As the election dust settles, at first blush Connecticut seems bluer than ever. The open race for Governor has tilted toward the Democrat by a slim 5,000 vote margin, which would give that party the executive branch for the first time since 1995. An open senate seat remains in Democratic control with the defeat of Linda McMahon by Richard Blumenthal. And all five Democrats in Congress kept their seats (as long as redistricting does not ultimately reduce the number of representatives we get to send to Washington).
But looks can be deceiving. Litchfield County, geographically if not in terms of population density the greater part of Chris Murphy's 5th Congressional District, went heavily for the Republican candidate for Senate, as did Fairfield County to a lessor extent. Likewise, by the widest margin in Connecticut, 58% of Litchfield County voters went with the Republican candidate for governor: Chris Murphy would not have been reelected if his district did not include the urban centers of Meriden, New Britain and Waterbury.
From where I am sitting, the western parts of Connecticut after this election looks more purple than blue: purple like a bruise. Just across the state line in New York, two congressional seats that had been recent gains for Democrats flipped back to the GOP. What accounts for this voting pattern?
One clue may come from a The Washington Post initiative to canvass the Tea Party movement nationwide. The Post has posted its findings here. Respondents said they were motivated most of all by concern about the economy (closely followed by mistrust of government in general and dislike of Obama and his policies in particular). Their top issue was not, however, the economy and unemployment - only 5% said this was their single most important issue. Instead, Tea Party supporters felt the most important issue was tackling government spending / the deficit and limiting the size of government.
Those Tea Party supporters polled in the Post survey self identify as fiscally conservative and libertarian more than as social values voters. That accurately describes qualities that were once typical of values held by rural New Englanders. There has been a significant demographic shift, however, in the rural communities of the Hudson Valley and Northwest Connecticut, heavily influenced by proximity to Manhattan, a conversion of the second homes of New Yorkers to primary residences, and an aging population. They are also, on average, wealthier.
Those who voted their economic self interest and those who voted their anger combined to bring Republicans back into control of the House of Representatives and increased the number of GOP governors across the country. In western Connecticut, though, these two groups of voters may have much less in common on the social agenda, and it was not enough of a groundswell to add their candidates to the Republican wave.