Thursday, January 31, 2013

From Capuano's 7th to Tierney's 6th, a partisan ranking of MA Congressional districts

While all nine Massachusetts Congressional districts were won by Democrats in November, the districts are by no means equally liberal. I will break down and quantify the Democratic-lean of the districts from Mike Capuano's incredibly blue Boston-based 7th District, to John Tierney's barely Democratic North Shore-based 6th District, and the finer gradations of districts in between. The districts held by Ed Markey and Steve Lynch are within the liberal end of the Democratic-leaning bunch, and are fairly safe bets to stay in the Democratic column if one of them is elected as the new U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is considered one of the bluest states in the nation, with a Democratic Governor, two Democratic U.S. Senators, nine Democratic U.S. Representatives, and strong Democratic majorities in the State Senate and House. The Commonwealth went through a redistricting process in 2011 based on the 2010 U.S. Census and one of the results of the redistricting was losing a Congressional district, going from ten districts to nine. While Democrats won all nine of the newly-drawn districts in November, there was little evidence of political gerrymandering or incumbent protection and the districts range politically from very, very blue, to barely blue at all. Incumbent Barney Frank chose not to run because of major changes to his district, and incumbent John Tierney retained his seat by the slimmest of margins.

Here is a ranking of the nine districts based on weighted averages of the partisan ratings of the municipalities as shown in the article How Democratic or Republican is my town?—these top-level results are sorted from most-Democratic, to least-Democratic.

Chart: Partisan ranking of MA Congressional districts

The way to interpret the score is as the average difference between the percentage won by the Democratic and Republican candidate in statewide races from 2006-2010. Democrats beat Republicans by an average of 50% in Capuano's 7th District, compared to a very small 2.4% advantage for Democrats in Tierney's 6th District. (Note: when I refer to a district as "Capuano's", "Tierney's", etc., I am simply stating which person currently holds the seat, rather than implying that the particular Representative has any special ownership or privilege to the seat.)

Capuano's 7th District is by far the most Democratic, with twice the score of the next-highest seat. Richard Neal's Western 1st District and Ed Markey's MetroWest 5th District both have scores of over 20%. The Western/Central/Worcester 2nd District of Jim McGovern and the southern-facing 8th District of Steve Lynch hover around a 16% Democratic advantage. Bill Keating's 9th District on the Cape, Joe Kennedy's southern suburban 4th District, and Niki Tsongas's Merrimack Valley-based 3rd District scores range from 8 to 10%. John Tierney's 6th District on the North Shore is very close to an even Democratic/Republican split with a score of 2.4%.

Here is a map of the districts, with darker blue indicating strong Democratic lean.

Map of MA Congressional District partisan lean

From a geographic point of view, the most Democratic-leaning districts are in the Boston metropolitan area, and in the western 1st Congressional District of Richard Neal with a swath of moderation from the Cape up through the outer suburbs, to the North Shore. Here is a look at the partisan lean of each the municipalities in each district individually.

7th Congressional District (Capuano)

Chart MA 7th Congressional District Map

Chart MA 7th Congressional District

The 7th Congressional District currently held by Rep. Mike Capuano is overwhelmed by its 189 precinct share of Boston, while getting additional Democratic lean from Cambridge and Somerville. The least Democratic town in the district is Milton, where the average Democrat still wins by 16 points. The weighted average ends up being a pretty astounding 50.3% Democratic lean.

1st Congressional District (Neal)

Chart: MA 1st Congressional District Map

Chart: MA 1st Congressional District

The 1st Congressional District currently represented by Stephen Neal comprises much of Western Massachusetts and has the largest count of municipalities with 86 cities and towns. While there are plenty of Republican-leaning towns in the southern part of the district, these are far outweighed by the Democratic strongholds including cities like Pittsfield and Springfield, and towns like Williamstown, North Adams, and Great Barrington. The weighted average is 24.7%, less than half the Democratic lean of Capuano's 7th District.

5th Congressional District (Markey)

Chart: MA 5th Congressional District Map

Chart: MA 5th Congressional District

The 5th Congressional District represented by Senate candidate Ed Markey is slightly less Democratic than Neal's 1st District, but most of the municipalities are less Democratic, with every municipality other than Cambridge below a 40% score. There are even three slightly Republican-leaning towns in Stoneham, Woburn, and Southborough. The weighted average score for the district is 22.2%.

