Brown rode anti-Washington wave

Angry voters turned to GOP, poll indicates

By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post / January 23, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, antipathy toward federal government activism, and opposition to the Democrats’ health care proposals drove the victory of Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts, according to a post-election survey of Massachusetts voters.

The poll by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University’s School of Public Health underscores how significantly voter anger has turned against Democrats in Washington and how dramatically the political landscape has shifted during President Obama’s first year in office.

Sixty-three percent of Massachusetts special election voters said the country is seriously off track, and Brown captured two-thirds of these voters in his victory over Democrat Martha Coakley. In November 2008, Obama scored a decisive win among the more than eight in 10 Massachusetts voters seeing the country as off course.

Nearly two-thirds of Brown’s voters said their vote was intended at least in part to express opposition to the Democratic agenda in Washington, but few say the senator-elect should simply work to stop it.

Three-quarters of those who voted for Brown said they would like him to work with Democrats to get Republican ideas into legislation in general; nearly half said so specifically about health care legislation.

When Obama was elected, 63 percent of Massachusetts voters said government should do more to solve problems, according to exit polling. In the new poll, that number slipped to 50 percent, with about as many, 47 percent, saying that government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.

Like Obama, Coakley won more than 70 percent of those progovernment voters, but the bigger pool of voters seeing government overreach helped Brown claim victory.

Health care topped jobs and the economy as the most important issue driving Massachusetts voters, but among Brown voters, “the way Washington is working’’ ran a close second to the economy and jobs as a factor.

Just 43 percent of Massachusetts voters said they support the health care proposals advanced by Obama and congressional Democrats; 48 percent opposed them. Among Brown’s supporters, however, 8 in 10 said they were opposed to the measures, 66 percent of them strongly so.

Sizable majorities of Brown voters saw the Democrats’ plan, if passed, as making things worse for their families, the country, and the state. Few Coakley voters saw these harms, and most backing her saw clear benefits for the country if health care reform became law. Less than half of Coakley’s supporters said they or the state would be better off as a result.

Among Brown voters who said the health care reform effort in Washington played an important role in their vote, the most frequently cited reasons were concerns about the process, including closed-door dealing and a lack of bipartisanship. Three in 10 highlighted these political machinations as the motivating factor; 22 percent expressed general opposition to reform or the current bill.

Coakley voters, by contrast, cited the need to cover the uninsured and fix the health care system as the main reasons the issue drove their vote.

Massachusetts enacted a universal health care plan several years ago, and the survey shows that it remains highly popular. Overall, 68 percent of the voters in Tuesday’s election said they support the Massachusetts plan, including slightly more than half of Brown voters.

Obama also remains highly popular in Massachusetts. More than 6 in 10 of those who voted approved of his job performance, with 92 percent of Coakley voters expressing satisfaction, along with 33 percent of Brown’s. More than half of Brown’s backers said Obama was not a factor in their vote.

But the Obama administration’s policies drew some fire, with nearly half of all special election voters either dissatisfied or angry about those initiatives. Nearly three-quarters of Brown’s voters expressed the negative view.

Republican policies proved even less popular, with 58 percent of Massachusetts voters saying they were dissatisfied or angry about what the Republicans in Congress are offering. Among Brown voters, 60 percent gave positive marks to the policies of congressional Republicans, but a sizable number, 37 percent, offered a negative appraisal.