MA Special Election: Media Analysts Predict Majority Will Prove Decisive

The trajectory of the special election for the open US Senate seat in Massachusetts has defied the expectations of both professional politicians and the mainstream media's armies of analysts. Fixated on the imaginary political and ideological color coordination provided by the binary "Red State/Blue State" divide, such strategists and pundits marvel that their totemistic model of political antagonism has failed to predict the particular contours of the race. Ironically, however, this election has demonstrated that what passes for insight, according to the political media's conventional wisdom, is little more than trite tautology. I am referring, of course, to the claim that it is independent voters who cast the decisive vote in American elections. It would be a difficult, if not impossible, task to track down an electoral contest in recent memory where this proposition was not put forward by some analyst, strategist or other.

Though it is often asserted that Massachusetts is a Democratic Party stronghold, the majority of its registered voters are not affiliated with either of the major parties, which is to say, the majority of registered voters in Massachusetts are independent. Were it not for the professional obscurantistism practiced by the political press and the spokesmouths of the duopoly parties, it might not be considered deep insight to assert that the majority of voters will decide a given election. Let's look at a few examples. In the Christian Science Monitor, Tracey Samuelson writes:
Massachusetts has long been regarded as a liberal stronghold, but the special election to replace Sen. Edward Kennedy in the US Senate is showing Massachusetts has a more conservative streak as well. State Sen. Scott Brown (R) is proving to be a major challenge for Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), who was heavily favored early in the race; a poll released late Thursday had Mr. Brown leading Ms. Coakley by 4 percentage points. Brown’s success may have to do with his ability to appeal to independent voters in the Bay State – 51 percent of voters here are unenrolled. [Emphasis added.]

It does indeed stand to reason that a candidate's success would hinge on support from a majority of voters. But don't take a mere reporter's word for it. Boston's NPR affiliate WBUR queried Democratic and Republican strategists about the importance of the majority vote:

With the special general election for the U.S. Senate set for Tuesday, Democratic political analyst Dan Payne and Republican political analyst Todd Domke, in a Monday interview with WBUR, both stressed the importance of independent voters.

USA Today, however, proves to be more circumspect, couching the proposition in the subjunctive. Under the headline "Independents May Settle Mass. Race Today," we read:

Independent voters . . . could be a deciding factor at the polls today, political analysts say. [Emphasis added.]

The decisive independent majority in Massachusetts is also causing polling organizations to account for inconsistencies in their political and ideological metrics. Gallup Polls writes that, "Massachusetts leans Democratic but nearly half are independent." Gallup writes:

As Massachusetts prepares for its high-visibility special Senate election on Jan. 19, a new Gallup analysis shows that the state has significantly more residents identifying as political independents (49%) than as Democrats (35%). The percent identifying themselves as Democratic matches the national average, while the percent independent is well above the national norm. Many Massachusetts independents, however, lean toward the Democratic Party.

As regular readers might recall, I have debunked the myth of the "myth of the independent voter," and emphasized the senselessness of the "leaners" category on more than one occasion. Those who assert that the independent voter is a myth, arguing that the ranks of independents appear inflated because most independents are actually "leaners" or "weak partisans," clearly have some explaining to do. Gallup goes on the defensive:

the majority of Massachusetts' independents say they lean toward the Democratic Party when they are asked a follow up question about their political leanings. This yields the type of Democratic skew in party identification that may be more representative of typical perceptions of the political make-up of the state.

Nonetheless, whatever the outcome of today's race in the Bay State, it is clear that Massachusetts voters have not yet overcome their co-dependent relationship with the Democratic and Republican Parties, as the only independent candidate in the race, Joe Kennedy, appears unlikely to receive even 10% of the vote. However, not voting for Ted Kennedy is a step in the right direction – though we shouldn't be surprised if the late Senator still receives some portion of the write-in vote. The real test of the independent vote in Massachusetts will come this November, in the gubernatorial election, which is shaping up to be a competitive three-way contest between some Democrat, a Republican and Independent candidate Tim Cahill.


Samuel Wilson said...

What seems about to happen in Massachusetts is pure reactionary preventive voting. Bay Staters have been frightened by reactionary propaganda about a health care reform plan that seems to be a bit of a botch anyway, so they're going toward the only power that can prevent the Democratic plan from passing -- the Republican party. In this case, the theoretical desirability of radical health care reform aside, credit belongs to that 3% or so who aren't stampeding to the lesser evil despite alleged pressure from Republicans and have stuck with the Libertarian candidate.

d.eris said...

And the irony is that Brown stands and has stood for everything that these voters apparently (and their supporters nationwide most definitely) denounce: he supported Romneycare, regional cap and trade, abortion rights etc.