If you are looking for a state that will give Donald Trump trouble on Super Tuesday, Massachusetts is not the place to look. It is almost certainly Trump’s best Super Tuesday state, and we should expect him to win the lion’s share of its 42 delegates and possibly win a popular-vote majority, something he’s not likely to do in most of the Super Tuesday states.
Why? Well, the Massachusetts primary electorate is sort of an odd duck, and hard to assess from recent history because favorite son Mitt Romney won 72% of the vote in 2012 (he beat John McCain by a more modest 51-40 in 2008, in a much higher-turnout race). 500,550 people voted in the Massachusetts primary in 2008, 370,425 in 2012, both of them held on Super Tuesday. The reason for the sharp dropoff in turnout is that McCain, running to Romney’s left, contested the state in 2008; Santorum and Gingrich, running to his right, did not contest it in 2012. Bob Dole beat Pat Buchanan 48-25 in Massachusetts in 1996.
Exit polls from 2012 and 2008, reflecting the Romney coalition, showed a relatively upscale, educated primary electorate, one very low on white Evangelical Christians (15% in 2012, 11% in 2008) and “Very Conservative” voters (15% in 2012, 18% in 2008), high on Catholics (55% in 2012, 51% in 2008), but also astronomically high on independents (in an open primary, 51% in 2012, 44% in 2008). But it’s also a heavily nativist electorate: in 2008, with immigration a big fault line between Romney and McCain, 43% of the voters were in the “deport them all” camp (Romney won 72% of these, while McCain drew majorities with all other voters, a sign yet again of how Trump is following the Romney primary path) and a staggering 23% cited illegal immigration as a top issue. By contrast, only 5% cited it as an issue in the much lower-turnout 2012 primary.
Note that downscale white independents are a low-turnout but potentially potent group in Massachusetts: Scott Brown’s Senate election in 2010 got general election-level turnout for a special election in January. Then again, with a very hotly contested open Democratic primary the same day, Trump will be competing for their votes with Bernie Sanders (not that this hurt either of them in demographically similar New Hampshire). On the upside for Marco Rubio, however, while the “red” parts of Central Mass. are stocked with likely Trump voters, the Boston suburbs (which are vastly more populous than Boston proper) are more congenial turf for Rubio. Without seeing regional polling, I’d guess that John Kasich is best situated in deep-blue Western Mass, the only region McCain won from Romney in 2008. Ted Cruz is deeply unpopular in Massachusetts, but should scrounge a little at the end of the delegate allocation. Ben Carson’s best bet in Massachusetts is to not read the results.
6% of Massachusetts primary voters in 2008 cited electability as the top candidate quality, 41% in 2012. Rubio would love to see the latter, as he dominates this category, but I would not bet on it.
The RCP average, drawn from two February polls, is an eye-popping Trump 45.0, Rubio 17.5, Kasich 16.0, Cruz 10.0, Carson 3.5. The Emerson poll of 289 likely primary voters, with a margin of error of +/-5.7% , has had a fairly good track record this cycle; it had Trump at 50%, and is a disaster for Cruz, as his favorability is 33-60 (-27), the only candidate in either party underwater with his own party, driven by 44% of the voters seeing him as dishonest; Trump is at 64-32 (+32), and the two are undoubtedly related. Of course, Hillary and Bernie have much higher favorables with their own primary voters than Trump. Near as I could make out from Emerson’s poorly-formatted crosstabs, it’s projecting that two thirds of the voters will not be registered Republicans.
Slightly more recent and less lopsided is the WBUR/MassINC poll of 386 likely voters, which had Trump up 40-19-19 on Rubio and Kasich. WBUR again had Cruz’s favorables deep in the dumps in Massachusetts, 29-51 (-23), with the others ranging from Kasich 48-18 (+30) to Trump 56-31 (+25) to Rubio 45-30 (+15) to Carson 44-32 (+12). Republican Governor Charlie Baker polled at 78-9 (+69), Pope Francis at 67-17 (+50), and George W. Bush at 58-32 (+26), all more popular than Trump. 70% said Bush kept us safe during his presidency, a position at odds with Trump’s. The poll assumes a 68/32 independent/Republican split, again way higher than 2008 or 2012 but certainly not impossible if Trump turnout is heavy.
