How Massachusetts Voters Turned Out for Elizabeth Warren

Minority voters—and more voters in general—helped Warren do what Martha Coakley couldn't.

It wasn’t that long ago that Scott Brown seemed invincible. After improbably capturing Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat and becoming a national celebrity—not to mention Saturday Night Live fodder—he carefully calibrated his votes so as to not offend Massachusetts moderates. Last night, though, Elizabeth Warren laid the hammer on him, knocking him out of the Senate in a 54-46 percent blowout. While there’s no doubt that the polls were tilting against Brown late in the race, we were all expecting a close tally, not an early night call. So what changed from that magical day in January, 2010, when Brown defeated Martha Coakley?

For starters, a lot more people voted. Turnout for that special election totaled 2.25 million. Yesterday’s turnout is looking like it’s going to ring in around 3.1 million. Most important, though, is where all those extra voters came from. In the 2010 special election, the count in Boston was Coakley 105,544, Brown 46,575, out of a total of 153,827 votes. This time around, Warren won 74 percent of the city’s 247,464 ballots, racking up nearly 80,000 more votes than Coakley did. So while turnout in Massachusetts increased from the 2010 special election by about 37 percent, in Boston, it increased by 60 percent. (The nearly 100,000 additional people who showed up this year represent one-sixth of Boston’s total population!) Obviously, there’s going to be more interest in a presidential election than just a senate one, but there’s another big difference between 2010 and yesterday: While Coakley did notoriously little outreach to minority communities, Warren campaigned aggressively for their vote. She was also obviously helped by sharing a ticket with Barack Obama.

The trend in Boston holds in other minority heavy cities and towns. In Lawrence, where Warren got 79 percent of the vote, turnout more than doubled from the 2010 special election, going from 9,909 to 21,713. In Chelsea, where Warren took 76 percent, the number of voters also doubled, from about 4,000 to 8,000.

Here are the counts for some other minority heavy towns, and how much their turnout increased from that 2010 special election. Remember, the average turnout increase for Massachusetts was 37 percent:

  • Somerville: Warren wins 80-20, turnout increase of 51 percent.
  • Everett: Warren wins 64-36, turnout increase of 57 percent.
  • New Bedford: Warren wins 70-30, turnout increase 57 percent.
  • Lowell: Warren wins 59-41, turnout increase of 64 percent.
  • Lynn: Warren wins 65-35, turnout increase of 70 percent.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but the trend is pretty clear. Coakley failed to reach out to minorities and, in 2010, many of them stayed home. (In fairness, though, Coakley failed to reach out to pretty much everyone). Warren courted minorities and, with a little help from Obama, they came through for her. Maybe the lesson here is that, given the nature of his 2010 win, Scott Brown was never as invincible as we thought he was.