Home News N.Y. Dems face risk from independents

N.Y. Dems face risk from independents

A deep dive into a recent Siena College poll has a number of alarming warning signs if you are a New York Democrat.

The poll shows that Democrats are out of sync not just with Republicans in their home state but independent voters who can decide an election. It’s a stark message as national Democrats try to win back the House that was lost largely in part because of GOP successes in typically blue New York just two years ago.

The pendulum has not swung back and, in fact, seems to be swinging even further away from the state’s dominant party as critical elections loom in November.

“In the spring of 2024, New York independent voters — on most questions — are aligning more with Republicans than Democrats,” Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg told me. “And they are leaning Republican far more today than at this time four years ago.”

In May 2020, when offered the choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, New York’s independents chose Biden narrowly by 4 points. But faced with a rematch, the most recent Siena poll found that even with four criminal cases against him, Trump actually leads by a 46-32% margin among registered voters not enrolled in any party — a demographic that trails Democrats but is higher than the number of registered Republicans.

Overall, Biden leads in New York by 10 points, but remains under 50%.

For context, the last Republican presidential candidate to win New York was Ronald Reagan 40 years ago.

The freefall of independent voter support for Democrats — Biden in particular — is critical for Republican chances to win key congressional races this year in their battle to keep control of the House. Siena’s poll found 46% of independents are prepared to vote for the Republican congressional candidate in their district, compared to 26% who suggested they would support the Democratic candidate.

There is a silver lining for Dems in that more of those surveyed in the suburbs, where many of the battleground races will take place, said they are prepared by a 46% to 39% margin to vote for the Democratic congressional candidate.

But other numbers should have Democrats worried as they suggest a tale of two states. A small majority of Dems, 52%, say they believe the state is on the right track while Republicans and independent voters surveyed strongly believe New York is heading in the wrong direction, 82% and 67%, respectively. In Democrat-rich New York City, a plurality of residents also believe the state is heading in the wrong direction.

Additionally, while Democrats support Biden, independent voters, by a 67-29% margin, have an unfavorable view of the president. By contrast, just 48% of independents have an unfavorable view of Trump, with 45% of them having a favorable one of the former president.

And while independent voters have a dim view of Democratic leadership at all levels, it doesn’t end there. Siena found that independents are closer to Republican views on many key issues, whether it’s crime, the illegal sale of cannabis, congestion pricing, reparations to the descendant of slaves, requiring high school athletes to only compete with others of the same sex assigned at birth, or allowing parents to override educators’ decisions on what types of books should be available to students.

Upcoming polls should show the impact on voters of the recent college campus pro-Palestine, anti-Israel protests.

New York State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs acknowledged the problem his party has with independents but believes there is enough time to turn it around before the November elections.

He noted that Democrat Tom Suozzi won a February special congressional election on Long Island by taking more mainstream positions. He insisted the hard left “has had their time. Their moment is over…They overplayed their hand.”

Jacobs questioned the validity of the poll given that just 52% of New Yorkers oppose a national abortion ban and argued that most voters haven’t yet started paying attention in earnest to the fall campaigns.

“We’ve got to make sure we take ownership of the Democratic brand,” Jacobs told me. “We are a party of mainstream Democrats. The Republicans have done a good job painting us as soft on crime, socialists, weak on the border. But we (moving forward) are going to paint the Republicans as the party of nothing.”

It remains to be seen just how receptive independent voters will be to that messaging. With one-party control comes full blame when people are unhappy. As a result, New York Democrats could be left blue in November if the state turns more red because of disillusioned independent voters.

Lovett is a former award-winning reporter who spent 30 years covering New York State government and politics, including nearly 11 years as the Daily News Albany bureau chief.


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