8th Congressional District (Lynch)

Chart: MA 8th Congressional District Map

Chart: MA 8th Congressional District

While the 8th Congressional District of Steve Lynch has 67 precincts of Boston and all of working-class Democratic Brockton, the majority of the municipalities are Republican-leaning. That being said, the additional precincts in the Democratic areas give Lynch's district a weighted average of 15.9%.

2nd Congressional District (McGovern)

Chart: 2nd MA Congressional District Map

Chart: 2nd MA Congressional District
The 2nd Congressional District of Jim McGovern extends far enough west to include many very Democratic communities like Amherst and North Adams. It also includes very Republican-leaning Central Massachusetts towns like Sutton and Douglas in the ex-urban areas around Worcester. This balance is tilted toward the Democratic side with a weighted average score of 15.4%—very close to Lynch's 8th District.

4th Congressional District (Kennedy)

Chart: MA 4th Congressional District Map

Chart: MA 4th Congressional District

The 4th Congressional District of first-year Representative Joe Kennedy is also a bit bi-polar with very Democratic Boston suburbs like Brookline and Newton, working-class Fall River and Taunton, and the very rich Wellesley. On the Republican-leaning side there are Norfolk, Wrentham, and Lakeville. The balance is a bit more Republican with a weighted average of 10.2%.

9th Congressional District (Keating)

Chart: MA 9th Congressional District Map

Chart: MA 9th Congressional District

The 9th Congressional District of Bill Keating has the most Democratic town in the Commonwealth in Provincetown (a 73% score!) and the very Democratic towns of Martha's Vineyard. As the district moves up the Cape, the towns gets more Republican. The weighted average puts the district's score at 8.7%.

3rd Congressional District (Tsongas)

Chart: MA 3rd Congressional District Map

Chart: MA 3rd Congressional District

The 3rd Congressional District of Niki Tsongas ranges from Lawrence and Lowell in the Merrimack Valley, down through the affluent suburbs of Concord, Acton and Harvard, up through the very Republican towns of Pepperell, Tyngsborough, Dracut, and Townsend on the New Hampshire border. The weighted average score is the second-lowest at 7.9%.

6th Congressional District (Tierney)

Chart: MA 6th Congressional District Map

Chart: MA 6th Congressional District

Incumbent John Tierney won the election for the 6th Congressional District over a strong challenge by Republican Richard Tisei by a tiny margin of 4,330 votes. That is not surprising given very small Democratic lean of the district with a score of 2.4%. The most Democratic towns in the District are on Lynn, Salem, and Rockport. The most Republican-leaning towns in the district are also the most Republican-leaning towns in the Commonwealth, Boxford and Lynnfield. The 6th Congressional District will likely face the toughest Republican challenges to full-Democratic representation in the Massachusetts Delegation.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Poll analysis: Most voters still unfamiliar with likely Democratic Senate candidates

The press release for last week's MassINC poll of the upcoming special election for Senate touted strong performance by possible candidate Scott Brown versus some Democratic contenders. While Brown's position may or may not be strong, the name recognition numbers of Democrats Ed Markey and Steve Lynch are still too low to base that conclusion on these particular polling results.

President Barack Obama has nominated John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as United States Secretary of State, and his approval is all but assured. Governor Deval Patrick will appoint a short-term interim replacement and there will be a special election to pick a full-time replacement this summer. U.S. Congressman Ed Markey has declared his intention to run for the Democratic nomination and there is speculation that recently-defeated Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic Congressman Steve Lynch may run for the Senate seat.

MassINC Polling has conducted a second poll of the race, testing the performance of these three candidates (as well has Congressman Mike Capuano who has already said that he will not run for the seat). While Scott Brown tests higher than Markey or Lynch, the majority of voters still do not have an opinion of the Democratic congressmen. Based on polling in past races, it is too early to make any conclusions on how these candidates will fare in the special election based on this poll.

Let's first look at the top-line results of the MassInc Poll.

Chart: MA Senate Poll Results

Scott Brown's favorability number of 55% is much higher than any of the other prospective candidates, but it is important to consider those numbers in the context of whether the poll respondent knows the candidate well enough to form an opinion. If we consider the favorable/unfavorable numbers together as indicating enough knowledge to form an opinion, we see that significantly less than half of the poll respondents have any opinion at all about the non-Brown candidates.

Chart: MA Senate Opinion

Markey has a great deal of work to do in order to successfully portray a positive picture of his policy positions and accomplishments, but he has a relatively blank canvas to paint on, given that 6 out of 10 voters have yet to form any opinion about him—for Lynch, it is two-thirds.

Do Democratic voters want a primary?

Another conclusion of the MassINC poll was that over 70% of respondents that would vote in a Democratic primary would prefer a contested primary, but it is worth looking at the exact wording of the question:

Many leaders within the Democratic Party have given their support to Ed Markey for the open Senate seat, and discouraged other potential Democratic candidates from running. In your view, should Democratic Party leaders all get behind Ed Markey and encourage other Democratic candidates not to run? Or should voters be able to choose from among several candidates in a Democratic party primary?

It is striking that only 71% of respondents indicated a preference for a primary given the leading nature of this question (do you want the nominee to be picked democratically, or by party insiders in a smoke-filled room?). This is more an indication that Markey and the party are vulnerable to an accusation that they are trying to discourage other candidates from running, rather than an actual desire for a primary.

It is important for Democrats who are throwing their weight behind Markey to make it clear that they are choosing the candidate they feel is the best person for the job, rather than trying to discourage competition. It would also be a good idea for Democrats to celebrate the democratic process if others decide to enter the race, counting on the best candidate to win.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gov. Patrick's tax proposal would mean the same or lower rates for most taxpayers

A more progressive structure shifts burden from lowest-income payers

On Wednesday, January 16 Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick gave his seventh State of Commonwealth speech. In his speech he called for increased investment in Massachusetts education, infrastructure, and transportation—a welcome message given the increasing pressures on public schools and deteriorating roads, bridges, and a struggling transportation system. In order to pay for these additional investments, Governor Patrick proposed tax system changes that would raise the state income tax from 5.25% to 6.25%, increase the personal income tax exemption to minimize the effect on lower income taxpayers, and lower the state sales tax from 6.25% to 4.5%.

Why did Governor Patrick propose lowering one tax and raising another tax to raise additional revenue, and how would these tax changes affect taxpayers at various income levels?

The Governor's changes were intended to move from the current regressive tax system—which has the lowest-income residents paying a higher percentage of their income in state taxes—to a more progressive system where higher-income taxpayer are asked to pay slightly more.  If the state legislature passes the Governor's proposal, the lowest-income taxpayers will pay less, middle-income taxpayers will pay about the same, and high-income taxpayers will pay slightly more, when measured as a percentage of total income.

Massachusetts has a regressive tax system

Massachusetts currently has a regressive tax system where lower-income taxpayers pay a higher percentage of their income in total taxes when compared with their higher-income neighbors. This is a result of the 6.25% sales tax, paid equally by people of all incomes when purchasing goods, combined with a uniform income tax rate of 5.25% for all income levels, with a small amount of relief at the low end in the form of a personal exemption.

The current combination of sales and income tax rates leads to the following overall breakdown for tax burden, grouped by quintiles (five steps with breaks at 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%).

Chart: Current tax rates by income

Surprisingly, the lowest income taxpayers with incomes of less than $21,570 end up paying the largest percentage of their income in combined taxes at 6.56%. Those in the 20-40% ($21,570-$37,523) and the highest 80-100% (>$102,886) quintiles pay the least at 5.43% and 5.48%. The 40-60% ($37,523-$60,414) and 60-80% ($60,414-$102,886) quintiles have combined rates of 5.63% and 5.56% of their incomes. This is by no means a fair way of allocating tax burden across income levels.

The fairness argument for progressive taxation is strong, boiling down to the fact that 5% of a $30,000 income ($1,500) is much more useful to a low-income family, than 5% of a $1 million income ($50,000) helps a very wealth family. The fancy economic term for this is the decreasing marginal utility of income. Simply stated, placing a larger tax burden on a poor person has a much more negative effect on happiness and well-being.

One solution to the regressive tax structure would be a true progressive income tax with graduated tax rates for different income levels, as exist for the federal income tax. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts Constitution does not allow for a truly progressive income tax.

Gov. Patrick's proposed changes would make MA taxes more progressive

The tax changes proposed by Governor Patrick—a lowering of the sales tax rate from 6.25% to 4.5% and a raising of the income tax rate from 5.25% to 6.25% with a higher personal exemption—would bring about a more progressive taxation system for the Commonwealth, with lower-income families paying a slightly smaller overall tax burden when compared to higher-income families. This chart shows the comparison between current rates and proposed rates, by income level.