The Green Papers describes Massachusetts’ delegate allocation as follows:
All 42 of Massachusetts’ delegates to the Republican National Convention are proportionally allocated to presidential contenders based on the statewide results of today’s Presidential Primary. A mandatory 5% threshold is required in order for a presidential contender to be allocated National Convention delegates…
NOTE as to rounding: after the number of votes for each presidential contender receiving at least 5% of the vote statewide is divided by the total votes cast for all presidential contenders receiving at least 5% of the vote statewide, the resulting percentage is applied to the total number of pledged delegates from the Commonwealth and then rounded to the nearest whole integer. Should the total number of delegates resulting from this procedure be either more or less than the total number of pledged delegates to which the Commonwealth is entitled, the qualifying candidates receiving the most or least votes statewide, respectively, will receive or lose one delegate each until the total number of delegates so distributed among candidates equals the total number of pledged delegates to which the Commonwealth is entitled (39).
So if we apply that formula to the poll average, we drop Carson and get Trump with 51% of the remaining vote and 21 delegates; Rubio with 19.8% and 8 delegates; Kasich with 18.1% and also 8 delegates; and Cruz with 11.3% and 5 delegates.
Two of the three big endorsements in Massachusetts have not come off the sidelines: Mitt Romney, of course, hasn’t endorsed (his onetime Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey endorsed Rubio after previously backing Jeb), and Charlie Baker rebuffed Chris Christie’s entreaties to join him and Paul Le Page in backing Trump, having previously endorsed Christie – like Christie ally Larry Hogan in Maryland (who also stayed uncommitted) and unlike Christie and Le Page, Baker still has to face the voters and donors again in 2018.
Baker has blasted both Trump and Cruz as unfit for the office.
The other big dog, Scott Brown, has endorsed Trump, one of Trump’s most prominent endorsers although he now lives in New Hampshire. The Boston Herald, the major right-leaning paper in the state, has endorsed Rubio, as have major papers in the center and west of the state.
Former Governor Bill Weld, who like Brown staged a brief, failed bid to run for office in another state, has endorsed Kasich. Badly failed former Governor Jane Swift had endorsed Jeb. Curt Schilling denounced Trump after his comments about John McCain last summer.
Further down the food chain, State Rep. Geoff Diehl, who recently lost a State Senate bid, has endorsed Trump, while Donnie Wahlberg and half the Republicans in the State Senate (not a large caucus) have endorsed Rubio. Kasich is also endorsed by four State Reps and former Congressman Peter Torkildsen. The Harvard Crimson reports that students are phone-banking for Rubio.
Rubio, a diehard Miami Dolphins fan, has long made known his hatred for the New England Patriots.
Trump: Not traveling to Massachusetts, presumably seeing it as in the bag.
Rubio: I could not find events listed for Rubio, though I swear I had read about him doing an event in or around Boston after the South Carolina primary. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner campaigns for Rubio in Worcester on Saturday.
Kasich: Kasich skipped primary night in South Carolina to campaign in Massachusetts and is expected back there on Monday. He is the only candidate advertising in Massachusetts. Most of his Super Tuesday efforts are focused on Massachusetts and Vermont.
Cruz: Did a couple of events in Boston last year, but has not recently campaigned in Mass. His father is doing a rally at a church in Chelsea, Mass. on Sunday.
Carson: has not recently campaigned in Mass., and his campaign appears to literally not know where it is.
Prediction: Pain. Trump should easily clear 40% in Massachusetts and maybe break 50, winning at least 18 delegates; I’m a bit suspicious of polls projecting that the electorate will be less than 40% Republicans, but I don’t see any reason to think it won’t be a lot less Republican electorate than 2008 or 2012. Otherwise, hard to say much besides what the two polls tell us: Rubio and Kasich will each be in the mid-teens, Cruz will be lucky if he hits double digits. I’d predict Rubio’s momentum to push him ahead of Kasich, but then Kasich is the only candidate paying attention to Massachusetts, and as we saw in New Hampshire, that can matter with cranky, flinty, moderate/liberal New England senior citizens.