared to 32% where Essaibi George won — Janey reaped a smaller number of votes from these victories.
Andrea Campbell, meanwhile, won only seven precincts outright (and tied one with Wu). But she came in just ahead of Janey in the vote totals by running second in 108 precincts spread across the city. Campbell was the runner up in majority-white precincts Allston-Brighton, the Back Bay, Downtown, and Jamaica Plain, as well as in many of the majority-Black precincts that Janey won. Her support varied much less than Janey’s did between precincts that were relatively more or less diverse.
Looking ahead to the final, there is only one poll out so far and it more or less reflects these assessments. Wu starts out in a strong position, with a broader group of voters potentially supporting her candidacy. But as 2013 showed, a lot can happen between now and the final election in November.