Massachusetts Not Ready for a Woman?

01/21/2010 02:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Some consensus has emerged from Tuesday's Special Election. First, Coakley underperformed consistently. Absent consortium exit polls, but with no shortage of post-game analyses, we see Coakley underperformed not just with independents, but with the Democratic base. This debunks a common explanation for her loss--that Massachusetts simply isn't ready for a woman Senator (or Governor).

First, Coakley had the same gender gap as Obama did in Massachusetts in 2008. According to 2008 exit polls, there was a 20-point difference between Obama's advantage with women (+32) and his advantage with men (+12). Similarly, according to a post-election survey and analysis by Coakley's pollster, Coakley led by four points with women, but trailed by 16 points with men. So Coakley ran behind Obama by the same margin with both women and men.

Second, Coakley underperformed dramatically among liberal-leaning groups of women. The Lake poll shows her having a 17-point advantage with unmarried women. Nationally, Obama had a 41-point advantage with this group. According to the Lake analysis, Corzine had a larger advantage with this group, while the really underperforming Deeds had a smaller advantage. Another liberal-leaning group, college-educated women, were divided evenly between Coakley and Brown (50% for each). While there aren't public numbers for Obama among Massachusetts voters, nationally in 2008 he led by 27 points among white college-educated voters of both genders.

These figures suggest that Massachusetts sexism did not hold Coakley back, unless that sexism is as prevalent in liberal women as it is with other groups. That seems unlikely. Coakely underperformed consistently, throughout the state, and across the demographic spectrum. Campaign tactics, the mercurial nature of a special election, a volatile national climate, and the mobilization of the Republican base were sufficient to yield a Republican upset.