Testing the “Right” Candidate Theory

So we’ve begun to have a bit of heated debate here about whether or not the Massachusetts Republican Party should be marching to the tune of Heartland Conservativism. My pointing out that our sixteen years of stewardship in the Governor’s office were all at the hands of moderates drew a predictable response — “and look what we’ve got to show for it” — as though it was the ideology of Weld-Cellucci-Swift-Romney-Healey that caused the downfall rather than the simpler (and more obvious) realization that none of them did the hard work of party-building that was required of them. They governed, they did not lead.

More amusingly, the observation that moderates were the only Republicans who had ever succeeded in winning statewide led one to suggest that I was living in the past and should be put out to pasture. Beyond the hyperbole of such a silly statement, I guess it implies that the demographics of Massachusetts voters have mysteriously shifted right and I had fallen woefully out of touch.

The search for (free) opinion and voter demographic information that would reflect the current statewide voting trends was not a smashing success, but there were some guideposts — the interpretation of which is ripe for a free-for-all, but for the sake of discussion (discussion, not a food fight), here is what I found:

John McCain, the notorious RINO, now is in a statistical dead heat against Barack Obama, the most liberal member of the U. S. Senate. Does anyone want to argue that McCain would be polling better if he were a raging conservative?

A January State House News poll asked respondents to name “the Republican candidate they would prefer to see in the White House if they knew the Republican would win.” The results among identified independents:

McCain   47%

Romney   20%

(Republicans were Romney 38% McCain 20%)

The split on the “right direction vs. wrong track” question was relatively even, 41%-46%. I find this result notable for its evenness, in light of the demonstrably weak performance of Governor Patrick in his first year.

A Suffolk University poll during the 2006 governor’s race showed that a significant majority of voters oposed giving drivers licenses or in-state tuition (67%-25%) to illegal immigrants (65%-24%), and supported a rollback in the income tax rate

The best public opinion survey information I could find (at no cost) was a survey taken of the Cape Cod region in May 2005 by the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass Dartmouth. The survey is notable for a few reasons: First, although not as true as it was in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Barnstable County is still one of the more Republican regions in the state. Second, even at that, the percentage of survey respondents that identified themselves as Republican was higher than their voter registration — so Republicans appear to have been over-represented in the survey. Let’s examine the results:

Gay Marriage

Support   46%     Oppose    38%

Romney Rating

Approve   43%    Disapprove 35%

Military presence in Iraq

Support   50%    Oppose     42%

The most recent poll I can find tracking opinions on abortion is a Survey USA poll from 2005, post-2004 election. It shows Massachusetts as the THIRD MOST PRO-CHOICE state in the country. (The responses were to a simple question:  “On abortion, are you pro-life or pro-choice?”)

Even the majority of self-identified Republicans were pro-choice (53%-43%), and remarkably, 44% of the self-identified conservatives were pro-choice.

Most recently, voters in MA were asked to give their impression of Mitt Romney now, after he has withdrawn from the Presidential race. The voters’ impressions of the new conservative Romney:

Favorable    28%    Unfavorable  44%

Should he run for President in 2012?

No Matter What         16%

Depends                33%

Under No Circumstances 43%

Even the Republicans surveyed were split:

No Matter What         23%

Depends                35%

Under No Circumstances 34%


The point was made in a comment to another post that Ronald Reagan won Masschusetts twice. Indeed he did — in 1980 and 1984, with the significant support of what were called “Reagan Democrats,” core urban, white, blue collar (many union-affiliated) workers — both active and retired. No study has been done on this group since Stan Greenberg’s post-Reagan study, but it’s certainly a safe bet to say that a good many of them are dead (the union retirees from the mid-1980’s). It is also safe to say that today’s urban democrat who is a social conservative (i.e., Catholic) is not going to regard the pro-life, pro-gun McCain as too liberal when stacked up against the most liberal member of the U. S. Senate.

Aside from Reagan, there has been no strong conservative candidate who has come close to winning a statewide election. The most notable Republican primary contest involving a moderate and a conservative is probably the Bill Weld – Steve Pierce contest in 1990. Weld beat Pierce handily — although that probably had as much to do with the presence of Conservative John Silber running against old-school liberal Frank Bellotti in the Dem. primary. Probably the first (and only) time conservative unenrolled voters flocked to a Dem primary to vote for the conservative. But even in that general election race, the conservative John Silber was beat by the urbane moderate Bil Weld. It wasn’t all because of Natalie Jacobsen, either (I realize some of the combatants here were in elementary school at the time).

So I would welcome anyone to provide facts and figures — not polemics or philosophical argument — in support of the idea that a True Conservative can win a statewide race here and now.  

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