The small, north-eastern state of Massachusetts, famous for its seaboard and cultural references through history, is also something of a US anomaly in that it is one of four states to be considered a “commonwealth”, a term representing the democratic values the state holds, empowering everyone individually to act for the common good.
Historically the state is left-leaning, and as with most liberal states, is known for its progressive policies and bold politicians. In fact, in 2003 Massachusetts was the first to legalize same-sex marriage. Additionally, the state has a greater than average percentage of individuals holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher (42.9% compared to the national average of 39.4%) and prides itself on being a bastion of outstanding educational institutions, financial services and biotech companies. The latter is a particularly booming industry in the state, with a total of 40,000 jobs in 2018, an increase of 10% from 2017.
Holding 11 spots in the electoral college, Massachusetts is neither irrelevant nor of overwhelming importance in terms of weight, added to which with its political history – Hilary Clinton winning over Donald Trump with 60.98% of the vote at the last election – it is a fair prediction that Joe Biden will take the vote this year. Its importance, therefore, perhaps lies more in the fact that it is a useful case study in terms of extrapolating out the concerns of the local, largely white, educated and professional voter, usually Democrat-leaning, and taking this into a broader national context to understand the current hopes and fears of this sector of the electorate.
Massachusetts was the first and only state to implement required health care, a passionate action that still shows in voters’ concerns today. Given the history of health coverage in the US, a strong health care plan is a huge component of what most voters in Massachusetts look for in their candidates. Biden, predictably, seeks to build on Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), lower medicare to the age of 60, reform prescription drugs, among other related healthcare legislation. His stated interest is to create a government plan for all, which is very similar to what Massachusetts began to achieve in 2006. Trump, on the other hand, has tried to repeal the 2010 ACA multiple times since his election, additionally backing funding cuts to federal programs such as Medicaid. With healthcare remaining a passionate issue amongst citizens, these dual policy inflections attract voters to Biden just as they dispel from Trump.
Climate change follows as the other leading issue Massachusetts’ voters deem important, a further issue which leans the electorate to the Democrats. Whilst not overwhelmingly an issue which is front and center for candidate Biden, he does at least promise a plan involving reforming energy and gas emissions, aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. On the other hand, perhaps unsurprisingly, President Trump’s environmental history and future plans are not as appealing for the typical environmentally-minded Massachusetts voter.
The issue is not just one of emissions, however, as the current President has been vocal about blocking or amending numerous existing environmental acts, where wildlife conservation and the renewables energy industry are among the issues that would be negatively impacted. In contrast to the federal perspective, the current Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) requires that state agencies take feasible actions to minimize their harm on the environment and takes individual responsibility for their actions – all state agencies being subject to regular MEPA review.
With the election now just over two months away and polling citing Biden up 59.7% against Trump at 26%, there is little doubt that Massachusetts is hardly a battleground or swing state. Notwithstanding, the Democrat-supporting demographic in the state does give broader clues as to where battles will be won and lost in other states, in particular in terms of voter turnout, now an amplified issue given the COVID-19 pandemic and USPS (United States Postal Service) funding concerns currently playing out in Washington. Biden needs to energize that section of the electorate, in particular among female voters, and get turnout high, an issue firmly on his running mate Kamala Harris’ priority list.
Massachusetts’ rich political history and strong, established values as a “commonwealth” make it something of beacon for a particular brand of US liberal; whether the rest of the country will move to mirror these ideals on November 3rd will depend at least in part of the Massachusetts-esque voters in other states getting out and making the difference. Current polling suggests they will, but as has been seen before where Donald Trump is concerned, polling is only a thin measure of what is really happening on the ground.
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