When Alice Houghtaling moved to Monroe, Massachusetts in 1972, it was a company town: not big, but bustling, with most activity centered around the paper mill where her husband found work.
"When he come back from Vietnam, he got a job down at Deerfield Specialty Papers, and he was down there for sixteen, sixteen and a half years," Houghtaling, a former school-committee member who was recently elected to the board of selectmen, said. "He made good money down there, really good money."
But then the mill closed after nearly a century — and according to Houghtaling, Monroe changed.
"It's empty," Houghtaling said. "Most of the people in town left; I mean, that’s why only a few people are still here. Some people moved back in. But we stayed because, I mean, my house is perfect!"
Monroe may not be empty, but it's close. There’s no school, no police department, and no business district. Paraphernalia from the mill's heyday is on display inside the town hall: there are envelopes, notebooks, a fading picture of the company baseball team. But the surrounding streets are so quiet that the chickens one resident keeps stroll around with impunity.
When it comes to politics, though, the town stands out. Between 2008 and 2016, it shifted more from voting Democratic to voting Republican than any other community in Massachusetts.
Brent Benson writes the blog Mass. Numbers, which offers quantitative analyses of state politics and policy. He's analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, and says Monroe — which went from backing Barack Obama by 36 points in 2008 to giving Donald Trump a narrow two-point victory in 2016 — fits a bigger pattern in communities that grew redder during that span.
"The difference between the 2016 and 2008 [outcome]," Benson said, "is highly correlated with the difference between education levels between the towns."
According to Benson, across Massachusetts, lower education levels were linked to shifts away from Democratic presidential votes and toward Republican ones. In Monroe, for example, the Census Bureau's figures show just 18 percent of residents have college degrees.
Benson's analysis suggests there’s another factor linked to red-ward shifts: whiteness.
"When there were more non-Hispanic whites in a city or town ... they were also more likely to change, to shift toward Trump," he said.
Again, like Monroe, which is 99 percent white.
A map Benson created to depict partisan shifts across Massachusetts shows most communities west of Worcester getting at least a bit more Republican, with two dark-red bands, running from Monroe down to Tolland and from Winchendon down to Wales, indicating even bigger changes.
In contrast, most communities inside 495 are getting bluer. Among them: Dover, an affluent, bucolic Boston suburb that’s seen the second-biggest Democratic shift in the state, right after neighboring Sherborn.
Elaine Rosenburg and Carol Lisbon co-chair Dover’s Democratic Town Committee. For decades, they told me, Dover’s identity has revolved around its schools — including Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, which is routinely ranked as one of the best in the state.
"The things that are important are education, and what goes along with that," Rosenburg said.
The adults in Dover are also well educated: 85 percent have college degrees, tops in the state. And while the town is still 84 percent white, Lisbon and Rosenburg say it’s not nearly as homogeneous as it used to be.
"Ethnic, racial, religious — it used to be a relatively uni-dimensional town in that sense, going back to the mid- last century," LIsbon said. "That has changed significantly."
Dover's politics have changed, too. In 2008, the town voted narrowly for Obama. In 2012, Mitt Romney won Dover handily, which Rosenburg said wasn't a big surprise.
"He'd worked in business in Massachusetts for a long time," she pointed out. "You know, when he was here he was a very moderate Republican governor."
But then, four years later, Dover backed Hillary Clinton over Trump by a whopping 29 points — and Dover's Democrats saw a distinct uptick in engagement.
"We went from having 10 people in a room to having a full room, to the point where people were literally changing their enrollment from unenrolled to Democrat so they could join our committee," Rosenburg said.
Whether these shifts will continue may hinge on whether President Trump’s version of Republicanism outlasts his presidency. But taken together, Dover and Monroe reflect a bigger truth about Massachusetts politics: we’re not a blue state as much as we are two states, headed in opposite political directions.