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  • Arlo Hatcher

Massachusetts State Elections: Democratic Gains, Progressive Losses

This year, the focus of electoral politics was the presidential election between Joseph R. Biden and Donald J. Trump. While the presidential stole the spotlight, much happened at the State level. As a result of the Massachusetts State Elections, the Democratic party is set to hold at least 127 seats of 160 available seats in the House of Representatives and 36 seats of 40 available seats in the Senate. This matches the number of seats held by the party in both houses last year. However, many votes are still coming in and several elections have not been called yet. Currently, Republican incumbent Dean Tran is down by about 1% against Democratic challenger John Cronin in the Worcester and Middlesex Senate race. More House results are still up in the air, with races yet to be called in the 3rd (Worcester), 5th (Plymouth), and 7th (Hampden) districts. Democrats currently lead in the 3rd and 7th district races, while Republican incumbent David DeCoste maintains a 2% lead in the 5th district race.

This election certainly went well for Democrats, who have, at the very least, not lost any seats. Nevertheless, Massachusetts remains governed by Republican Charlie Baker who maintains the ability to veto legislation. Democrats still have well above the two-thirds majority required to overturn a veto in both state houses, and thus will continue to dominate much of the governing of Massachusetts. However, the party’s progressive wing may not be seeing the same kind of support.

One candidate who attempted to shift the party in a more progressive direction was Teresa English (D), a candidate running in the 22nd district of Middlesex against the Republican incumbent Marc Lombardo. English ran a campaign as an insurgent progressive trying to take down a long-standing republican incumbent. However, she narrowly lost in a 55%-45% race. The race was in an overwhelmingly Republican district, making this a closer margin than expected. Even still, the trend of moderates in Massachusetts politics does not bode well for the progressive wing of the party. This trend was echoed in the presidential primary election, where moderate Joe Biden took down the highly progressive Bernie Sanders as well as progressive Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on Super Tuesday, a time when the race was very much still contested. While progressives asserted that it was a result of ticket splitting (having two defensible progressive candidates against one moderate one, thereby splitting the progressive vote), it is also possible that the state may not be as progressive as once thought, as English’s defeat indicates.

Another example of moderate ideologies in the democratic base of Massachusetts is the failure of Question 2, a ballot measure which would incorporate ranked choice voting (RCV) for all races in the Commonwealth. For those unfamiliar, RCV is a system where instead of voting for a single candidate, voters list candidates in order of their first-choice, second-choice, third-choice, etc. When the votes are counted, initially all the first-choice votes are tabulated. If a candidate wins 50% or more of first-choice votes, then they are elected. If no candidate has a majority, then the candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes has their votes redistributed among voters’ second choice. If a candidate now has a majority, then they win. If not, then the votes are redistributed among the candidate with the next fewest votes. This process is repeated until one candidate has a majority. While not an explicitly progressive concept, many progressives have endorsed the system as a way to avoid the institutional difficulty of voting for the “lesser of two evils.” For instance, if a voter prefers a third party candidate but does not want their vote to “go to waste” against a less desirable major candidate, they can rank the third party as #1 and their preferred major party as #2. This way, if the third party loses the election, third-party voters will not believe that their vote cost the “lesser of two evils” candidate the election. This has been championed by progressives as a way of allowing for greater representation of third parties, but the measure’s defeat shows that voters might not be ready to embrace progressive politics quite yet. The measure lost in a close race (55%-45%) and turnout was extremely high this election, with many voters only caring about the presidential race. In this light, it is possible that many voters did not know what RCV was and voted no as a result.

Overall, this election saw many Democratic victories, despite being disappointing overall for progressive candidates, which could be an indication of the commonwealth trending in a more moderate direction. However, it could also be a by-product of a high stakes election where people seemed to prioritize just one thing: deciding the next President of the United States. State politics remains equally as important and will continue to change by the time the next election rolls around.


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