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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded

Fall 2014

First Advisor

Dean E. Robinson

Second Advisor

Tatishe Nteta

Third Advisor

Ralph Whitehead

Subject Categories

American Politics | Public Policy | Race and Ethnicity | Urban Studies

Abstract

Racial and ethnic divisions at the national level and their effects on politics take on an abstract character when not discussing specific communities. To obtain a reliable, consistent, and potentially reliable measure of a relationship, demographic information and voting behaviors at the small community, submetropolitan level must be examined in high-turnout, same-office elections over a protracted period, ideally in a polity with a penchant for racial tolerance. The political language of Boston has been mired in racialization since at least the Civil Rights era, particularly since the Boston anti-segregation busing crisis of the 1970s. While previous research has focused on the busing crisis itself as a marker of national politicization of local ethnic and racial cleavages, the focus has not been on the consistently central political conversation of Massachusetts to demonstrate both the totality of the rhetorical and electoral focus on racial divisions and the immediate effect of such strategies on the respective racially predominant communities of Boston. Through archival research in combination with demographic and electoral data, it can be observed Massachusetts statewide political candidates, alternately nominated by the two major parties, completely adopted the Reagan strategy of poverty-shaming and race-baiting that had gained success during his three campaigns for the presidency and his successor’s successful linkage of that strategy to Massachusetts itself. It was in the post-Reagan era that this strategy found a permanent home with Republicans, who won four consecutive gubernatorial elections by utilizing this strategy, activating the white-working class neighborhoods of Bostonwhile alienating the majority-black neighborhoods. In order to maintain the new base of white working-class voters, each new Republican candidate had to adopt the previous formulaic combination of rhetoric and policy planks, no matter how inappropriate or irrelevant such positions and rhetoric were with each successive election. Gains were consolidated by credit-claiming about the policies enacted during Republican administrations to further disadvantage the so-called underclass, populated by social welfare beneficiaries and drug-affiliated criminals. These policies were political ends in themselves to further the Reaganite political program for the next successive election until the strategy reached the point of diminishing returns when racial diversity reached a critical mass in Boston in the early 21st Century.

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