MORE THAN HALF of Massachusetts residents think the state’s best days are ahead, or already here, and more than two thirds say their family enjoys a good quality of life, according to a new CommonWealth Beacon poll.
But the picture is much more mixed when it comes to specific issues, with residents holding positive views on things often considered leading hallmarks of Massachusetts life, such as health care and higher education, while offering very negative views on how the state compares to the rest of the country on things like housing costs and the overall cost of living.
How positively residents view issues also depends on factors like party identification and educational attainment, with Democrats and those with a four-year college degree offering a rosier view of life in Massachusetts.
The findings come from a survey of 1,002 Massachusetts residents, carried out for CommonWealth Beacon from October 16 to 20 by the MassINC Polling Group. It has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. (See here for toplines and crosstabs.)
The survey comes 20 years after a MassINC poll gauged views on the quality of life in Massachusetts, and it shows a decrease in satisfaction with life here. In the new poll, 68 percent of residents said they or their family enjoy a good quality of life compared with 80 percent of respondents in the 2003 poll who said they or their family had a good quality of life.
Despite that drop, more Massachusetts residents today think the quality of life is better here than elsewhere in the US than was the case when the question was asked 20 years ago. Nearly half of those polled in the new survey – 49 percent – said the quality of life is better in Massachusetts than elsewhere, with only 14 percent saying it’s worse here. In 2003, only 35 percent rated Massachusetts quality of life above that of the rest of the country, with 17 percent saying it was worse. About a third of those in each survey said the quality of life here and elsewhere was about the same.
Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, speculated that the discordant findings may be a function of the much sharper political divisions that exist today. “I think it does have something to do with polarization, where people seem to be more distrustful of what’s happening in the rest of the country,” he said. “Maybe if you ask people in Texas, they would say their own quality of life is better.”
There were sharp differences in whether residents thought life was better in Massachusetts than elsewhere according to party affiliation and educational attainment.
Among those who identified as Democrats, 64 percent said life was better here than elsewhere, while only 7 percent said it was worse here, while 25 percent said it was about the same. Among Republicans, only 29 percent said quality of life was better here than elsewhere, while 27 percent said it was worse and 39 percent said it was about the same.
Among those with a bachelor’s degree or more education, 66 percent said quality of life in Massachusetts is better than elsewhere, while only 37 percent of those without a BA said so.
On the question asking whether the best days for Massachusetts are ahead, more Black, Latino, and Asian respondents said yes than did Whites. That finding, however, appears to be largely explained by Republicans accounting for a disproportionate share of Whites compared with non-Whites. Overall, 39 percent of Whites said the state’s best days are ahead compared with 50 percent of non-Whites. But among White Democrats the figure is 54 percent, while it is just 22 percent among White Republicans.
When the poll asked residents how Massachusetts was doing compared with the rest of the country on a range of issues, a clear divide emerged, with the state viewed much more favorably on some issues and much worse than the rest of the country on others.
On higher education, health care quality, arts and culture, and K-12 education, half or more than half of respondents said the state was doing better than the rest of the country. Less than 15 percent said the state was doing worse than elsewhere in the US on any of those issues.
As with the questions about overall quality of life here versus elsewhere, there were clear differences on these issues based on party affiliation and education. Among all respondents, 60 percent said health care quality was better here than elsewhere. Among Democrats, 73 percent said health care quality was better here, while only 48 percent of Republicans agreed. Among those with a BA or advanced degree, 74 percent rated health care quality in Massachusetts as better than elsewhere compared with only 51 percent of those without a BA.
“If you can afford premiums and not get buried in debt every time you go to the doctor, we do have a really good health care system,” said Koczela. “If you’re in that hole between Medicaid and not great insurance, it’s not such a good place to live.”
Even those groups that had a less favorable view of issues in Massachusetts, however, still viewed them as better here than elsewhere.
There was very little difference among subgroups on most issues where residents have a very negative view of how the state is doing. Respondents universally cited housing costs, overall cost of living, and childcare costs, for example, as areas where the state is doing much worse than elsewhere. Three quarters of respondents (76 percent) said the state was doing worse than elsewhere on housing costs, 68 percent said the state was worse on cost of living, and 45 percent said the state was worse than elsewhere when it comes to childcare costs. On those questions, just 7 to 13 percent of respondents said the state was doing better than elsewhere.
There was virtually no difference in the responses on those issues between those with and without a four-year college degree.
That speaks to how out of reach home ownership is, especially in eastern Massachusetts, for residents across a broad income range, said Michael Goodman, a professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Even those with very respectable incomes by any metric, really find themselves on the outside looking in,” he said. “The distance of where someone is and needs to be to own a home may not be the same, but they’re still not there.”
One issue where residents have a negative view of the state, but still show clear partisan differences is taxes. While few think tax levels in Massachusetts are better than elsewhere, twice as many Democrats (16 percent) hold that view as Republicans (7 percent). Republicans are also much more likely to say tax levels are worse here than elsewhere, with 67 percent holding that view compared with 45 percent of Democrats. Twenty-nine percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans said the tax picture here was about the same as elsewhere.
Koczela said the poll doesn’t provide a single consistent message about how residents view issues and quality of life in Massachusetts. “It depends what issues we’re talking about and who you are,” he said of variables like party affiliation and educational attainment, which tracks closely with income.
At the same time, he said, “there’s broad agreement on some issues, particularly issues we’re not doing well on in Massachusetts.”