Bad day for bellwethers

Milford, Ashland, and others go with losing side in governor’s race

Election Day was bad for Massachusetts bellwethers.

The state as a whole bucked a national shift toward Republicans, but many cities and towns that have long been regarded as reliable barometers of the Massachusetts electorate lost that status when they followed the national rather than the statewide trends.

Milford, which CommonWealth magazine has been following as part of its Bellwether Project, has been politically and demographically representative of the entire state. Demographically, Milford is close to the state median in terms of income and educational attainment. Politically, it has voted for every winning gubernatorial candidate since 1990 and supported Scott Brown for the US Senate in January.

But last night voters in the Worcester County community broke ranks with the rest of the state, backing Republican Charlie Baker in his losing bid to unseat Gov. Deval Patrick. Milford was also on the losing side in the races for treasurer and auditor and on Question 3, which sought to roll back the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.

Ashland, which had voted for the winner in every statewide election, referendum question, and major-party primary since 2000, also dropped off the bellwether bandwagon. The Worcester County mill town, hailed as a community with a “knack for picking winners” in Tuesday’s Boston Globe, backed losing candidates in the races for governor, treasurer, and auditor. The community did align itself with the winning side on all three ballot questions.

Other communities losing their bellwether status were Braintree, Wakefield, Wareham, and Saugus, while Falmouth and Melrose continued their string of siding with the winner in the governor’s race.

Nationally, Republicans took control of the House, picked up seats in the Senate, and ousted Democratic governors in at least seven states. Some of the Massachusetts bellwethers appeared to follow the national trend.

Milford, for example, voted more Republican and antitax than the rest of the state. Baker won almost 1,000 more votes than Patrick in Milford, winning the municipality by a margin of 50 to 40 percent. By contrast, Patrick’s statewide margin of victory was nearly 49 percent to nearly 42 percent. Milford also backed Republican Karyn Polito in the race for treasurer and Mary Connaughton in the race for auditor, both of whom lost.

Unofficial returns also had Milford supporting Question 1, which repeals the sales tax on alcohol, and Question 3, which rolls the sales tax back from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. Milford’s support for Question 1 was 59 to 36 percent, compared to the statewide outcome of 52 to 48 percent in favor. Question 3 prevailed in Milford by a margin of 49 to 46 percent, while it lost statewide by a fairly lopsided margin of 57 to 43 percent.

CommonWealth’s bellwether project is an attempt to go beyond poll numbers to find out what voters are thinking about issues that are important to them. Registered voters in Milford are encouraged to use a website run by a Boston startup called Localocracy as an online town common where issues can be voted on and discussed.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Preelection postings on the Localocracy website revealed support in Milford for both Question 1 and 3, as well as support for policies cracking down on undocumented immigrants. Those discussions seemed to reflect the tendencies of voters in Milford, who ended up voting for both questions and supporting Baker, who backed much tougher policies on undocumented immigrants than Patrick.

While Milford leaned conservative at the top of the ballot, it supported incumbents running for Congress and the state Legislature. State Sen. Richard Moore, a Democrat who represents Milford, cruised to victory with 62 percent of the vote. Rep. John Fernandes of Milford, another Democrat, ran unopposed. US Rep. Richard Neal, a Democrat, received support from 52 percent of Milford voters, compared to 48 percent for Republican Thomas Wesley.

CommonWealth plans to continue its Bellwether project in Milford. Over the coming months, the project plans to shift away from election-related topics to issues more related to governing.