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Unenrolled voters in Worcester County could swing MA Special Election


 Downtown Worcester from Franklin St. (public domain)

As the Massachusetts Senate Special Election race enters its final weekend, the race appears to have tightened. How much it has tightened depends on what poll you look at, but the conventional wisdom in Massachusetts (from the analysts) is that this race will boil down to turnout. Low turnout is expected to benefit State Sen. Scott Brown, higher turnout is expected to benefit Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley.

It does appear, however, that perhaps the analysts may have overlooked something; something which may prove to be even more important than turnout.

In 2008, President Obama won the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by a less-than-expected margin of 62%-36%, and that was with a 66.7% turnout for the election. The result was not a surprise, by any means, but couple that smaller-than-expected margin with the fact that Secretary of State Clinton won the MA primary 56%-41% earlier that year, and one might suspect that Massachusetts is a little further right that once believed.

Worcester County has 510,452 registered voters at last count (in 2008), 156,454 enrolled Democratic and 66,466 enrolled Republican, with 283,517 unenrolled. The percentages (30.65% Dem, 13.02% Rep. and 55.45% Unenrolled), are pretty close to the ratio for Massachusetts as a whole: about three to one Democrat to Republican, but a full half of registered voters unenrolled. In the city of Worcester, that number jumps up to nearly 5-to-1, but still close to half unenrolled.

Why is this important? It's quite possible that those 2008 numbers may not reflect the current mood of the Commonwealth, and the numbers within the numbers that may foretell the story of 2010. In Worcester, Obama won the city by a count of 68%-30%, almost the identical total that Sen. John Kerry won the city by four years earlier.

In fact, if there is any change at all from 2004 in most of these cities and towns, it would show a narrowing of the gap between Democrats and Republicans in Democratically-controlled towns, at least in actual voting. This can only mean that the vast Unenrolled voting block not only leans right (which we knew already), but may actually lean more heavily right than we once thought.

Clearly, Coakley is no Obama personality-wise, and Scott Brown is an attractive, personable candidate, which certainly doesn't describe Sen. McCain.

Polls can be unreliable, especially if they skew one way or the other in a partisan way, but in this case, it would not be out of the ordinary to assume Brown does indeed have a groundswell of support. There are half a million votes in Worcester County that occasionally get ignored by those running for office; but Brown's recent visit to the region certainly didn't hurt his case. This may force Coakley to make a trip to Worcester County as well, where she has spent little time to this point.

There are five days until the MA Special Election for U.S. Senate, January, 19th, 2010.

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