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Let me be clear: this isn't a strategy diary. I don't have time for that, and I think we're in the usual hand-wringing mode anyway. This diary compares Massachusetts town-level results for Obama in 2008 and Coakley last night to ask, more or less: where did Coakley lose? Did "the base" do her in?

Well, she lost everywhere -- but, in percentage terms, she ran almost as strong as Obama in the places where he did best. And turnout didn't kill her, either. It looks to me like the swing voters (or at least the swing towns and cities) swung against her. Follow me for a few pictures and numbers.

Last night's vote counts are from the Boston Globe; 2008 results are from Dave Leip.

First up: Coakley's vote shares compared with Obama's.
Coakley by Obama
A quick tour: each circle represents a town or city; the larger the circle, the more votes cast in the place. The horizontal axis gives Obama's vote share in 2008; the vertical axis gives Coakley's. The dashed line represents equal vote shares; the solid blue line is an Ordinary Least Squares best-fit line, which fits pretty well. (Weighting by size doesn't make much difference.) The purple circle is Boston; I've named two other places where Coakley underperformed.

Notice how the best-fit line is fairly close to the dashed line on the right side, but not at all close on the left side. Basically, this indicates that Coakley's vote shares were relatively close to Obama's in the places that were real Democratic strongholds, but where Obama did not run as well, she was further behind him. There is more to the story, but that is where it starts.

What about turnout? Was the turnout in Democratic strongholds brutally bad? Not really. If we use 2008 turnout and Obama vote share to "predict" last night's turnout, Obama vote share does have a negative coefficient. That result means that turnout tended to be disproportionately low, compared with 2008, in the places where Obama did best. The turnout gap between places where Obama got 80% of the vote and where he got only 50% of the vote -- controlling for turnout in 2008 -- is 4 or 5 points. Here is one way of looking at that relationship, called a conditioning plot.

turnout coplot
Each panel of the plot shows the relationship between 2008 turnout (horizontal) and last night's turnout (vertical) for one subset of Obama vote shares ("p_obama"). The bars at the top indicate the p_obama ranges. For instance, the panel at lower left is for Obama vote shares below about 53%; the bottom center panel is for vote shares between about 49% and 55%; at the other extreme, the panel at upper right is for vote shares over about 65%. The red lines are Lowess "smoothers" (rather like the ones on charts). If you look closely, the red lines drift downward somewhat as Obama vote share increases, but not very much.

Another way of looking at this question is to ask: how would Coakley have done if turnout last night had been the same as in 2008? That is, in each place, I reckoned Coakley and Brown's vote shares, multiplied by total votes cast in 2008, and added up the totals. The result: the simulated losing margin given 2008 turnout is almost identical to last night's losing margin, very slightly under 110,000 votes. Of course, more votes were cast in 2008, so the percentage margin in the simulation is smaller, about 3.5% instead of 4.9%. But that's a pretty small difference, compared with the nasty slant of the best-fit line in the first plot.

So, for what it's worth, it doesn't appear to me that low turnout (and/or defections) among the "base" killed Coakley; it looks more like swing voters swung against her. Note, however, that we can't tell anything about individual voters or non-voters here; we're just looking for clues based on town/city-level results. If, for instance, you want to argue that the people I'm characterizing as "swing voters" here damn well ought to be part of the base, maybe you're right. This is by no means a complete analysis, just food for thought.

Originally posted to HudsonValleyMark on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 06:35 AM PST.


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Comment Preferences

  •  do beware the Cambridge Syndrome (7+ / 0-)

    In terms of partisan predispositions, Kossacks are something like Cambridge, or Provincetown, or Amherst (where I spent some happy childhood years). We tend to evaluate the campaign, the election results, the Obama administration, and everything else accordingly.

    But Martha Coakley didn't lose because of Cambridge, or Provincetown, or Amherst. She tanked in places like Worcester (which she still won, but barely). I'm not saying anything about strategy. I'm just suggesting to count to 10 before believing what we say about strategy.

  •  Yeah (5+ / 0-)

    She lost Lowell.  I grew up in Lowell, it's always been blue, but that ConservaDem blue.  Clearly they are now vulnerable to the swing as well.

    Mike was right: Rep. Capuano Tells Fellow Dems: 'You're Screwed'

    This race needed a street-fighter to be competitive. Someone as pissed as the electorate.  We didn't have that.

    Earns no money here for blogging, commenting, or driving traffic to any web site.

    by mem from somerville on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 06:41:38 AM PST

  •  thanks for some solid (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    information.  As you pointed out, it doesn't tell us much at the individual voter level, but it does exclude some points from being major factors.   Most of what I saw last night was theory and strategizing and no facts.  I need some facts for analysis, I don't like leaping blind to support conjectures with no facts.

  •  Why? (0+ / 0-)

    Why did the Dems loose the Mass. seat?

