FROM THE 30,000-foot view of national politics, Massachusetts looks pretty uniformly blue. It is one of the most reliably Democratic states in the Electoral College, it sends an all-Democratic delegation to Congress. And, despite our affinity for moderate Republican governors, Beacon Hill is now firmly in one-party control.
But zooming in on the map reveals clear political regions within the state. Election maps from governor and Senate races over the past several decades shows the gradual consolidation of red and blue zones. In the 1970s, Massachusetts was a patchwork of red and blue towns. By the 1990s, distinct sections start to coalesce: blue in Boston and its suburbs and in western Massachusetts; between them, a collar of red across central Massachusetts and wrapping north towards the New Hampshire border and down into the South Coast.
These political regions influence public opinion on a variety of issues beyond the ballot box. To illustrate this, we’ve created an interactive map showing responses to several questions from the CommonWealth Beacon poll – from President Biden’s approval rating to views on the migrant crisis – across six distinct regions of the state: west, central, southeast, the outer suburbs between I-95 and 495, the inner suburbs, and cities inside 95 (the old Route 128) and Suffolk County.
The results (toplines, crosstabs) largely track with the partisanship of these regions. Biden and the state’s two US senators are most popular inside Route 95 and in the west, and less so in between. Gov. Maura Healey’s approval shows a similar pattern, with more relative strength in the outer belt of Boston suburbs.
These divides extend to matters of policy as well. Two-thirds or more of those surveyed inside I-95 and 56 percent in the west support housing migrants in the state’s emergency shelter system. Less than half hold that view elsewhere. The most liberal regions are also more likely to think that the state’s policies on abortion and LGBTQ+ issues are a competitive advantage for the state, although the difference is sharper on abortion.
The partisan pattern is a little less clear on questions that venture farther away from politics. About half of residents in Boston and its innermost suburbs think the state’s best days are ahead, compared to only 37 percent in the outer suburbs and 31 percent in the southeast region. But central Massachusetts is feeling more optimistic (42 percent), and the West is a little less hopeful than its liberal politics might predict (41 percent).
When comparing quality of life in Massachusetts to other states, it appears that proximity to the capital city may matter more than ideology. Over half of residents in the three regions inside Route 495 think the quality of there is better than in other states. Less than half in the central, southeast, and western Massachusetts sections think so. The map on this question looks more like a bullseye centered on Boston than a map of election results. It’s a reminder that, even in this era of extreme polarization, politics explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything.
Richard Parr is senior research director at the MassINC Polling Group.