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Voters’ message for Democrats: Focus on results

Senator Elizabeth Warren celebrating her victory on election night. A new survey finds that she would beat Charley Baker for senator, but that he would beat her for governor. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For someone starting out in Democratic politics, the glib advice from a modern-day Horace Greeley would likely run this way: “Go Left — and you’ll show up in this country.”

Certainly that’s where the energy seemed to be in national politics. Until, that is, the midterm election, where more moderate Democratic candidates drove the Democratic Party’s success.

But surely “go left” is the right political prescription here in deep blue Massachusetts?

Actually, says an organization of reform-and-results-oriented Democrats, Bay State voters don’t want a more liberal Democratic Party but rather one that delivers on its values. As evidence, they point to a new Internet survey of more than 2,000 Massachusetts residents who voted on Nov. 6, an election that saw Republican incumbent Charlie Baker trounce Democrat Jay Gonzalez for governor.


According to the survey by the online polling firm Change Research, Baker voters chose him less based on ideology than because they see him as a results-oriented CEO: 30 percent said they picked him because he’s an effective manager, 19 percent because he has gotten things done on important issues, and 20 percent because he stands up to Trump.

And consider this: If Baker had switched parties and run as a Democrat, he would have prevailed over both Gonzalez and Bob Massie in the Democratic primary, according to the survey’s sample of more than 1,000 voters in that primary. Fifty-seven percent say they would have backed Baker, compared with 22 percent who would have gone for Gonzalez and 6 percent who would have chosen Massie.

The survey, which has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.16 percentage points, was paid for by Democrats for Education Reform, a center-left group that makes public its national advisory board but doesn’t reveal its funding sources (as I think it should).

Among its other findings: A majority (53 percent) of voters have a favorable view of Democrats, while 52 percent said they would like to see a state government that does more. But doing more doesn’t necessarily mean moving left: Forty-five percent said state Democrats were about where they should be ideologically, compared with 38 percent who judged them too liberal. Only 11 percent said state Democrats weren’t liberal enough. And though 54 percent said the Massachusetts Democratic Party represents their values, only 43 percent said things would be better if Democrats had complete control of state government.


But what about the dramatic Democratic primary loss that US Representative Michael Capuano suffered, and the from-the-left challengers who upset a couple of Democratic legislative incumbents? It happened only in the most liberal decile, or 10 percent, of districts, says Liam Kerr, state director of Democrats for Education Reform. In the other 90 percent of legislative and US House districts, only one incumbent has lost a primary in the last two cycles, he says.

“For the other 90 percent, the real tension is between values and results,” says Kerr. “Most voters share Democratic values, but even Democratic primary voters prioritize effective management over ideology.”

Meanwhile, a set of Baker-Elizabeth Warren match-ups shows the complex interplay between perceived management ability, results, and ideology as it applies to state and federal — and executive and legislative — positions. Voters see Senator Elizabeth Warren as more expressive of their values by almost 20 percentage points. Still, the mild-mannered, moderate Baker has an 8 point advantage on job performance over the feisty left-wing Warren.

If he and Warren had faced off for governor, Baker would have won, narrowly, 44 percent to 41 percent. Contrariwise, Warren would beat Baker in a Senate contest, 48 percent to 41 percent. The latter finding is just more evidence that Massachusetts voters are unwilling to support even popular GOP state officeholders for federal posts, because doing so would aid and abet the highly unpopular national Republicans.


As the battle — well, tug-of-war — for the soul of the Democratic Party goes forward, there’s a pre-Thanksgiving message to chew over here. The noise may be on the left but victory usually comes in the middle.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.