Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Over-performance in Fitchburg pushed Tran over the top in Worcester and Middlesex special election

Zephir slightly over-performed compared to a modeled result in most other towns

Republican Fitchburg City Councilor Dean Tran defeated three other opponents, including Democratic Leominster City Councilor Sue Chalifoux Zephir, to replace State Senator Jen Flanagan in the Worcester and Middlesex senate district by a margin of 607 votes (unofficial results).

Tran's victory was mainly due to a staggering 19 point victory in his home city of Fitchburg, which has a strong lean towards Democrats in most elections. Fitchburg has a Partisan Voter Index (PVI) of D+9. Our state legislative regression model predicted a Democratic vote share of 56% for an open seat in a non-presidential year.

Worcester and Middlesex special election results vs. PVI chart

Sue Chalifoux Zephir out-performed the model in most of the other municipalities, including an 11 point over-performance in the much-smaller town of Sterling, and kept it reasonably close in the others.

Zephir would have stood a better chance if she could have built a home field advantage in Leominster, similar to Tran's in Fitchburg, but fellow City Councilor Claire Freda came within range of Tran and Zephir with over a thousand votes, by far Freda's strongest showing in any municipality. It seems that Freda's success in Leominster prevented Zephir from running up the numbers in the largest vote-producing city in the district.

Senator-elect Tran will serve out the rest of the current term and will be up for re-election next November, 2018. He will have the advantage of incumbency, but will face a much larger Democratically motivated electorate in a highly-charged mid-term election.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A look at the Worcester and Middlesex State Senate special election

Another classic swing district special election

There is a special election today to fill the vacant Worcester and Middlesex state senate seat, left vacant by former Senator Jen Flanagan who left to take a seat on the newly-created MA Cannabis Control Commission. There are four candidates vying for the seat: Leominster City Councilor and Democratic nominee Sue Chalifoux Zephir; Fitchburg City Councilor and Republican nominee Dean Tran; Green-Rainbow nominee Charlene DiCalogero; and Leominster City Councilor Claire Freda, who is running as an independent.

The District

The Worcester and Middlesex is a classic swing district with a Partisan Voter Index (PVI) of D+2. While it has been held by a Democrat since 1991, a slightly different configuration of the district was held for many years by Republicans Mary Padula of Lunenburg and Robert A. Hall of Fitchburg.

(Click here for an interactive version of the map.) Worcester and Middlesex Senate District Precinct PVI map

The precincts range from the D+22 Fitchburg 5-B to the R+10 Townsend 1st, which is in the top 20 most Republican precincts in the state.

Worcester and Middlesex District Precinct PVI chart

The cities of Clinton, Gardner, and Fitchburg are fairly blue along with the towns of Berlin and Bolton, while the remaining towns of Lancaster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Townsend, and Westminster, with Townsend leading the way with an overall PVI of R+7.


Democrat Sue Chalifoux Zephir raised and spent over twice as much money as GOP candidate Dean Tran across the pre-primary and pre-election periods, while independent candidate Claire Freda and Green-Rainbow candidate Charlene DiCalogero were off the pace by an order of magnitude.

Worcester and Middlesex fundraising chart

Fundraising and spending are not determining factors, but they are a strong indication of candidate strength.

Special Election

The race is essentially a toss-up in our model, with the slightest advantage given to the GOP in a non-presidential election year without an incumbent, although a Democratic win by 10 points could easily happen within the model's 90% confidence interval.

While 3rd party and independent candidates, on average, play a very small role in most races with Democrats and Republicans winning the lion's share of the votes, they can play an important role when the margins are very small. While I believe that Sue Chalifoux Zephir will dominate among progressives and Democrats, Claire Freda—a well-known Leominster City Councilor—was endorsed by the Fitchburg Sentinel, and has a chance to take some votes from the major party candidates.

The state party establishments have been all-in on this race with every major Massachusetts Democrat putting in work for Zephir, while Charlie Baker has worked hard for Tran, and the state GOP has delivered some last minute attack ads on Zephir in the closing day of the race.

There is no easy pick for the winner of the Worcester and Middlesex special election, with the race coming down to a slight GOP lean in the model vs. strong fundraising by Zephir and a seemingly pro-Democratic atmosphere indicated in several special elections so far this year.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Polls and preliminary data point toward a Walsh victory in Boston mayoral race

A remarkably consistent margin has separated Walsh and Jackson in polls and preliminary voting

All of the public data measuring voter preference in the 2017 Boston mayoral race show a gap in the low thirty point range, pointing toward a large victory by incumbent Marty Walsh over challenger City Councilor Tito Jackson on Tuesday, November 7.

There have been three publicly released polls of the race conducted by MassINC, Emerson, and Suffolk, all showing Walsh/Jackson margins in the 31 to 36 point range. The September 26 preliminary election showed a Walsh/Jackson margin of 33 points.


Preliminary result geography

The precinct-by-precinct results from the preliminary show Walsh winning 210 of 254 (83%) of the precincts.

(Click here for an interactive version of the map.)
Map of Boston preliminary results by precinct

A look at the preliminary results by neighborhood/planning district show Jackson winning Roxbury by 9 points, while Walsh won all other districts with the largest margin coming in at a whopping 71 points in South Boston.

(Click here for an interactive version of the map.)
Map of Boston preliminary results by neighborhood

Walsh had a small victory over Jackson in Jackson's own City Council District 7, winning 51% of the two-way Walsh/Jackson voters.

Given the consistency of the overall margin in the preliminary results and the polls, it would be a remarkable upset and an indication in some serious polling failures if Marty Walsh is not easily re-elected on November 7.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

All signs point to a close outcome in Tuesday's Bristol and Norfolk state senate special election

Bristol and Norfolk is a prototypical swing district

Heavy hitters from the Massachusetts Democratic and Republican parties have gotten involved in the closing days of the special election campaign to take the open Bristol and Norfolk State Senate seat, previously held by Senator James Tmility (D-Walpole). The candidates will need all the help they can get in a district that could easily go to a Democrat or a Republican.

The resignation of Timilty to take the position of Norfolk County Treasurer has led to a scramble by Democratic, Republican, and Independent candidates vying for the open seat in an October 17. The candidates on the ballot will be Paul Feeney, a progressive Democrat from Foxborough, Jacob Ventura, a conservative Republican from Attleboro, and former TV news reporter Joe Shortsleeve of Medfield who is running as an Independent.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker gave his support to Ventura in an October 7 visit to Attleboro, while Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed and canvassed with Feeney on Sunday, October 15. Feeney had a similar event with Congressman Joe Kennedy on September 23rd.

Swing District

The Bristol and Norfolk District, held by Democrat Timilty since 2005, is the definition of a Massachusetts swing district with a PVI rating (an average of the last two presidential races compared to the U.S. average) of D+2. This makes it the fifth-most Republican state senate district in Massachusetts.

There are two Democrats elected in more Republican state senate districts: Marc Pacheco in the 1st Plymouth and Bristol (EVEN), and Anne Gobi in the most-Republican Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, and Middlesex District (R+4). There are three Republican State Senators in more Democratic districts: Patrick O'Connor (Plymouth and Norfolk—D+2), Bruce Tarr (1st Essex and Middlesex—D+3), and Donald Humason (2nd Hampden and Hampshire—D+7).

Our Mass. Numbers regression model, which looks at district PVI and incumbency status, gives an edge to a Democrat in a D+2 race without an incumbent.

The Municipalities

There are seven full towns in the Bristol and Norfolk District—Foxborough, Mansfield, Medfield, Norton, Rehoboth, and Walpole—and parts of the town of Sharon, and the city of Attleboro.

Table of Bristol and Norfolk municipalities including PVI and percent of the vote

The partisanship of the municipalities range from R+6 in Rehoboth to D+19 in the district's Sharon precincts. Walpole provides the most votes in the last two presidential elections, followed by Mansfield, the Attleboro precincts, and Foxborough.

Bristol and Norfolk Precinct Map

(Click to view interactive map.)
Bristol and Norfolks precinct map

Only Medfield and the Sharon precincts are completely Democratic with respect to PVI, and Rehoboth is the only municipality with completely Republican precincts. The remaining municipalities have both Democratic and Republican precincts.

Fundraising and Expenditures

Campaign fundraising strength is another gauge of candidate strength. Democrat Paul Feeney has outraised and outspent his opponents, raising $76,706 and spending $62,365 as reported on the pre-primary and pre-election reports.

Republican Jacob Ventura raised $39,480 during the same period and spent $40,275, while Independent candidate Joe Shortsleeve raised $5,765 and spent only $3,383.

A wild-card on the spending side is a Republican special interest committee called Jobs First, which has spent $22,772 dollars, mostly on attack ads against Feeney, but also on an a positive ad for Ventura.

Turnout/Third-Party Effects

Special elections normally have very low turnout with only the most motivated voters getting to the polls. The demographic of those hard-core voters normally trends towards older and more conservative, giving a bit of an advantage to Republicans. However, this can be exacerbated or overcome by a strong voter contact and get-out-the-vote efforts by candidates.

It is unclear how Joe Shortsleeve, running as an Independent, will impact Tuesday's vote. Shortsleeve is a bit of enigma, having voted for Trump for President, but saying he will caucus with Democrats in the Senate if elected. Shortsleeve was attacked, along with Feeney, in a Republican mailer, seemingly trying to shore up conservative support for Ventura. However, it is unlikely that Shortsleeve will get too many progressive votes if they know that Shortsleeve supported Trump in 2016.

The new Senator from the Bristol and Norfolk District will likely be the candidate who runs the best voter contact and get-out-the-vote operation on October 17. We could very well end up with another 20 or 100 vote nail-biter.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What do you get when you run 20,000 simulations of the 55 contested MA state legislature races?

A few competitive nail biters and a likelihood of similar partisan make-up to today

While the vast majority of recent political coverage has been devoted the U.S. presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there remain critically important state legislative races, which can have major consequences issues like healthcare, education, and the environment.

In Massachusetts, there are 55 contested state house and senate general election races. I created a regression model based on historical election outcomes from 466 contested legislative races from 2004 to the present, and created a probability-based forecast for each race, along with predictions as to the partisan make up of the legislature after the election.

First, a look at the results, followed by a deep dive into the model.

Simulated Results

While we have already seen big surprises in this 2016 state legislative cycle—including remarkable primary defeats of longtime incumbent State Representatives Tim Toomey and Marcos Devers—the range of simulated results point to the likelihood of a Massachusetts House and Senate that is very similar to the status quo.

There are currently 126 Democrats and 34 Republicans in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The model indicates a relatively small chance (29%) that Republicans will pick up one or more seats, an approximately even chance (48%) that Democrats will pick up one or more seats, and a 24% chance of exactly the same partisan proportions as today.

MA House Number of Democrats

The smaller 40 member Senate chamber provides for less variability in the range of seats held by Democrats and Republicans. There is an 85% chance that Democrats will keep the same number of seats or add, while only a 15% chance of Senate Republicans increasing in number. There was a status quo outcome of 34 Democratic Senators in about half of the simulations.

MA Senate Number of Democrats

The next table gives a summary across the simulations of each contested race. The table is sorted by the predicted Democratic margin from the model, and there is a probability of a Democratic win, GOP win, or third-party/unenrolled win.

The races in the middle of the table with predicted margins close to zero could easily go either way, depending on district-specific factors—most importantly candidate quality, but also campaign organization and fundraising—and macro factors like the state of the presidential race.

The predictions are strictly based on fundamentals, and do not take into account important differentiators like candidate quality, fundraising, and voter outreach. There is more uncertainty in the open races without an incumbent—the majority of the races that fall outside the 95% confidence bands of the model have been in open races.

The Model

The model is based on an analysis of the 466 contested state legislative elections from 2004 through the present. I developed a regression model that predicts the democratic share of the vote in a state legislative contest, dependent on the Partisan Voter Index (PVI) of the district, the incumbency status, and whether the election occurs as part of a presidential general election.

