Recent public polling in New York spells bad news for more than just Gov. Hochul. Overlooked in those surveys is how much state Democrats are losing independent voters — something that threatens the party’s efforts to reclaim congressional seats lost in 2022 that helped cost the Dems the House.
A Siena poll released Tuesday shows a continuing trend of independent New Yorkers — those registered to vote but not enrolled in any party — unhappy with the direction of the state and much of New York’s Democratic leadership.
Unsurprisingly, the poll found 60% of Democrats believe the state is heading in the right direction while 84% of Republicans feel the exact opposite. Independent voters by a 57% to 34% margin agree with the Republicans.
And in a blue state where Democrats control every statewide elected office and the majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, independents are also not enamored of those in charge. Whether it’s Hochul, just a few months into her first full term, or Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is in his fifth term and currently the powerful Senate majority leader, more independents hold an unfavorable view of the leadership than a favorable one. The same goes for President Biden, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and the Legislature.
With more than 2.8 million enrolled, independents make up the second largest voter segment in the state, about half of the Democratic total but more than Republicans, meaning they can help level the playing field for the GOP if their dissatisfaction continues.
Some of the findings can be pinned on the fact New York is under one-party rule, so any gripes over inflation, crime, and the migrant crisis are aimed at those in charge. But the problem extends beyond that. Hochul last year defeated conservative Republican Lee Zeldin by just six points, the lowest margin of victory for a Democrat governor in New York in decades. Four key congressional seats were also lost, costing the Democrats the House.
And it’s not just dissatisfaction among independents that looms large. The Democrats are losing the center of their own party. Many traditional Democrats within the Asian, Orthodox Jewish and Latino communities believe the party is lurching too far to the left, succumbing to pressure from a progressive base that is energized and loud but still far too small to win major races for offices like governor and New York City mayor.
Whether it’s policies they see as soft on crime at a time when hate crimes are up dramatically, the push to do away with admission exams at specialized schools, or strong legislative opposition to an extension of charter schools, various factions of the Democratic Party feel they are no longer being represented. A growing number of enrolled Democrats seemingly are identifying more as independents, explaining why it was not uncommon during the last election to see signs in front of Democratic households in parts of New York City touting Zeldin.
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The multi-year fight waged by the GOP over bail reform proved effective on Long Island, which only a few short years ago had seven Democratic state senators but now has just two, and parts of the northern suburbs and upstate.
A number of more moderate Democrats, such as Mayor Adams, state party Chair Jay Jacobs, and even the governor herself recognize the problem. But with the governor’s numbers slipping, a more emboldened and progressive Legislature promises to bring the state more leftward, threatening to further exacerbate the problem with independents.
New York in many ways faces a future that mirrors Massachusetts with a legislature that will be Democrat in perpetuity but with times when a bad economy, high crime, or unpopular policy decisions lead to the election of a Republican governor.
Think it’s not possible in New York? Remember that Zeldin, a pro-Donald Trump candidate who in Congress voted against certifying the 2020 election and who is anti-abortion, lost the gubernatorial election last year by just six points. Imagine if Republicans put up a fiscally conservative, tough on crime but more socially moderate candidate in the mold of George Pataki or Mike Bloomberg.
For now, Democrats have been fortunate that the GOP faces its own intraparty battles. A more conservative base has made it virtually impossible for a moderate Republican to win a statewide primary. But a far right candidate can’t win the general election in New York.
Still, if Dems don’t take the polls seriously and do more to win over independents and disaffected members of their own party, more Democrats will be blue as New York becomes more purple and red.
Lovett covered the New York State Capitol for 25 years, including nearly 11 as the Daily News Albany bureau chief.