Source: Umass News and Media
Four in 10 Massachusetts residents – and more than half of Bay State Republicans – have contemplated leaving the commonwealth within the past year, a new statewide University of Massachusetts Amherst/WCVB Poll has found.
The poll of 700 Massachusetts residents conducted March 28-April 5 found that 53% of Republicans, 47% of independents and 60% of conservatives have all thought about moving out of the state. Identical percentages (43%) of men, younger residents and people of color, and 46% of those making less than $40,000 per year have also thought of emigrating.
“Massachusetts residents continue to contemplate moving from the state, with the top concern the high cost of living,” says Raymond La Raja, Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll. “Overall, 39% say they have considered moving in the past year, a small upward tick from six months ago when 35% said this. Moreover, it is younger people and the more educated who are more likely to think of leaving the state, groups that the state cannot afford to lose for its future.”
“The state needs to be concerned about a possible ‘brain drain’ of talented and ambitious residents,” warns Jesse Rhodes, Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst and co-director of the poll. “Fully 43% of 18-29-year-old residents have contemplated leaving the state in the past year, as well as 41% of those with a college degree and 42% of those with a post-graduate degree. To maintain a growing economy, as well as a vibrant society, Massachusetts needs to find ways to encourage these residents to continue to live in the state.”
The top reasons provided by the poll’s respondents that factored into their consideration of leaving the Bay State, in order, were the high cost of living, the prospect of making a change in their lives, concerns about high taxes and governance, a feeling of exclusion and complaints of progressive politics. They were also asked open-ended questions that allowed respondents to reply in their own words, and a number of their responses are included in the poll’s topline results.
“A key theme that emerges from our survey is frustration with housing affordability and transportation issues in Greater Boston,” La Raja says. “Someone may have a well-paying job, but they don’t feel well off given the cost of living and dealing with bad commutes. These quality-of-life issues will require concentrated focus from the governor, legislature and many local governments, whose interests don’t always align.”
“For decades, Massachusetts has been known as ‘Taxachusetts’ due to the litany of income, state, sales, property, gas, corporate, excise and local taxes inflicted on the residents of the commonwealth,” says Tatishe Nteta, Provost Professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll. “With issues with the state’s taxes emerging as a one of the top three explanations for this consideration, it is no shock that the most popular specific destinations raised by respondents of our poll – Florida, New Hampshire and South Carolina – all share one thing in common: low to non-existent state income taxes.
“Gov. Maura Healey surprised many when she made reform of the state’s estate and capital gains taxes a central priority of her administration,” Nteta continues. “Our results suggest that for many residents contemplating a move from the state, the cost of living and taxes rank high in explaining their flirtation with leaving the commonwealth. If our results are a harbinger of an exodus from the state, Healey hopes that her proposals may stem the rising tide of discontentment and keep many from fleeing Massachusetts.”
Right Track, Wrong Track and the State of the Economy
The poll’s respondents continue to indicate more positive views of the state of the Massachusetts economy than they have for the national economy. In fact, for the first time since Nov. 2021, a majority (54%) rate the Bay State’s economy as “good” or “excellent.” Meanwhile, just 27% hold similar views of the U.S. economy.
“There’s been an uptick since half a year ago about the state of the Massachusetts economy – 54% rate it positively today compared to 47% back in October,” La Raja says. “However, when asked about their own economic situation, those who view it positively has not changed. It still stands at 44%.”
“As evidenced by escalating home prices, rents and wages, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has become a destination of choice for many living both in the U.S. and abroad,” Nteta says. “However, there still remain economic challenges faced by residents of the Bay State. Close to one in five residents of the state assess their personal economic well-being as ‘poor,’ the highest percentage since we began polling this question in November 2021. Economic concerns such as the cost of living, inflation and housing dominate the perceptions of the most important issue facing the state and close to a quarter of our respondents indicated that they have had difficulty paying rent or their mortgage (23%), medical care (26%), or for food (28%) in the past year. Given this economic reality, it is no surprise that alongside changes to the estate and capital gains taxes, the state legislature and Governor Healey plan to pursue tax relief for families, renters, parents, seniors, farmers and commuters.”
