If recent polls are to be believed, an upset could be possible in an unexpected state. Multiple polls have shown New York – a state Joe Biden carried by 23% – to be within striking range. The 538 average gives incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul a 6.8% lead over Republican challenger Lee Zeldin, an outgoing Congressman from Long Island. A lot of media attention has gone into this race lately – perhaps due to the novelty of a marginally competitive statewide race in New York – and some outlets, including Sabato’s Crystal Ball, have shifted it to Likely Democratic.
However, we’re simply not convinced that New York is on the board. Even putting aside the questionable nature of the polls – New York is one of the few states where polls can underestimate Democrats – the math points to a state well out of reach for Republicans. In modeling the state with our Election Shuffler tool, the tough path for Republicans in the Empire State becomes apparent.
Upstate Gains Aren’t Enough
To start, gubernatorial races don’t tend to have as much turnout as Presidential ones. So turnout across New York State is set at 2018 gubernatorial election levels – the most recent midterm in the state.
Second, let’s give Zeldin a big benefit of the doubt and assume he runs equal to the best Republican margins upstate in the last three gubernatorial elections while equalling Trump’s 2020 margins downstate. This is important because Andrew Cuomo ran well ahead of Joe Biden in most downstate counties. The one exception here is Erie County – Carl Paladino, a native of the county, carried it by 21 percentage points in 2010. This was a fluke performance, something no other Republican has come close to matching since, so I’ve instead set this one to Molinaro’s 7-point loss in 2018.
These changes are enough to shift New York from a 23-point Democratic victory to a 17-point one. Upstate New York in and of itself only makes up just over a third of the state’s population, so a mere over-performance here make that much of a difference in and of itself. In order to make New York competitive, you have to do well where the brunt of the population lives – New York City and its suburbs.
Massive Swings Downstate Wouldn’t Even Be Enough
In order for a Republican to win in New York, they need to be pulling stronger-than-average margins downstate. So I’ve crafted two additional scenarios – the first shifts the suburbs (Rockland and Westchester in the north, and Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island) 10 points to the right and New York City 20 points. This is enough to move the needle to a seven-point Democratic victory. The second scenario takes this even further – if you shift the suburbs and New York City an additional 10 points, you get to a narrow Democratic win of 1.5%.
These shifts would be fairly implausible. While an over-performance in Long Island (Zeldin’s home turf), conservative Staten Island, and Rockland County could be possible, nearly matching Rob Astorino’s pre-Trump margins in Westchester County (his home county) would be far less likely. This scenario would also see Zeldin winning 31% in the Bronx and 27% in Manhattan, counties Trump only received 16% and 12% in, respectively, while also only losing Queens by 15% and Brooklyn by 25%. And even with all these massive over-performances, it’s still not enough to seal the deal.
Partisanship is Too Strong
Simply put – we don’t see a viable path for a Republican statewide win in New York. The traditional path to victory (a clean sweep of upstate and Long Island while keeping margins down in NYC) is not possible in the modern age, as Democrats have established firm political bases in upstate’s major cities (Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse) as well as large, suburban Westchester. Republicans can and have done well upstate, but they simply lack the strength there to drive a statewide win.
With the most viable path out of the picture, even the 28% of New York City vote that Curtis Silwa received in last year’s mayoral election wouldn’t be enough – Zeldin would likely need to be pushing 40%. This would require a political realignment that we don’t anticipate is coming.
We don’t discount the possibility that New York could be closer than expected; both parties appear to be taking the race seriously to some degree. In fact, a margin of around 10-14% could certainly be possible. In 2014, Andrew Cuomo only carried New York by a 14-point margin, largely attributable to a very strong performance in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. But we just don’t see a way to overcome that last 10% – and especially not the final 5%.
The real question is what the combination of Democratic bungling on Covid, the ineptness of Kathy Hochul since becoming governor, parents’ anger at the overreach of teachers’ unions, and the crime wave that has struck New York City will do. Could you have predicted how well the GOP did in New Jersey, right across the river, last year? I don’t know that Democrats WILL do as well in New York City as you’re suggesting. I’m 70 years old and I wouldn’t have imagined when I was a young man that the southern third of Brooklyn would get as Republican as it’s gotten; and that’s just on the basis of what was even before all these things happened.
Ruben Diaz has endorsed Zeldin. The last time he endorsed a Republican, it was political curtains for Anthony Weiner, as Robert Turner carried the Brooklyn portion of that district overwhelmingly (which is why the Democrats redrew that district after the 2010 census). The ambush-murder of two Hispanic cops and the huge funeral did some things in the Hispanic neighborhoods that haven’t yet been measured.
So while I agree that Zeldin is in an uphill fight against New York’s political patterns, those patterns may be changing, and especially in the non-black minority neighborhoods. If they are, Hochul’s margins in Queens and Brooklyn may not be what you’re expecting them to be, and if that’s so, she may be in trouble.