Millenials, Whiteness, Public Charter Schools, and the Massachusetts Democratic Party

Suburban Massachusetts. Photo credit - me.

Suburban Massachusetts. Photo credit - me.

Last week, a poll of Massachusetts Democrats revealed that a majority of the state’s left-leaners support raising the charter cap, which is “Question 2” on the November ballot in the Commonwealth. That result complicates the reasoning of the state’s Democratic party leadership, which voted to oppose the initiative behind closed doors last month. While powerful interests within the party – including the Massachusetts Teachers Association – are spending big money to oppose the initiative, those interest groups are out of step not just with the average voter, but also with the average Democrat.

Where the party’s position is even more tone-deaf is with younger voters and voters of color. The “crosstabs” of the poll reveal a fascinating disconnect. Whereas 54% of White Democrats are likely to vote yes to lift the cap, that number is 65% for Black Democrats, and a whopping 83% for Democrats under thirty-years old. Overall support for charter schools is just as striking. Whereas a clear majority of all Democrats support public charters – 62% - that number is 74% for Black voters and 84% for younger voters. Not to mention the fact that the cities with the highest concentrations of Latino families are the most supportive of raising the cap overall.

Percentage of Democrats Likely to Vote "Yes" on Question 2

Percentage of Democrats Who Support Charters

Demographics of Sen. Stan Rosenberg's District

It’s hard to tell from polling alone what these numbers mean, beyond overwhelming support for having more high-quality public charter schools through raising the cap in November. That said, these statistics help explain the failure to get a deal done on charters in a legislature whose leadership is dominated by the Commonwealth’s suburbs. For example, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, the central dealmaker in the upper chamber, represents twenty-four towns in Western Massachusetts, twenty-two of which are more than 93% White; his total constituency is 89% White, which is much Whiter than Massachusetts as a whole.

The numbers also reveal that statewide Democratic leaders, in both the legislature and party infrastructure, have lost touch with their membership in trying to cater to a special interest. Supporting the position of labor used to be a decent proxy for protecting the most vulnerable actors in a system, but when it comes to schooling, the middle- and upper-middle-class workforce constitutes a far more privileged class than the low-income students and families in Massachusetts’s cities. The younger generation of voters in Massachusetts is much less White than the rest of the state, and much less likely to buy the old-school version of progressivism that the party’s elders are selling. In the short-term, if those voters turn out in November, it should force the state’s leaders to rethink some tired positions. In the long-term, the Democratic party has a bigger demographic reckoning at its doorstep.