Heather Higgins

The lessons of Massachusetts are not quite as obvious as they first appeared. The election holds a cautionary tale for both parties.

To better understand what really happened, the Independent Women’s Voice commissioned an in-depth statewide survey of those who voted in the special election to fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat.

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Let’s dispel one bit of spin and then look at the key issues and voting trends.

Martha Coakley wasn’t the Democrat’s problem. Her gaffes provided fodder for comics, but voters resoundingly said their vote was about issues; for 80% of Brown voters, it was about opposing the Obama agenda; for 81% of Coakley voters, it was about supporting it. The type of candidate each proved to be may have been a reason for not voting for them -- 24% in Coakley’s case, 11% in Brown’s-- but even among those voters, the candidate's agenda was dramatically more important to their decision.

Being the 41st Senator was the driver in this election – for both sides. In Massachusetts, all politics was suddenly national: 86% of voters said that that 41st Senate vote was important to their decision; knowing that their vote could make a difference in critical Washington policy debates almost certainly drove turnout for both sides.

Health care was the top issue – for both sides. For 86% of voters, health care was the top or among the top three issues. Overall, Massachusetts voters supported Washington’s health care legislation 46% to 44%. However, for those who said health care was the top issue, opposition ran 51% - 46%.

That spread gets even wider when one looks at Independents, whose oppose/support numbers for the legislation came in at 57%-34%. Even while women overall favored the healthcare legislation by 53%-35%, Independent women opposed it, mostly vehemently, by a mirror image 55% to 33%.

Among the greatest surprises in the data was the tri-partisan agreement that the status quo on health care has been a failure; just 16% of voters, including 29% Democrats, 8% Republicans, and 5% Independents, recommend Congress proceed as-is.

Heather Higgins

Heather R. Higgins is the president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice (IWV). Hadley Heath Manning is senior policy analyst at IWV.