The Partisan Voter Index was developed by the Cook Political Report to give a baseline reading of a district's partisanship compared to the country as a whole. It is calculated by comparing the districts two-party vote margin for the last two presidential elections with the margin for whole country. A PVI of D+3 means that the district is 3 points more Democratic than the country in the last two presidential elections.

The incumbency status for a race is critically important. The regression model gives a Republican or Democratic incumbent over a 10-point advantage, compared to running in an open seat.

Democratic state legislative candidates perform, on average, 5-points better in a presidential election year, than in an off election year. There are a large group of Democratic voters that only come out for presidential contests.

The three variables in the regression model explains 74% of the variation in the democratic share of the vote, with the remaining 26% due to other factors like candidate quality and campaign strength.

A Democratic state legislative incumbent has not lost in a presidential election in the years I looked at: 2004, 2008, and 2012. However, there have been some close calls, including Denise Andrews's narrow win over Susannah Whipps Lee in 2012 by less than 200 votes. Lee came back to defeat Andrews in 2014, and began a challenge again this year, before withdrawing from the race.

State Legislative model 2004-2014

The chart shows a graphical representation of the regression model decomposed into its Presidential vs. Off-Year components horizontally, and the three incumbency statuses of Democratic, Open, and Republican show vertically.

Presidential Coattails

There has been a history of the presidential margin in Massachusetts being correlated with margins of state legislature candidates. I wrote a piece in the Fall 2016 issue of Commonwealth Magazine describing the possible effects of a larger or smaller Massachusetts win by Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump on November 8.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A look at geography and fundraising in the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex special primary

Diverse district spans Cambridge, Beacon Hill, North End, East Boston, Revere, and Winthrop

On Tuesday, April 12 there will be a special state primary election to replace State Senator Anthony Petruccelli who has resigned to pursue a job in the private sector.

Open State Senate seats are hard to come by, and there is a very strong field of Democratic candidates vying to represent the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex District, which extends from around Western Avenue in Cambridge, through Beacon Hill, the Theater District, Downtown Boston, and the North End, and into East Boston, including all of Revere and Winthrop.

The 1st Suffolk and Middlesex district is overwhelmingly Democratic with a PVI rating of D+18. The most Democratic precinct in the district is Cambridge Ward 5, Precinct 1 with a whopping D+40 rating, while Ward 6, Precinct 1 in Revere is the closest to a Republican precinct at D+1. You can click on the map above to take you to explore the precincts in more depth.

The candidates reflect the geographic diversity of the district. State Representative Jay Livingstone represents the 8th Suffolk district which has nine overlapping precincts in Cambridge and Beacon Hill. There are three East Boston candidates: Lydia Edwards, Diana Hwang, and Paul Rogers. The Revere candidates are former Mayer Dan Rizzo, and City Councillor Steven Morabito. Joseph Boncore is a Winthrop Housing Authority Member.

Home Turf

When looking to evaluate the chance of the candidates success, it is worth looking at the percentage of the voting population from each of the candidate regions. I will consider the nine overlapping precincts of Rep. Livingstone's 8th Suffolk District to be his home territory. I calculated the home turf using vote totals from the last several elections. The percentages were very consistent across various election types.

1st Suffolk and Middlesex Candidates

Revere is the biggest part of the district by number of votes (28%), while the 8th Suffolk, East Boston, and Winthrop portions are very similar in the 15-17% range. Dan Rizzo also has the advantage of having been on the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex special primary ballot against Senator Petruccelli in 2007—a race won by Petruccelli.


Another metric by which we can judge the candidates is fundraising. While the candidate that raises and spend the most doesn't necessarily win, candidates that cannot or do not raise competitively, are much less likely to win.

The candidate who raised the most during the OCPF pre-primary filing period (January 1 through March 25) was Diana Hwang, who raised a whopping $121,708. The only other recent special senate primary candidates to exceed this total were Linda Dorcena Forry and Nick Collins in the hotly contested 2013 1st Suffolk election to replace Senator Jack Hart—both raised over $130,000.

