Evan Horowitz | Quick Study

Has Trump gained ground in Massachusetts? We’ll find out Tuesday

Republican Geoff Diehl, who is running for the US Senate, shook hands with supporters Sunday in Taunton.
Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe
Republican Geoff Diehl, who is running for the US Senate, shook hands with supporters Sunday in Taunton.

The wave of right-wing support that carried President Trump to power in 2016 also crashed into Massachusetts, reshaping the state’s political map by exposing fresh sources of Republican support, especially in the western part of the state.

Tuesday, we’ll find out whether Trump’s brand of politics has made further gains here.

Of course, there isn’t any direct way to measure support for Trump since the president himself isn’t on the ballot. But we should still be able to track his influence by seeing where Trump-like candidates do best — and also where moderate Republicans are losing ground.


Here’s the baseline, a town-by-town map showing Trump’s impact on the 2016 race. It’s not the familiar blue-red breakdown depicting the towns Trump won and lost. Instead, it highlights those places where Trump outperformed his predecessor, Mitt Romney — and in that way it shows where Trump’s right-populist message proved more effective than the old Republican rallying cry.

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Note that the biggest shifts occurred in the Berkshires and across Franklin county, followed by a swath of towns northwest of Worcester and along the south coast.

These changes were hard to spot in the statewide vote tallies, because Trump’s overall performance wasn’t all that different from his predecessors: Trump got 34 percent of all major party votes in Massachusetts, close to the 36 percent John McCain garnered in 2008 and the 38 percent Romney amassed in 2012.

But Trump’s support was coming from very different sources: not free market Republicans in wealthy Boston suburbs but less-educated voters in more rural areas.

And the effect wasn’t subtle. In some Western Massachusetts towns, such as Savoy and Erving, Trump outperformed Romney by more than 15 percentage points. In the towns of Russell and Chester, the shift was enough to turn Obama-supporting locales into Trump-supporting ones.


Two years into his term, we may finally learn whether this was an anomaly or the beginning of a trend.

Either is possible. Trump is a very unpopular president — both in Massachusetts and around the country — so you might expect receding support. But he was already unpopular on Election Day 2016. And roughly 90 percent of Republicans still approve of the job he’s doing.

One way to gauge the current state of Trump support is to watch the Senate race pitting incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Warren against Republican Geoff Diehl, who is not just the former co-chair of Trump’s campaign in Massachusetts but who has pitched himself as a partner, someone who will advance the president’s agenda in Washington.

By treating Diehl-support as a proxy for Trump-support, in other words, we should be able to roughly measure the spread of Trumpism since 2016.

There is a complication. Diehl is also a state representative with a local constituency on the South Shore, which could boost his vote count in that region and give a false sense of Trump’s inroads across the southeast portion of the state. Also, Warren is a polarizing figure, which could lead some moderate Republicans to vote for Diehl even if his embrace of Trump doesn’t thrill them.


Fortunately, there’s another figure whose performance on Tuesday can help us understand the extent of Trump’s support: our Trump-skeptical Republican governor, Charlie Baker.

Baker refused to vote for Trump in 2016, and he has publicly opposed many of the president’s more controversial moves, including efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the recent rush to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

And while Baker has taken a softer line on Diehl — eventually saying he would vote for his fellow Republican after dithering over the question during a debate — that hasn’t been enough for some hard-line Republicans.

Most dramatically, a right-wing group called the “Republican Assembly” has urged conservatives to leave Baker’s bubble blank on the November ballot, and just skip to the next race.

Baker’s election-day performance should tell us whether this is just a quixotic campaign or if there’s really been a shift away from his brand of moderation toward a harder, more Trump-friendly conservatism.

Keep this in mind, as you watch the results come in next Tuesday night. When the votes are tallied, we won’t just know the winners and losers: We’ll also know whether the future of Massachusetts policy involves more wonkish fights over tax-and-transit policy, or instead revolves around Trump-favored themes like identity politics and immigration.

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz