Sunday, June 14, 2009

Massachusetts Republicans - irrelevant or ready for a comeback - Part II

The above is an image of the original "Gerrymander" from 1812. I like this one especially as my hometown of Lynnfield is on it!

As discussed in the last posting, Massachusetts Republicans do not have a large presence in the Massachusetts political environment. There are a number of factors that continue to hinder the resurgence of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Historical Democratic Party Identification

Ever since newly arriving Irish immigrants gravitated to the Democrats in the early 1900s, there has been a very strong affinity with many immigrant groups withe Democratic party. The election of Jack Kennedy served to solidify this loyalty. Today, new immigrant groups are quickly politically organized and for the most part are loyal Democratic voters. Traditional immigrant communities (Irish, Italian) continue a strong cultural affinity for Democrats especially in urban areas and blue collar suburbs.

Educational Attainment

Massachusetts has a very high proportion of residents over age 25 with at Bachelors Degree or higher (33% in MA versus the US average of 24% - 2000 US Census data). There have been a number of research studies that suggest that as one's educational attainment increases (especially with post-graduate work) that one tends to become more tolerant and socially liberal. The plethora of institutions of higher education attract many academics who (again demonstrated through numerous polls and surveys) lean to the left and toward the Democratic Party.

Conservatism of the National Republican Party

As discussed in the last post, Massachusetts voters lean decidedly toward the liberal side of the spectrum. This is especially true on social issues. Although many Republicans and Republican officeholders in the state are fiscal conservatives, yet socially moderate the perception (which is relatively accurate) that Republicans are socially beholdent to the Christian Right, makes many voters in Massachusetts have second thoughts about voting Republican. Having the Republican label can be a drag one a candidacy due to generally poor perceptions of the party as a whole.

Advantage of Incumbency

Incumbent officeholders enjoy many advantages over their challengers (when there are challengers which is all too rare!). Superior fundraising, name recognition, media exposure, organization, and experience in winning elections all contribute to the nearly 100% reelection rate of incumbents in Massachusetts.

Lack of a strong "Farm Team"

With all of the hurdles that Republicans face winning election in Massachusetts, talented individuals who aspire to higher office may well run as Democrats (there is a sizable conservative branch of the Massachusetts Democratic Party). Winning candidates need to have appeal, political skills, and a background consummate with filling a legislative or executive seat. All too often the Massachusetts Republicans have run candidates who simply are lacking some of these key elements. One upside for Republican candidates is that it is not difficult to secure a spot on the November ballot since there simply are not many others coveting the same office.

Gerrymandering of Legislative and Congressional Districts

In most states, legislative and congressional districts are drawn by the state legislature every ten years to reflect populations shifts with each US Census. In non-competitive states, it is relatively easy to draw the physical boundaries of these districts to advantage the political party that holds sway in the legislature. This is accomplished by splitting up areas where the opposition party is strong into two or more districts - classic divide and conquer strategy. Areas of strength of the party in power are kept together and consolidated to ensure a majority in as many districts as possible.

Both major parties will do this (Republicans gerrymandered the Democrats out of a number of seats in Texas after the 2000 census) and Massachusetts is no exception. Gerrymandering was born in Massachusetts in 1812 - the term's namesake is Governor Eldridge Gerry who drew a congressional district that looked like a salamander. (The Prof rarely makes editorial comments, but for the record supports the drawing of distictcs via an independent commission and removing partisan legislators from the process)


All of these factors are considerable hurdles for any party to overcome. However 2010 may be one of those rare years where the conditions are ripe for a political comeback of the long down-trodden Massachusetts Republicans. More on this in my next and last posting on this topic.

The Prof

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