IN APRIL, about a year after the US Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion, elected officials gathered in front of the Massachusetts State House. Gov. Maura Healey made an impassioned pitch to residents of other states: Massachusetts is the place to live, she said, if you care about abortion access and other civil rights.
When asked by the MassINC Polling Group if they agreed or disagreed with Healey’s statements that the state’s abortion laws are a competitive advantage in attracting people to Massachusetts, 58 percent of poll respondents said they agreed, while 25 percent disagreed.
Even more residents – 65 percent – said the state’s commitment to LGBTQ+ rights is a competitive advantage, while just 17 percent disagreed.
“Remember, Massachusetts is a place that will protect your freedom and protect your rights and protect your access to health care,” Healey said in April in remarks directed at potential Massachusetts college students and residents.
It was an interesting new wrinkle in a conversation that often centers on taxes and a state’s business climate, as Healey made it clear that socially conscious public policy, along with her proposed tax reforms, was now part of her mantra on competitiveness.
“Competitiveness is about more than taxes,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group. “Sure, people are concerned about taxes, the poll shows us that. But it’s also about where people can live the kind of life they want. For many people, the rights they have are meaningfully greater in Massachusetts than elsewhere.”
The poll was conducted from October 16 to 20 among 1,002 Massachusetts residents. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
The findings on the competitive advantage framing of liberal social policies go hand in hand with how residents assess quality of life for various groups.
In considering what groups of people have a better life in Massachusetts than other states, LGBTQ people topped the list. Some 58 percent of respondents said life is better for lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals in Massachusetts — the first state to legalize same-sex marriage — than elsewhere in the country, while 52 percent said life is better here for transgender people.
About a fifth of respondents said it’s probably the same quality of life for LGBTQ residents in Massachusetts, 10 percent said life here is worse for lesbian, gay, or bisexual people, and 12 percent said it’s worse for transgender people.
“I can imagine people in members of communities that could be in a much more difficult situation in other states would feel much more positive about Massachusetts,” said Michael Goodman, a professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. But he was quick to point to other findings from the poll that take a dimmer view of life in the Commonwealth. “Clearly that doesn’t apply to some of the practical lunch bucket issues like cost of living and housing that disproportionately impact those that are lower and more moderate income,” Goodman said.
When broken down by party identification, more than 60 percent of Democrats think life is better in Massachusetts for LGBTQ people, while just under half of Republicans agree.
Partisan splits also appeared when respondents were asked about specific policies.
The poll asked residents if they support or oppose health providers in Massachusetts providing abortion services to people from out of state. Over 70 percent of respondents said yes, and a quarter of respondents said they oppose it. While 85 percent of Democrats approve, only 46 percent of Republicans support providing abortions to out-of-state individuals.
Similarly, three-quarters of Democrats said the state’s abortion policies were a competitive advantage, compared to 35 percent of Republicans.
Healey’s emphasis on social issue competitiveness comes with a price tag. The state provided funding over the spring to stockpile the mifepristone abortion pill and spent $750,000 in state tourism funds earlier this year on advertising in Texas and Florida portraying Massachusetts as a safe place for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Of all the social issue polling questions, respondents were most mixed on the out-of-state billboard campaign advertising the state as a LGBTQIA+ haven. About half – 48 percent – said they supported spending $750,000 on the “Massachusetts For Us All” campaign, while 38 percent opposed it.
About 70 percent of Democrats supported the advertising campaign and about 20 percent opposed. The numbers were reversed for Republicans, with 22 percent supporting the campaign and 68 percent opposing it. Independents fell in the middle – a quarter supported it, half opposed it, and a quarter didn’t know or care about the question.
Healey’s office declined to comment on specific polling, but referred back to statements from the time of the billboard campaign.
“At a time when other states are misguidedly restricting LGBTQIA+ rights, we are proud to send the message that Massachusetts is a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for all,” the nation’s first openly lesbian governor said. “To anyone considering where they want to live, raise a family, visit or build a business – we want you to join us here in Massachusetts.”
After the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe, the Massachusetts Family Institute, which describes itself as a Christian advocacy organization, condemned Beacon Hill’s response. “[T]he pro-abortion legislature is already working to make Boston a hub for abortions by encouraging people to come from states where there are pro-life laws to kill their babies in MA,” wrote the group’s president, Andrew Beckwith. “It’s despicable.”
Massachusetts hardly saw a flood of out-of-staters coming to access abortion care, but there was a spike after Roe’s collapse in 2022. Federal health data showed that people from out of state accounted for just over 5 percent of all abortions that year, up 16 percent from the previous year. Planned Parenthood alone saw a 37.5 percent increase in patients seeking abortions over what was projected in the first four months after the Supreme Court ruling, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers.
“It’s not a toss up. Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly support abortion access and want our state to be a place where people feel safe receiving compassionate care,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, president of Reproductive Equity Now, responding to the poll numbers. “Today’s polling serves as a public mandate for our Commonwealth to go even further in expanding access to abortion and protecting patients traveling to our state—including their digital privacy.”