Even before Martha Coakley conceded to Scott Brown in Massachusetts, media analysts and blogs pointed to numerous reasons for the Republican's victory in a seat once thought to be a lock for the Democrats.
Were Democrats rebelling against President Obama? Was there a backlash against health care?
From the early election results and several overnight polls, numerous pundits and bloggers have sorted through the raw data and came up with their conclusions.
From their analysis, a few media myths can be debunked.
The vote against Obama. While Public Policy Voting found that 20 percent of people who had voted for Obama had switched to Scott Brown, national approval ratings for Obama are in the high-40-percent range, according to Pollster.com. In Mass, Obama's approval ratings do not differ significantly from his national numbers. Meanwhile, a simple comparison of Obama's approval ratings as compared to the race reveals that Coakley did not lose because of the president. Since last month, Coakley's polling numbers took a nose dive, while Obama's numbers remained constant.
I just talked to GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, who did that exit poll on the Massachusetts race I reported on below, and he confirmed my interpretation: It's a reach to see the outcome as a wholesale repudiation of Obama and his overall policies and agenda.
The vote against health care. Mass. has a healthcare system -- passed in 2006 -- similar to the one being proposed in the Senate. Additionally, as the Huffington Post reported, 37 percent of those who switched from Obama to Brown believed that the Democrats were not pushing hard enough on health care, in effect, casting their vote "in protest". The Huffington Post reported that of the Mass voters who opposed the Senate health care bill, 41 percent said they weren't sure why they opposed it.
So what happened? Coakley's drop in votes in relation to the overall votes was much more than the drop-off than what can be expected in a special election. The Democratic challenger picked up only 44 percent of people who voted for Obama. Meanwhile, the Republican vote total remained nearly the same.
In addition to the 20 percent of Dems who switched to Brown, 36 percent of votes cast for Obama in 2008 did not show up. In early January, only half of self-identified Democrats said they would probably or likely vote in the election, compared to almost 75% of Republicans. The result was not far from the prediction; The New York Times reports that, "[i]n President Obama's strongest areas -- towns where he received more than 60 percent of the vote -- the number of voters was about 30 percent below 2008 levels. In the rest of the state, the number of voters was down just 25 percent. In Boston -- one of the strongest areas for Democrats -- the number voting fell 35 percent."
Who didn't show up? The first group would be the young voters, of whom only 15 percent turned out. Two years ago, one-fourth of all young voters between 18 and 29 voted. That age group turned out overwhelmingly for Coakley. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a research group that tracks civic engagement of young Americans, estimates that she received 89 percent of that age group.
In another area where Coakley did well -- greater Boston -- she picked up over 60 percent of the vote. In Cambridge, the number was over 80 percent. However, the trend from two years ago signified a "Republican Shift," due to the absence of a significant number of voters.
While other factors had an impact, they did not decide the election. What did was the fact that Martha Coakley's voters did not show up.
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