Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Democrats' Conundrum

There's a very interesting article in today's Boston Globe about how Democrats won here in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

Basically, Democratic State Party Chair John Walsh organized campaign volunteers to mount a massive GOTV effort in the waning days of the election. That effort resulted in an overwhelming 800,000 points of contact with Democratic voters on Election Day.

This effort is impressive, and the Democrats deserve credit for pulling it off.

But it also exposes a serious problem for Democrats, something we alluded to in our first post this week. Democrats have a well-oiled political machine, the by-product of being the undisputed majority party in this state for many years. But, their underlying big government platform is out-of-touch with the mainstream.

Massachusetts Democrats might have scored a victory on Tuesday, but they failed to earn a mandate. They used a winning organization to support a losing message. And, in politics, that's a serious problem.

Democrats risk continued vulnerability if they do not moderate their policies, particularly on taxes and spending. If they overplay their hand and continue business as usual, voter frustration will eventually catch up with Democrats, machine or no machine.

Meanwhile, Republicans have an opportunity to build on gains made with Scott Brown's victory and a number of strong (albeit unsuccessful) statewide campaigns this year, not to mention a House caucus that doubled in size on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see how this opportunity is used by GOP officials in coming months.


  1. Why do you say limited government is mainstream?

    Your argument hinges on the assumption that in MA there are more people who want small government - less taxes and less services than we have now - they're just not as motivated to vote as Democrats.

  2. Thanks for your comment. A couple of observations...

    * Pre-election polling noted a persistent attitude that Massachusetts is heading in the wrong direction. Most notably, a Suffolk / 7 News poll just days before the election showed that people overwhelmingly thought the state was heading in the wrong direction (50-39) and that it was time to give someone other than Deval Patrick a chance (49-43), but almost 60 percent were resigned to the fact that Patrick would be reelected. Hence, the GOTV machine Democrats invoked to win.

    * The approval of Question 1 and the strong showing for Question 3 show dissatisfaction with taxing and spending on Beacon Hill. We're not aware of any empirical evidence, but our guess is that if Question 3 had advocated for restoring the state sales tax to 5 percent instead of 3 percent, it would have passed. It's also interesting to see how many communities (including some large ones, with the biggest interest in preserving local services) approved Question 3. Voters are clearly losing their stomach for high taxes used to support voracious state spending.

    The main point is that winning on November 2nd was a great achievement for Democrats, but governing over the next four years will be a bigger challenge. Door knocking and phone calls make you win on Election Day but they don't run the state.

  3. First, of course the Republicans have an opportunity to build. When you start from having no statewide offices, no House congressional seats, and a tiny fraction of legislative seats (4/40 in the Senate) of course they have an "opportunity." The Dems have little opportunity to get stronger, accept for the Scott Brown seat. So this conclusion is meaningless.

    More important, where do you get the idea that Mass Dems are pushing a "big government platform." That's just partisan rhetoric. Our state spending as a percent of income is much lower than the national average. Our 2009 taxes were way below where we were in the late 90s.

    With the exception of health care, spending for the rest of government has gone down in real terms since Mitt left office. The drop in revenue due to the recession was solved mostly by cuts, not new taxes.

    Deval's campaign was able to get the door-knockers out in such big numbers because of the shared values that the volunteers saw coming from the admin. The huge Dem win doesn't "expose a problem," as you say, but points the way for greater success over the long term.

    So if you want your analysis to be taken seriously, start talking about real facts, not truthy myths.


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