While Rep. Jay Livingstone raised significantly less during the pre-primary period ($77,783), he started out with over $90,000 in the bank and spent the most money, by far, of any candidate with expenditures of $133,174. With the deciding primary coming up on Tuesday, money sitting in the bank does a candidate no good, and Livingstone spent significantly on mailings and top-flight consulting to push through the compressed and lightning-fast special election calendar.

Lydia Edwards and Joseph Boncore were in the next tier of campaign raising and spending with fundraising totals of $77,783 and $73,675 and expenditures of $45,013 and $70,662. Former Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo raised and spent significantly with totals of $51,100 and $28,779, while Paul Rogers and Steven Morabito did not raise anywhere close to competitive amounts.

Pre-Primary Fundraising Totals

Over the last six years of contested State Senate special primaries fundraising totals have averaged around $50,000, with average spending of around $43,000. The winning candidates have had raised $61,000 on average, and spent an average of $58,000. The top raiser and spender has not won in every case, but very low levels of fundraising and spending do correlate significantly with special primary loss.

Historic Pre-Primary Fundraising Totals


There does not seem to be a clear front-runner in the 1st Suffolk and Middlsex special primary.

Dan Rizzo and Steve Morabito have the advantage of having been on the ballot and familiar to about a quarter of the likely voters, but Morabito has not been a competitive fundraiser. Rizzo was also on the ballot against State Senator Petruccelli in the 2007 special state primary with almost the same set of voters, where Rizzo won 40% of the vote, compared to Petruccelli's 60%.

Diana Hwang has shown strong fundraising abilities for a first-time candidate, but did not seem to take full advantage of her raised cash, leaving over $87,000 in the bank as of March 25, and she has never been on the ballot for any of these voters.

Lydia Edwards has been at least competitive on the fundraising front and has received some significant endorsements from noted elected officials and from the Boston Globe. Edwards is also brand new to voters.

Representative Jay Livingstone has been on the ballot for about 17% of the likely voters and has been very successful in raising and spending campaign funds. He has a strong set of campaign advisors who focus on voter ID and turnout, key for a low-turnout special primary election.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Clinton likely to win big on Super Tuesday

Clinton's worst-case scenario is winning six out of nine primaries

There are nine Democratic presidential primaries on Tuesday, March 1—better known as Super Tuesday—and Secretary Hillary Clinton is predicted to win seven of them, based on the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus prediction model. A win in Alabama—where there is not enough polling for a projection, but where Clinton will almost certainly win—puts the count at nine. Even if Clinton loses all three states where the outcome is in doubt, she will win about four times as many delegates as Senator Bernie Sanders.

Super Tuesday Democratic Primary Projections

Clinton's lead in the polls in five of the eight contests—Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia—are enough to predict wins of 30 points or more with win probabilities of over 98%. While there is only one poll of the Alabama primary, the Clinton +28 margin in the February PPP poll, combined with geographic and demographic similarities with other southern states, means an almost sure win for Clinton in the Alabama.

The Massachusetts and Oklahoma races are much closer with predicted margins of 7 and 9 points and win probabilities of 81% and 77%. Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders home state, is the lone Super Tuesday primary predicted to go for Sanders, with a predicted margin of a whopping 75 points, and a greater than 99% winning probability.

While primaries are notoriously hard to poll and predict, there is enough evidence to suggest that the worst case scenario for Clinton would be losses in the closer contests in Massachusetts and Oklahoma, and the expected trouncing in Vermont. Even in this situation, Sanders' states provide a maximum of 145 delegates, while Clinton's states would total 561 delegates (although the complex delegate division rules make it difficult to predict an exact count for each candidate).

In the most-favorable Clinton scenario, Sanders would win Vermont's 16 delegates, while Secretary Clinton's winning states would have 690 delegates. Based on race results and polling in Super Tuesday and subsequence states, it is unlikely that Senator Sanders can win the nomination without a significant change in race dynamics.