Politics of Massachusetts

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is often categorized politically as socially progressive and liberal. The two main political parties are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The commonwealth, especially Boston, is known for having a passion for politics (particularly social progressivism and liberalism).


Gubernatorial election results[1]
Year Democratic Republican
1958 56.2% 1,067,020 43.1% 818,463
1960 46.8% 1,130,810 52.5% 1,269,295
1962 49.9% 1,053,322 49.7% 1,047,891
1964 49.3% 1,153,416 50.3% 1,176,462
1966 36.9% 752,720 62.6% 1,277,358
1970 42.8% 799,269 56.7% 1,058,623
1974 53.5% 992,284 42.3% 784,353
1978 51.2% 1,030,294 46.0% 926,072
1982 59.5% 1,219,109 36.6% 749,679
1986 68.7% 1,157,786 31.2% 525,364
1990 46.9% 1,099,878 50.2% 1,175,817
1994 28.3% 611,650 70.8% 1,533,390
1998 47.4% 901,843 50.8% 967,160
2002 44.9% 985,981 49.8% 1,091,988
2006 55.6% 1,234,984 35.3% 784,342
2010 48.4% 1,112,283 42.0% 964,866
2014 46.5% 1,004,408 48.4% 1,044,573
2018 33.1% 886,281 66.6% 1,781,982

In the early 19th century, Boston was a center of the socially progressive movements in antebellum New England. The abolitionist, women's rights, and temperance movements all originated in New England, and Boston became a stronghold of such movements. Boston also flourished culturally with the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne becoming popular. The belief in social progress was strongly influenced by the Second Great Awakening sweeping the Northern United States at the time, and Boston gained a reputation for radical politics. During the Civil War, the Radical Republicans had strong support from Massachusetts. Tension, however, existed between more moderate and conservative Bostonians and the abolitionists. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was almost killed by a mob when his office was raided in 1837. Freed African-American slaves found little acceptance outside the abolitionist and early civil rights organizations. However, Boston was still probably the United States' most liberal city at the time, and blacks found more sympathy there than anywhere else in the nation.

The state was politically dominated by Federalists until the mid-1820s, a much longer period than in other states. From then until the 1850s, it was dominated by the Whig Party, which presented a socially liberal but pro-business agenda, against a fractured Democratic Party and occasional single-issue third parties. In 1850, the Democrats made common cause with the abolitionist Free Soil Party to gain control of both the governor's seat and the state legislature for the first time. This coalition did not last, and the existing party structures were effectively wiped out by the 1853 landslide victory of the Know Nothing movement, which enacted major reform legislation during its three years in power. The Republican Party was organized in 1854, and came to power in 1857. It would dominate the state's politics until the 1930s, first as the reform party opposed to slavery, then as a pro-business, generally anti-labor and temperance-oriented party. The reorganized Democratic Party remained largely ineffective during this time, typically gaining power only when the Republicans overreached on issues such as temperance.

After the Civil War, radical politics faded in popularity. With Reconstruction failing, the progressive climate gave way into a conservative one, and civil rights groups disappeared as Boston melted into the mainstream of American politics. During the first half of the 1900s, Boston was socially conservative and strongly under the influence of Methodist minister J. Frank Chase and his New England Watch and Ward Society, founded in 1878. In 1903, the Old Corner Bookstore was raided and fined for selling Boccaccio's Decameron. Howard Johnson's got its start when Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude was banned in Boston, and the production had to be moved to Quincy. In 1927, works by Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and Sherwood Anderson were removed from bookstore shelves. "Banned in Boston" on a book's cover could actually boost sales. Burlesque artists such as Sally Rand needed to modify their act when performing at Boston's Old Howard Casino. The clean version of a performance used to be known as the "Boston version." By 1929, the Watch and Ward society was perceived to be in decline when it failed in its attempt to ban Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, but as late as 1935 it succeeded in banning Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour. Censorship was enforced by city officials, notably the "city censor" within the Boston Licensing Division. That position was held by Richard J. Sinnott from 1959 until the office was abolished on March 2, 1982. In modern times, few such puritanical social mores persist. Massachusetts has since gained a reputation as being a politically liberal state and is often used as an archetype of liberalism, hence the usage of the phrase "Massachusetts liberal".[2]

In the 1920s, Democrats Joseph Buell Ely (governor in the early 1930s) and David I. Walsh (governor in the 1910s, then US Senator) successfully organized a wide array of liberal Yankees, Irish Americans, and other immigrant groups (eastern Europeans, Italians, Greeks, and French Canadians among them) into an effective party structure, that has since come to dominate the state's political establishment. This goal had eluded Irish and Boston interests led by James Michael Curley and John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, who were a significant but not always dominating force in the party. Fitzgerald's daughter Rose married Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., beginning the Kennedy family dynasty.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Massachusetts was the center of the anti-nuclear power movement, opposition to the continuing Cold War arms race, and Ronald Reagan’s policies of intervention in Central America. Political figures who opposed nuclear power included Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator John Kerry (Vietnam veteran), Tip O’Neill (Speaker of the House), and Michael Dukakis (Governor).[3] The Montague Nuclear Power Plant was to consist of two 1,150-megawatt nuclear reactors to be located in Montague, Massachusetts. The project was proposed in 1973 and canceled in 1980,[4] after $29 million was spent on the project.[5] In 1974, farmer Sam Lovejoy disabled the weather-monitoring tower which had been erected at the Montague site. Lovejoy's action galvanized local public opinion against the plant.[5][6]

State government

Massachusetts has a bicameral state legislature, collectively known as the Massachusetts General Court. It is made of the 160-seat Massachusetts House of Representatives and the 40-seat Massachusetts Senate. The Massachusetts Democratic Party holds large supermajorities in both houses. The Governor of Massachusetts is the executive of the state government, and is elected every four years. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is the highest court in the commonwealth.

Local politics

Massachusetts is the home of the Kennedy family, and routinely votes for the Democratic Party in federal elections: currently all representatives and both senators are Democrats.

The rural and suburban towns and cities, as well as the South & North Shores, are generally more conservative than the rest of the state, but more liberal than the country as a whole.

Federal elections

Presidential elections results
Year Republican Democratic
2016 32.81% 1,090,893 60.01% 1,995,196
2012 37.51% 1,188,314 60.65% 1,921,290
2008 36.20% 1,105,908 61.80% 1,894,067
2004 36.83% 1,070,109 61.92% 1,803,801
2000 32.51% 878,502 59.93% 1,616,487
1996 28.11% 718,107 61.52% 1,571,763
1992 29.04% 805,049 47.51% 1,318,662
1988 45.42% 1,194,635 53.23% 1,401,416
1984 51.22% 1,310,936 48.43% 1,239,606
1980 41.90% 1,057,631 41.75% 1,053,802
1976 40.44% 1,030,276 56.11% 1,429,475
1972 45.23% 1,112,078 54.20% 1,332,540
1968 32.89% 766,844 63.01% 1,469,218
1964 23.44% 549,727 76.19% 1,786,422
1960 39.55% 976,750 60.22% 1,487,174
1956 59.32% 1,393,197 40.77% 948,190
1952 54.22% 1,292,325 45.46% 1,083,525
1948 43.16% 909,370 54.66% 1,151,788
1944 46.99% 921,350 52.80% 1,035,296
1940 46.36% 939,700 53.11% 1,076,522
1936 41.76% 768,613 51.22% 942,716
1932 46.64% 736,959 50.64% 800,148
1928 49.15% 775,566 50.24% 792,758
1924 62.26% 703,476 24.86% 280,831
1920 68.55% 681,153 27.84% 276,691
1916 50.54% 268,784 46.61% 247,885
1912 31.95% 155,948 35.53% 173,408
1908 58.21% 265,966 34.04% 155,543
1904 57.92% 257,822 37.24% 165,746
1900 57.59% 238,866 37.85% 156,997
1896 69.47% 278,976 26.32% 105,711
1892 51.87% 202,814 45.22% 176,813
1888 53.42% 183,892 44.04% 151,590
1884 48.36% 146,724 40.33% 122,352
1880 58.53% 165,198 39.58% 111,720
1876 57.80% 150,064 41.90% 108,777
1872 69.20% 133,455 30.69% 59,195
1868 69.80% 136,379 30.20% 59,103
1864 72.20% 126,742 27.80% 48,745
1860 62.80% 106,684 20.23% 34,370
1856 63.61% 108,172 23.08% 39,244

Subsequent to the 2010 national census, and the 2011 change in allocation of United States House of Representatives districts among the states, Massachusetts has nine seats. They were all Democratic. Massachusetts has two Democratic United States Senators.

Although Republicans have held the governor's office almost continuously since 1991 (the only exception being Democrat Deval Patrick (2007–2015)), they have mostly been among the most liberal Republican leaders in the nation, especially William Weld (the first of four recent Republican governors). Two of these governors, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift, took office when their predecessors resigned to take other positions. In presidential elections, Massachusetts supported Republicans through 1924, and was considered a swing state until the 1980s. More recently, it has gradually shifted to the Democratic Party since 1988. In the 2004 election giving native son John Kerry 61.9% of the vote and his largest margin of victory in any state.[7] (However, John Kerry's margin of victory in the District of Columbia was much higher.) President Barack Obama carried the state with 61.8% of the vote, for the 2008 election.[8] It was the eighth most Democratic state for that election, surpassed by Rhode Island, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont and Hawaii; as well as the District of Columbia.

During the 1972 presidential election, Massachusetts was the only state to give its electoral votes to George McGovern, the Democratic nominee (the District of Columbia also voted for McGovern). Following the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, two famous bumper stickers were sold in Boston, one saying "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts," and the other read "Nixon 49, America 1".

Since then the state has been carried by a Republican presidential candidate twice, in 1980, when Ronald Reagan unseated incumbent Jimmy Carter and in his 1984 landslide. However, in both elections, Reagan's margin of victory in Massachusetts was the smallest of any state he carried.

Party registration

As of August, 2018, voter registration in Massachusetts is as follows:

Massachusetts Registered Voter Enrollment: August 2018[9]
Party Number of Voters
Democratic 1,492,399
Republican 465,952
Libertarian 14,271
Unaffiliated (officially Unenrolled,
per Massachusetts state law)
Political Designations 45,850
Total 4,493,007


  1. Leip, David. "General Election Results – Massachusetts". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  2. Susan Page and Jill Lawrence (2004-07-11). "Does 'Massachusetts liberal' label still matter?". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  3. Robert Surbrug (2009). Beyond Vietnam: The Politics of Protest in Massachusetts, 1974-1990. University of Massachusetts Press.
  4. Some of the Major Events in NU's History Since the 1966 Affiliation Archived 2013-12-24 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Utilities Drop Nuclear Power Plant Plans Ocala Star-Banner, January 4, 1981.
  6. Anna Gyorgy (1980). No Nukes: Everyone's Guide to Nuclear Power South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-006-4, pp. 393-394.
  7. "Federal Elections 2004 (page 22)" (PDF). Federal Election Commission. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  8. "2008 Presidential Popular Vote Summary" (PDF). Federal Election Commission. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  9. "Massachusetts Registered Voter Enrollment: 1948-2018" (Webpage). Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Retrieved 2016-04-03.

See also

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