Chart: Average tax by income range

These new rates result in a slightly progressive overall state tax rate—definitely an improvement.

Chart: Proposed tax rates by income

While this moves Massachusetts towards a more progressive taxation system, the actual difference in percentage of income paid in taxes are small, with the lowest-income taxpayers getting a 1.5 point decrease and the highest-income taxpayers getting a 1 point increase. Middle-income taxpayers rates stay almost exactly the same, with a 17 hundredths of a point difference.

Chart: Tax rate differences by income

Governor Patrick's tax proposal is an incremental and well-thought-out proposal to raise revenue for critical priorities like education and infrastructure, while also increasing the progressiveness and fairness of our tax system and putting a slightly higher burden on those that can most afford it. Most taxpayers will pay the same or lower state taxes if Governor Patrick's proposal were to become law.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How important is seeding to NFL playoff success?

A one or two seed has won the Superbowl 68% of the time since 1990

I am taking a brief respite from Massachusetts political analysis to consider something completely different: how predictive is an NFL team's playoff seeding in determining how far the team advances in the playoffs? And from from a Massachusetts point of view, what does the number two seed of the New England Patriots tell us about the chances of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady winning a fourth Championship title?

I have compiled the playoff seeding and results for the 22 seasons since the NFL moved to a 12 team playoff system to help answer these questions. While there was a switch from 3 division winners to 4 division winners in 2002, the basic playoff structure has remained the same since 1990. The 6 playoff teams in each conference (the AFC and the NFC) are seeded 1 through 6, ostensibly the best through the worst, with seeds 3 through 6 playing in a Wildcard round. The winners of the Wildcard round play seeds 1 and 2 in the Divisional Round. The Divisional winners subsequently play in a Conference championship game, which determines the team from the AFC and the team from the NFC that will meet in the Superbowl.

The NFL playoff system is structured to give multiple advantages to the higher seeded teams. Advantages include automatic advancement of the top two seeds past the Wildcard round, home field advantage for the higher seeded team in each round, and the highest seeded teams getting to play against the lowest seeded/not-as-challenging teams. I will look at how well teams at various seeding levels have done historically.

A preview: about two-thirds of all Superbowl winners since 1990 have been 1 or 2 seeds, and only one three-seed and one five-seed have won the Superbowl in that time period. Top-seeded teams have won 9 Superbowls (41%), two-seeds 6 (27%), and there have been 7 Superbowl wins for all of the other seeds combined. The Patriots chances against the Texans in the Divisional round on Sunday are good, but a win in the Conference championship game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos is much less likely.

The relationship between playoff advancement and seed

The following chart looks at the highest round reached by teams from each of the six NFL playoff seeds since 1990. It reflects 44 teams in each seeding level, 1 in each of the AFC and NFC, for each of the 22 seasons from 1990-2011.

Chart: Highest playoff round by seed

The number and percentage in each position represents the number of teams with a particular seed that were eliminated in the row's playoff round—the Championship line implies a Superbowl win.

Let's look individually at the seeds, starting with the top-seed. There is a fairly even distribution among the elimination rounds for the one-seeds since 1990. Thirty percent were eliminated in the Divisional round, 23 percent in the Conference final, and 27 percent made it to the Superbowl, but then lost. Twenty percent, or 9 teams made it to Superbowl and won in these 22 playoff seasons.

Of the 44 second seeds, 75% were eliminated in the Divisional or Conference rounds, compared to only 53% of the top seeded teams. The second seeds have faired particularly badly in the Conference championship round with 22 teams being eliminated, more than twice as many as the 10 one-seeds. One possible explanation could be the home-field of advantage enjoyed throughout the playoffs by the top-seeded teams.

It is surprising that only one three-seed has won the Superbowl since 1990, the 2006 Indianapolis Colts who defeated the top-seeded Chicago Bears. There has also been only one 5 seed to win the Superbowl during this time period, the 2007 New York Giants who defeated the top-seeded New England Patriots with David Tyree's heartbreaking one-handed catch against his helmet with seconds left in Glendale, Arizona. Every 5 and 6 seed (there were only three) that made it to the Superbowl since 1990 has won the ultimate NFL game. The four-seed has faired particularly well compared to the three-seed with 6 teams making it to the Superbowl and three winning the Championship game.