    Because they're not running
    against what the repubs did, and didn't do, when they controlled
    congress nor for the six years they controlled all of Washington and
    the three following where they've Obstructed any movement forward for
    the Country! One needn't even run negative advertising, just dig, and
    not hard, into the public records and the public media

    Just give real answers as to all the lack of legislation, oversite, sweet dealings, investigative hearings, the list can go on and on. Stop running against the individual and remind the braindead what went on to bring us to today and for the next couple of decades!!

    Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.--Martin Luther King Jr.

    by jimstaro on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 06:46:07 AM PST

  •  An interesting analysis would be (0+ / 0-)

    the outcome had turnout in Martha's urban strongholds matched Brown's suburban ones.  That state turnout was 54%, but Martha's towns underperformed and dragged the average down.  Boston had 43% turnout.  Cambridge and Somerville came in right at the statewide average.

    Pro-Brown towns tended to garner 60-65% turnout, and there were a hell of lot more of 'em than Martha got.

    Nevertheless, the result seemed to validate the concept of focusing on voter registration and turnout in the urban centers, cos that's where we're letting a lot of Democratic votes go uncast.

    •  But the Pro-Brown towns tend to be smaller (0+ / 0-)
    •  opens several questions (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Urban turnout generally runs low. I don't have a really good measure of "urban" for this dataset right now, but distinguishing between cities and towns, average city turnout was 9.5 points lower in 2008, and 11.1 points lower yesterday.

      Just based on experiences elsewhere, I would guess that a good part of that is due to voter mobility, and no political strategy or GOTV operation on earth will close the gap. (Based on a quick look at the numbers of registered voters, the MA rolls look cleaner than some I've seen.)

      But beyond that, some people believe that those inactives would turn out in force if they thought Democratic candidates had something to offer them, and some are very skeptical. Democrats (and others) have been arguing about that for at least as long as I've been following politics.

      I think it makes sense for GOTV to go after urban votes, but I doubt that closing the turnout gap is an adequate strategy in itself.

      To answer your question, I think, I did another quick sim where I basically assumed that all registered voters (as of 2008, the numbers I had on hand) voted. Using the same town/city vote shares, Coakley still lost by 2.2 points. Of course one can argue that the people who come into the electorate would break sharply Democratic, and there are always the unregistered voters. But it's a tough row to hoe.

      •  Yeah, definitely agree (0+ / 0-)

        that Boston and the inner ring suburbs wouldn't have saved Martha in this election, but it's a shame to leave, by my rough estimate, 40k votes uncast in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

        More shocking, Revere and Winthrop went strongly to Brown. That boggles my mind, since I don't think Scott Brown will represent those residents in any way, shape or form.

        •  just one thing I want to underscore (0+ / 0-)

          You pointed out that Boston's turnout was 11 points below the state average. The same was true in Nov. 2008 (62% vs. 73%). I went back to 1988 -- the last time MA was competitive in a presidential election, and you might reasonably expect the party machine to be at full throttle -- and it was basically the same (69.8% vs. 80.5%). I haven't checked the competitive 'midyear' elections.

          I agree with you that it's a shame to leave all those votes uncast. I'm just putting it in some historical perspective -- and I wanted to be sure, since before I lumped the cities together, and because there's that Rec List diary about how the eastern Dems didn't unite behind the western Mass. candidate. Maybe not, but I'm not sure that it made much difference.

          In case you're curious, Revere and Winthrop are almost exactly on the best-fit line, sort of in the middle of the cloud (with Obama shares a bit below 0.6). So in a sense they are perfectly representative of Coakley's troubles.

  •  Easier way of seeing some of this data: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  2 sources - Dem party infighting AND (0+ / 0-)

    Pres. Obama's bipartisan theory to get government going again didn't work - voters wanted government to work for them not gridlock they thought that was the change they were going to get.....

    government still not working - anger - swing voters

    My Mom is a Democratic machine operative in Boston - here's her explanation {MA Dem party infighting}
    by catlover72

    Martha Coakley’s failure is a symptom of a larger problem {bipartisan theory didn't work}

    Oil & oil services dictates when, how the nation decides to go to war. The cabal is more powerful than government yet only government can stop them.

    by anyname on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 07:27:07 AM PST

  •  2008 vs 2010 (0+ / 0-)

    Sorry I don't buy this for a second. The raw vote data by city and town between 2010 and 2008 is clear. The McCainiacs of 2008 +5% right leaning indies who switched/came out carried Brown. I'll bet my house that 95% of the McCain voters still alive in 2010 voted for Brown. The TO % in the exurbs/suburbs were not far off 2008 and Browns totals reflect the McCain =% in most of them.

    Intensity and therefore turnout told the story completely. The base was angry at Obama and depressed TO in every suburb/exurb and lets be honest here, no Obama on the ticket meant minorities bailed out in droves.

    The narrative of a Mass sea change to Brown is complete crap. He had an intense voter pool from 2008 to draw on simple as that.

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