Watch the Gateways Cities in the Massachusetts Elections

Voters in cities like Chelsea, Fall River, and Lawrence are one of the big reasons Dems have been successful in recent elections.

One of the big reasons Massachusetts Democrats have been especially formidable in recent years is the increasing mobilization of people in so-called Gateway Cities—and especially in those parts of the cities where reliably Democratic voters live conveniently packed together: black voters, Hispanic voters, young progressive voters, union-household voters, old machine-politics voters.

In 2010, the voter activation efforts in those cities were a big difference between Martha Coakley losing to Scott Brown in January, and Deval Patrick beating Charlie Baker in November. They weren’t the difference between winning and losing—other, bigger forces were at play—but it mattered.

Take just six of those cities in particular: Chelsea, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, New Bedford, and Pittsfield.

Overall, nearly the same number of people cast votes in both elections that year—between 2.2 and 2.3 million. But in those six cities, turnout rose more than 10 percent, from around 74,000 to nearly 83,000.

More importantly was who voted in those cities, which we know in part by how they voted. Yes, in part there were vote-splitters, even in those cities, who voted for Brown out of dissatisfaction with how Democrats were handling the economy, and then felt better enough by November to vote for Patrick. But there were a lot of solid, loyal Democrats who simply didn’t show up for Coakley, but were pulled to the polls for Patrick.

The result was Patrick getting a net gain of more than 33,000 votes, in just those six cities, over Baker, where Coakley had a net gain of just a little over 17,000 over Brown. That’s nearly a doubling of the advantage, in elections decided statewide by fewer than 150,000 votes.

And those were overall 5- and 6-point victories for Brown and Patrick. Today’s election, which looks like it will be roughly in the same total turnout range, could, possibly, be decided by far less than 100,000 votes.

Baker has done a good job wooing Gateway City votes, and he won’t get totally blown out—in fact, if trends are going as polls recently suggest, he could do quite well in many of them.

But there are still lots of precincts in those cities where almost every extra voter is going to be a net positive for Coakley. Keep an eye on those Gateway Cities, both for the total turnout and the margin of victory. That’s what I’ll be watching.


David S. Bernstein
David S. Bernstein David S. Bernstein, Contributing Editor, Boston Magazine david@davidsbernstein.com