The Wildcard round is the most brutal. While seeds 1 and 2 automatically advance, a third of the teams are eliminated and the majority of 5 and 6 seeds (68% of 5 seeds and 64% of 6 seeds) have historically been eliminated in that round.

Seeding of the Superbowl Champions

Let's look directly at the seeding of the 22 Superbowl champions since 1990.

Chart: Seeds of Superbowl champions since 1990

The average seed of the Superbowl champions is 2.4 and the median seed is 2. The mode (value that occurs most often) is 1, with 9 of the champions having a top seed, compared 6 second-seeded teams, 1 third-seeded team, 3 four-seeded teams, 1 five seed, and 2 sixth seeds.

Chart: Count of Superbowl winners by seed

A top-seeded team has won the Superbowl 41% of the time, and 1 or 2 seed has won the Championship 68% of the time. Two bottom-seeded teams have won the Superbowl since 1990, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (against the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks) and the 2010 Green Bay Packers (against the second-seeded Pittsburg Steelers).

What do the New England Patriots chances look like?

Obviously, the Patriots gained a significant advantage when they defeated the Miami Dolphins in the last week of the regular season, combined with the Houston Texans loss to the Indianapolis Colts.  This combination of events gave the Patriots a 2 seed, and dropping the Texans to the 3 seed. The Patriots got to rest an additional week, while also giving Bill Belichick an extra week of game film to analyze and scheme against the Texans for their Sunday matchup. Historically speaking, three-seeds have performed particularly poorly in the playoffs—84% of three-seeds have been eliminated in either the Wildcard or Divisional rounds, and only two have made it to the Superbowl. Having the two-seed compared to the three-seed turns out to be a really big deal.

The Patriots are 9.5 point favorites in Sunday's game against the Texans. They have home field advantage and soundly defeated the Texans 42-14 on December 10 in a Monday Night Football blowout. However, Patriots fans are unlikely to forget when their team had a blowout win against the Jets at the end of the 2010 regular season and then lost to the Jets in the Divisional round. That being said, the Patriots are more likely than not to defeat the Texans on Sunday.

The Conference championship is much less predictable. The most likely AFC Conference matchup is the top-seeded Denver Broncos against the second-seeded Patriots. In the 44 NFL Conference championship games since 1990, 22 have been between the top two seeds. In those 22 one-vs.-two match-ups, the top-seeded team has won 14 times (64%) and the two-seed has won 8 times (36%). Even thought the Patriots beat the Denver Broncos in the regular season, Peyton Manning has led his team to 11 straight wins since their 31-21 loss at Gillette Stadium. A Patriots vs. Broncos Conference championship game would also take place in the mile high atmosphere of the Bronco's home field, another significant disadvantage for the Patriots.

The second seed in the playoffs secured by the New England Patriots puts them in a much stronger position than the lower seed they could have ended up with if the last week of the regular season had gone differently. The Patriots are likely to win their matcup with the Houston Texans on Sunday. But, if they do win against the Texans, their success in the Conference championship round is much less likely, especially if they face the top-seeded Denver Broncos. Historically, the top seed wins two-thirds of the time over the two-seed.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What qualifications are advantageous for MA U.S. Senate candidates?

A history of open Senate races in Massachusetts since 1926

Senator John Kerry has been nominated by President Obama to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the next U.S. Secretary of State and his confirmation is all but assured. There will be an interim appointment by Governor Deval Patrick, followed by a special election to fill Kerry's Senate seat. New names for possible candidates continue to come in and out of the picture. Recently-defeated Senator Scott Brown is expected to run again for the Republican nomination. Congressman Ed Markey is an early entrant with a great deal of support on the Democratic side.

People who have been mentioned as possible candidates for the seat range from Governors, Senators, and U.S. Representatives, to entrepreneurs, lawyers, and actors. What can we learn from history about the previous occupations and qualifications of successful Massachusetts candidates for the U.S. Senate? While there are examples of candidates without statewide or federal experience to be elected to the Senate, the large majority of successful candidates have statewide or federal-level qualifications, and only one candidate was elected without statewide, federal, state or local qualification since 1926, and that particular candidate had a famous family name and a brother in the White House at the time of his election.

Qualifications of successful Senate candidates since 1926

Listed here are the Senators for the two Massachusetts U.S. Senate seats elected or appointed since 1926, along with the candidate's qualifications at the time of his or her election or appointment. If you have time, click on the Wikipedia links—there is some fascinating material.