The poll found little movement in “right track/wrong track” numbers since October, both in relation to the U.S. and the commonwealth. There was a slight uptick from 21% to 22% among those who view the U.S. is heading in the right direction, while those feeling the nation is on the wrong track dropped one point to 65%. Compared to the national direction, twice as many respondents (44%) feel Massachusetts is moving in the right direction, while just about half as many (33%) say the state is on the wrong track. While 65% of Democrats said the Bay State is going in the right direction, 73% of Republicans responded by saying the commonwealth is on the wrong track.
“Conservatives and Republicans are minorities in Massachusetts, one of the nation’s most progressive states, and they are expressing their displeasure,” Rhodes says. “Huge majorities of conservatives and Republicans believe the state is on the wrong track, and majorities of both groups say they’ve contemplated leaving the state. For these groups, beliefs that taxes are too high and that policies have become too liberal are major sources of dissatisfaction.”
Policies and Issues – Housing and the MBTA
“With home prices continuing their upward trajectory, home interest rates remaining relatively high and the state in the midst of a housing shortage, both first-time homebuyers and older residents looking to downsize from their current homes are facing a difficult housing market,” Nteta says. “Given this reality, and the seeming intractability of the housing issue, the most frequently identified problem by residents of the Bay State is ‘housing.’ Gov. Healey and the state legislature will need to address this problem head-on and come up with innovative solutions to this problem, and if they do not, they may face harsh electoral consequences in 2024 and beyond.”
One policy that would address the soaring housing costs is rent control, and 70% of the poll’s respondents said they would support allowing local governments to set a limit on how much rents can be increased each year. Only 16% of respondents indicated opposition to the idea.
“The policy is popular among almost all demographic and political groups in the state, save Republicans and conservatives, but even among these groups close to four in 10 support the rent control policies,” Nteta says. “With Boston Mayor Michelle Wu proposing a new rent control policy in the largest city in the state, it is likely that this issue will gain traction as a potential solution to skyrocketing rents from Pittsfield to Provincetown.”
Other policies with solid support in the new poll include increasing the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2027 (67% support) and allowing public school teachers to strike to improve working conditions, wages and benefits (63%).
“Across the commonwealth, residents are disposed toward liberal positions favoring rent control, increasing the minimum wage and allowing public school teachers to strike,” La Raja says. “However, women and young people are much more liberal than men and older residents on these issues. Among women, for example, there’s a roughly 10 percentage point difference with them taking a liberal position on these issues.”
Respondents from Eastern Massachusetts were also asked their views of the MBTA and who they blamed for the ongoing woes with the transit service.
“In the past year, the MBTA has experienced a litany of issues that include slowdowns, closures and safety concerns ranging from falling ceiling panels, crumbling staircases and faulty subway doors that have resulted in a multitude of injuries and at times the death of MBTA riders,” Nteta says. “In the wake of these incidents, it is no surprise that since 2018, assessments of the quality of the MBTA have plummeted with close to a majority (48%) of residents rating the MBTA as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor.’
“Given the problems that the MBTA has faced in the recent past, it would seem likely that elected officials such as Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, former Gov. Charlie Baker or current Gov. Maura Healey would bear the brunt of the criticism for the failings of the MBTA,” Nteta continues. “However, a strong majority – 57% – point the finger at the bureaucratic agency in control of the MBTA, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, as the institution most responsible for the issues that the MBTA has experienced.”
Rhodes connects the MBTA’s issues with the housing situation, saying, “It’s important that this issue dovetails with Massachusetts’ residents biggest concern – the lack of affordable housing. When public transportation is poor, residents have fewer reasonable housing options, particularly in densely populated areas, driving up mortgage prices and rents. Dealing with housing affordability means making public transportation better.”
The margin of error within this poll is 4.7%.
Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll