GOP Trend in New York City Is Canary in the Coal Mine for Democrats

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It is hard to get 82% of Americans to agree about anything. Yet 82% of New York state voters believe the migrant crisis is a major problem, according to a poll from Siena released last week.

Not a poll of Republicans, not a poll of all Americans, but New Yorkers. By a 46%-32% margin, New Yorkers say that migrants resettling in the state over the past 20 years have been a burden, not a benefit, and by a margin of 58%-36%, they want their leaders to focus on slowing the influx of migrants rather than assimilating those already present.

As for those leaders, the numbers cannot come as a comfort. New York’s Democrats got a scare in 2022. The “Red Wave” may have proved underwhelming in the Midwest and New England, even though it still delivered Republicans the U.S. House, but one place it hit at high tide was New York State. Governor Kathy Hochul won reelection by the narrow margin of 53%-47%, the worst performance for a Democrat in two-decades. Democrats lost four seats in the U.S. House, which, when combined with a two-seat loss in 2020, accounted for their entire national deficit.

It is hardly shocking, then, that Siena finds New Yorkers have soured on Governor Hochul. She has a net negative favorability rating (40%-46%) and her approval ratings are tied at 46%-46%. What is more of a surprise is that President Joe Biden has joined her in negative territory, with 46% approving of his performance as President and 50% disapproving. Among Democrats, only 47% believe the party should renominate Biden in 2024, while 46% believe the party should nominate a different candidate.

Furthermore, the poll calls into question a favorite theory of Democrats, both in New York and nationally. They prefer to argue that the party’s underperformance in the state in 2022 was due to local factors, such as crime, and the unpopularity of local officials, such as Governor Hochul. In this theory, the Republican “wave” filtered upward from the bottom, and voters did not actually intend to send the GOP congressmen they elected to Washington.

But this theory conveniently ignores Schumer’s historically weak performance in 2022 when an unfunded opponent won over 40% of the vote, and Republicans’ surprising strength in races for the State Senate.

Second, Democrats argue the backlash is about the management of issues, not their content. Voters are pro-immigration, pro-gun control, and pro-criminal justice reform. They just don’t like how those policy preferences have been implemented.

The Siena poll casts serious doubt on these assumptions. First, as previously mentioned, New Yorkers say that migrants resettling in the state over the past 20 years have been a burden by a margin of 46%-32%, which implies an opposition to open borders. While Joe Biden’s overall approval rating was 46%-50%, those numbers when it came to how Biden has “addressed the recent influx of migrants to New York” were 34%-59%.

Just as surprisingly, Siena found that New Yorkers had a more favorable opinion of their state and local leaders than their national ones. When asked whether New York State was on the right or wrong track, voters said it was on the wrong track by a margin of 48%-39%. When asked whether the United States was on the right or wrong track, the answer was 62%-30% wrong track.

Developments in New York State confuse national analysts because they do not make sense. It swung heavily toward Republicans in 2022 when nationwide the narrative was one of a Democrat overperformance. They are apt to seize on any ounce of comfort, such as Siena showing Biden leading Donald Trump by 13%, 47% to 34%, but the weakness of the Democrat Party in New York illustrates wider trends which tend to be lost in the shuffle of discourse by a media dominated by white-collar, often white, professionals, about the political swings of white, white-collar, professionals.

This is evident in the focus on states where the shift in voting habits of these groups has been most evident, such as Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and ignoring the movements of other demographics. In 2016 this meant they foresaw suburban shifts which would allow Hillary Clinton to hold Colorado and Virginia, which voted for George W. Bush twice, but miss the Rust Belt collapse, which caused states which had gone for Al Gore such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa to flip to Trump.

Where the Republican gains have been coming from in New York is also worth noting. Unlike in other parts of the country, where Republicans are making gains in rural areas and smaller cities to offset suburban losses, over the last three cycles, Republican gains have been driven by New York City itself. This trend must horrify media figures for whom New York’s rejection of Donald Trump and the Republican Party is a source of pride.

 

Statewide Democratic Vote

Statewide Republican Vote

New York City Democratic Vote

New York City Republican vote

2008 President

63%

36%

79%

20%

2010 Governor

63%

34%

78%

20%

2012 President

63%

35%

81%

18%

2014 Governor

54%

40%

76%

17%

2016 President

59%

37%

80%

17%

2018 Governor

60%

36%

80%

15%

2020 President

61%

38%

76%

23%

2022 Governor

53%

47%

69%

30%

Source: NYC Board of Elections

Between 2008 and 2018, the Republican vote remained relatively stable statewide. In both years, the Republican candidates won 36% of the vote. However, in New York City, the Republican vote declined, from 20% in the 2008 Presidential and gubernatorial races, to a mere 15% in 2018. The Republican level of support statewide remained stable because the Republican Party made gains outside of New York City. This allowed Donald Trump to win a higher percentage of the statewide vote in 2016 than John McCain did in 2008, despite performing 3% worse in New York City.

Something different happened in 2020. Donald Trump’s statewide results improved by 2%, but this time he fell back outside of the city. Instead, his improvement was driven by an 8% improvement in NYC, providing the best performance for a Republican presidential candidate there since 2004. Whereas Hillary Clinton won New York City by 65% in 2016, Joe Biden won it by 53% in 2020.

This shift prefigured the 2022 gubernatorial race. Lee Zeldin, the Republican, performed well upstate and on Long Island, but New York City swung more heavily Republican than the state at large. Statewide, Hochul performed 7% worse than Cuomo did in 2018, and Zeldin did 9% better than Molinaro, the 2018 GOP nominee. But in New York City, Hochul did 11% worse than Cuomo’s 2018 performance, while Zeldin nearly doubled Molinaro’s support from 15% to 30%.

It is an article of faith that the Republican Party in general, and Donald Trump in particular, are unpopular in urban areas, and especially New York City. Obviously, there is truth to that. Even with the gains the GOP has made, New York City remains solidly Democrat.

Nonetheless, what makes the political trends in New York State since 2018 stand out is that they defy the national narrative. That narrative is one in which the Republican Party is increasingly becoming the party of rural areas and small towns, while the Democrats, the party of the cities, steadily makes inroads into the suburbs.

That is not the case in New York State, and likely helps explain why the 2022 midterms went differently there than in other parts of the country. In New York State, GOP gains in 2020 and 2022 were driven not by gains in rural areas or small towns but by New York City itself–by making gains into Asian American, Jewish, and Latino areas which had previously voted for Democrats but found themselves out of place in a sectarian Democrat Party. The Siena poll indicates these trends are set to continue, with Biden leading Trump by a margin of “only” 56%-27%, around Hochul’s 2022 result, which is all too plausible.

This trend terrifies the younger members of the Democrat media and staffer class because it is an indictment on their own vision of the party.

Arguably no location is more closely tied to the modern Democratic Party than New York City. Whereas “San Francisco values” became a term synonymous with the party in the 2000s, and Boston might have been seen as the intellectual heart of the party during the Obama years, the last decade has seen both fall by the wayside.

When it comes to the ideological failures of governing on the West Coast, Portland and Seattle have overtaken San Francisco in public consciousness. As for the culture of younger Democrats, both the crypto-turned-Artificial Intelligence “Bros” of Silicon Valley and the consultants and lawyers of Boston are too economically secure to represent the values and concerns of millennial Democrats. Both Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg appear the icons of quant interest groups, resented by the followers of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not least because many of them can afford their student loans. Many may be married and have kids, providing concerns about crime and education viewed as heretical by a Democrat Party whose electoral margins are increasingly dependent on the votes of single men and women.

The New York City Democratic Party, therefore, is the closest thing to an experiment in what the party of the 2030s will behave like in government that can be found. It is an electorate that, by electing Bill de Blasio, a far-left white male married to a black, ex-lesbian Marxist, indicated that ideology mattered more than governance. By prohibiting police from enforcing noise complaints and suppressing third parties in 2017, it asserted itself as a fully Marxist class party, only in this case the class was that of urban professionals.

When that drove African Americans, white ethnic voters, and Republicans into allying to elect Eric Adams, an African American former police officer, as mayor in 2021, they learned little, denouncing every action undertaken by the “cop” who had the temerity to call out the Biden administration on immigration. They compartmentalized Hochul’s near loss, and the defeat of Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney.

The trends in New York City are a canary in the coal mine for national politics. They indicate that Republican messaging on migration, crime, and quality of life issues work. More dramatically, they indicate that the new, Ocasio-Cortez vision for the Democrat Party is a vote loser, even in the city in which it originated.

Democrats may be able to afford a 15% drop in support in New York City and still control the city itself. But that already helped cost them the U.S. House. If it is repeated in other urban areas, and the same groups which have turned against Democrats in New York begin turn against them elsewhere, the Democrat Party might want to rethink its celebration of long-term trends, ot to mention its focus on legal procedures against Donald Trump to the exclusion of the border and immigration.

Arthur Camman is the pseudonym of a regular writer on current affairs who has taught history at the University level for eight years. He has worked on Capitol Hill, and is familiar with the historical development of the American and British political systems.



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