Seat 1

  • David I. Walsh (D) - 1926 - Governor, Lt. Governor, State Representative
  • Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (R) - 1947 - U.S. Senator, State Representative
  • John F. Kennedy (D) - 1953 - U.S. Representative
  • Benjamin Smith (D) - 1960 (appointed) - Mayor of Gloucester, Gloucester City Council, Gloucester School Committee
  • Ted Kennedy (D) - 1962 - Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County
  • Paul G. Kirk (D) - 2009 (appointed) - Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Lawyer,  Consultant
  • Scott Brown (R) - 2010 - State Senator, State Representative, Wrentham Selectman, Wrentham Assessor
  • Elizabeth Warren (D) - 2012 - Chair of TARP Congressional Oversight Panel, Harvard Law Professor

Seat 2

  • Marcus A. Coolidge (D) - 1931 - Special Envoy to Poland, Mayor of Fitchburg
  • Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (R) - 1936 - State Representative
  • Sinclair Weeks (R) - 1944 (appointed) - Mayor of Newton
  • Leverett Saltonstall (R) - 1945 - Governor, Candidate for Lt. Governor
  • Edward Brooke (R) - 1966 - Attorney General, Chairman Boston Finance Commission, Candidate for U.S. Representative
  • Paul Tsongas (D) - 1978 - U.S. Representative, Middlesex County Commissioner, Lowell City Councilor 
  • John Kerry (D) - 1984 - Lt. Governor, Assistant District Attorney of Middlesex County, Candidate for U.S. Representative
I am most interested in the eventual winner of the special election (rather than the interim appointee), so I will not consider the appointed Senators. Here is a table of the successfully-elected Massachusetts Senators since 1926, showing whether the candidate held statewide, federal, state, or local office before being elected.

David I. WalshD1926
Governor, MA Lt. Governor, State Representative
Marcus A. CoolidgeD1931Special Envoy to Poland, Mayor of Fitchburg
Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.R1936State Representative
Leverett SaltonstallR1945Governor, Candidate for Lt. Governor
Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.R1947U.S. Senator, State Representative
John F. KennedyD1953U.S. Representative
Ted KennedyD1962Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County
Edward BrookeR1966Attorney General, Chairman Boston Finance Commission, Candidate for U.S. Representative
Paul TsongasD1978U.S. Representative, Middlesex County Commissioner, Lowell City Councilor
John KerryD1984Lt. Governor, Assistant District Attorney of Middlesex County, Candidate for U.S. Representative
Scott BrownR2010

State Senator, State Representative, Wrentham Selectman, Wrentham Assessor
Elizabeth WarrenD2012Chair of TARP Congressional Oversight Panel, Harvard Law Professor

I have counted Marcus Coolidge's service as a Special Envoy to Poland, and Elizabeth Warren's service as Chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel as Federal positions, although they were not elected positions. Elizabeth Warren had strong name recognition inside and outside Massachusetts based on her work for the Obama administration.

Most successful candidates have statewide or federal experience

By these criteria, 9 out of the 12 Senators or 75%, had statewide or federal qualifications before being elected to the Senate. The three candidates without statewide or federal experience were Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (the first time he ran was elected to the senate in 1936), Ted Kennedy, who only had experience as an Assistant D.A. in Suffolk County before his election, and Scott Brown, who had held local and state office before his surprising victory in the 2010 special election after Kennedy's death.

Eleven of the twelve Senators, or 92% had held a statewide, federal, state or local position at the time of his or her election to the Senate—Ted Kennedy is the only elected Massachusetts Senator since 1926 that did not hold such a position. The strong standing of the Kennedy name in Massachusetts, and an older brother in the White House as President, were enough to win Ted Kennedy 70% of the Democratic Primary vote, and 55% of the general election vote in the 1962 election. Kennedy went on to serve Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate for almost 47 years until his death in 2009.

If we look at the specific job title, rather than categories like statewide and federal, there is not a lot of commonality with this small sample of 12 Senators. The most common job title is Massachusetts State Representative, with 4 of the Senators having held that position. If we look only at the most senior position held, there are two job titles that have more than one holder: Governor and U.S. Representative, with two apiece. Together, these account for one third of the top positions held by our sample of 12 Senators.

Ted Kennedy Jr. may not have been the best candidate for Democrats

Ted Kennedy's son, Connecticut lawyer Ted Kennedy Jr., was floated as a possible candidate for the open MA Senate seat, although Kennedy has already indicated that he will not run. Some have said that Kennedy bowing out is a blow to Democrat's hopes to retain the seat, mainly because of the strength of the Kennedy name. While the Kennedy name has shown strength in Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy Jr. would have been in a similar situation to his father as vulnerable to not having any of the standard qualifications of statewide, federal, or state office. The elder Ted Kennedy showed that one can be elected without these qualifications, but it might have been very difficult race against a candidate like Scott Brown who had successfully used "the people's seat" (as opposed to the "Kennedy" seat) message in the 2010 special election. A famous name can be a double-edged sword if the electorate perceives that the candidate is overly-opportunistic or undeserving.

Ed Markey is well-qualified by historical standards

Congressman Ed Markey holds the distinction as the current favorite as Democratic nominee for the open Senate seat, primarily because he is the only Democrat that has unequivocally said that he will run, but also because he already received the endorsement of Democratic heavyweights Vicky Kennedy and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. While outgoing Senator John Kerry has been careful not to officially endorse Markey because of his upcoming role as Secretary of State, he has done all he can to indicate his support. It looks like elements of the Democratic Party establishment are attempting to avoid a contentious primary by getting behind a single candidate early in the race. We have shown that avoiding a primary can be useful for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates (especially for Republicans) and the same might hold true in a Senate race.

While Markey has not held statewide office, his qualifications are strong, nevertheless. He is the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation having served for 36 years. Before his election to the U.S. House in 1976, Markey served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for three years. 

The challenge for Markey will be to increase his name recognition and to define himself to the Massachusetts electorate in a favorable light. If he does not establish his statewide persona early on in the race, an opponent may be able to get traction with a negative portrayal of Markey, given his blank slate status in the eyes of the electorate.

Markey has a strong progressive record and indications are that he will use a populist message, not unlike Senator Elizabeth Warren, with a stronger emphasis on clean energy and the environment. While there is little certainty that the general election will be between Scott Brown and Ed Markey, such a race will likely come down to a face off between Scott Brown's name recognition and favorability vs. the populist message and the ground game the Democratic party honed in Elizabeth Warren's defeat of Scott Brown on November 6.

Worth noting: qualifications don't always guarantee a win

While the evidence shows that strong qualifications are important for U.S. Senate candidates from Massachusetts, it is not always sufficient to guarantee success. The award for the most qualified losing candidate surely belongs to Elliot Richardson who lost a 1984 Republican Senate primary to businessman Ray Shamie in the election to replace outgoing Senator Paul Tsongas. Shamie went on to lose the general election to John Kerry. The impressive list of qualifications of the Democratic and Republican field are listed below, and the biggest standout is surely Richardson:
  • Democratic
    • John Kerry - Lt. Governor, Assistant District Attorney of Middlesex County, Candidate for U.S. Representative
    • James Shannon - U.S. Representative
    • David M. Bartley - Speaker of the MA House of Representatives, MA Secretary of Administration and Finance
    • Michael Connolly - MA Secretary of State, State Representative
  • Republican
    • Ray Shamie - Businessman, Candidate for U.S. Senate
    • Elliot Richardson - U.S. Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Ambassador to the UK, U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Secretary of Defense, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, U.S. Under Secretary of State, MA Attorney General, Lt. Governor
Elliot Richardson is one of only two individuals in the history of the United States (the other being George Shultz) who has held four U.S. Federal Cabinet positions. In addition, he was a U.S. Ambassador, Massachusetts Attorney General, and Lt. Governor.

It is surprising that the highly qualified Richardson lost the Republican primary to the less qualified Shamie. Many think that the loss of moderate Republican Richardson to the very conservative Shamie was the beginning of the decline of the moderate GOP in Massachusetts, which often has trouble finding centrist candidates that appeal to Massachusetts independent voters.


While there have been exceptions, the vast majority of successful U.S. Senate candidates in Massachusetts have held statewide or federal office. Both of the candidates at the top of current consideration—Senator Scott Brown and Congressman Ed Markey—are well-qualified according to this criteria. Despite some recent commentary, indications are that Ted Kennedy Jr.'s lack of experience would have been an issue if he had chosen to pursue the open Senate seat, and it is worth strongly considering a candidates traditional qualifications when evaluating their chances in the upcoming primary and general election.