No indication of shift among upstate voters toward Romney
NEW YORK STATE For the Republican Party, New York state is a lost cause, and has been for some time.
With polls suggesting President Barack Obama will win more than 55 percent of the vote in New York, nobody believes Mitt Romney has a chance to win the state’s 29 electoral votes.
One of the main reasons Obama has such a big lead in the state is his popularity in New York City, but even in upstate New York, where voters tend to be more conservative, the president will likely defeat Romney, though by a closer margin, according to political experts.
For a clue as to how Capital Region residents will vote in November, political scientists suggest looking at the 2008 election results. Voters turned out in record numbers that year, with 62.5 percent of the country’s voters heading to the polls — the highest turnout in 40 years. But in the Capital Region, voter turnout actually declined from 2004, largely because Republicans chose to stay home and more Democrats went to the polls. Statewide, about 400,000 Republicans did not vote.
This trend can largely be explained by the perception that Obama was a shoo-in, a lack of enthusiasm among Republicans and the dearth of competitive districts throughout the state, according to political scientists. They predict that turnout will be similar this time around, with many Republicans choosing to sit out the election and Democrats more likely to head to the polls to express support for Obama.
“There’s not a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney,” said Bob Turner, an assistant professor of government at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. Many Republicans “loathe Obama, but they don’t like Mitt. There seems to be a lot more enthusiasm among Democrats [for Obama]. … If I had to guess, the vote results will be pretty similar to last time. Mitt is not even pretending to contest New York.”
Joseph Zimmerman, a professor of political science at the University at Albany, agreed.
“It’s reasonably safe to conclude that most counties are going to vote the way they did last time,” he said. “I don’t see much excitement about the presidential race in New York, but it’s possible something may break and get people more excited.”
As the presidential campaign enters its final month, Obama appears to have the edge, with leads in crucial swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. But experts said there’s still plenty of time before the election, and certain things, such as unrest in the Middle East, could cause that momentum to shift.
Here’s how residents of the Capital Region voted in 2008:
• In Schenectady County, more than 37,000 voted for Obama, while about 25,000 voted for McCain.
• In Schoharie County, more than 7,000 voted for McCain, while more than 5,000 voted for Obama.
• In Fulton County, McCain won, with about 10,000 voters supporting the Republican ticket and more than 9,300 supporting the Democratic ticket.
• In Saratoga County, about 54,000 voted for Obama, while about 46,500 voted for McCain.
• In Montgomery County, McCain won, with more than 9,000 votes, compared with more than 8,500 voting for Obama.
• In Albany County, Obama won easily, with more than 90,000 votes and slightly more than 43,000 for McCain.
• In Rensselaer County, more than 37,000 voted for Obama, and about 27,500 voted for McCain.
In New York City, more than 2 million people voted for Obama, while fewer than 500,000 voted for McCain. Overall, Obama received more than 4.6 million votes in New York state, to McCain’s more than 2.4 million.
The county breakdown was similar in 2004, with some key differences.
Former President George W. Bush defeated Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in Saratoga County, a longtime Republican stronghold that has become more Democratic in recent years. Bush also won in Schenectady and Rensselaer counties. In both 2008 and 2004, the Democratic candidate defeated the Republican candidate upstate, though by a much closer margin than in New York City.
Turner said he didn’t expect the Capital Region counties to vote much differently than in 2008, and that Saratoga County is unlikely to swing back to the Republicans.
“Saratoga as a county is changing,” he said. “There’s been an influx of new people associated with the [GlobalFoundaries] chip fab [plant]. The population is growing.”
He said the county’s Democratic base had been strengthened in recent years, largely as a result of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s successful run against former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney in the 20th Congressional District. She was elected twice before being appointed to the Senate by former Gov. David Paterson when Hillary Clinton vacated the seat to serve as secretary of state in the Obama administration.
Polls suggest a majority of upstate voters continue to support Obama.
The Siena Research Institute has surveyed voters in eight districts, including the redrawn 19th Congressional District, which includes parts of Montgomery, Schoharie and Rensselaer counties. In that district, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, 49 percent of voters said they had a favorable opinion of Obama, compared with 45 percent who said they had a favorable opinion of Romney. And while 49 percent of voters said they had an unfavorable opinion of Obama, 52 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of Romney. Overall, Obama has a four-point lead in Gibson’s district, according to the September poll.
On the issues, voters seem to support Obama, which helps explain his lead upstate, said Donald Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute.
While those surveyed were fairly evenly divided on Obamacare — in Gibson’s district about 46 percent of voters expressed support for implementation, while about 50 percent expressed support for repeal — they were much less ambivalent when queried about Social Security, Medicare and the Bush-era tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 a year.
In Gibson’s district, 46 percent of voters said their position on safeguarding Medicare was closer to Obama’s, compared with 35 percent who said their position was closer to Romney’s, while 41 percent said their position on Social Security was closer to Obama’s, versus 34 percent who said their position was closer to Romney’s. Fifty-nine percent said they supported eliminating the Bush-era tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000.
“Far and away, likely voters side with the president,” Levy said.
Voters are more likely to head to the polls when they perceive that their vote matters, according to Turner, the Skidmore College assistant professor. Voter mobilization efforts also make a difference: Studies have shown a conversation with a campaign staffer or volunteer increases the likelihood that someone will vote by 9 percent. Turner said that in the swing state of Ohio, Obama’s campaign has contacted about 39 percent of the state’s registered voters, to Romney’s 29 percent. In New York, which is not a swing state, this sort of intensive campaign outreach does not exist.
The 2008 election brought out such a high number of voters because people wanted change, Turner said. The economy had collapsed, and there was widespread dissatisfaction with how Bush had handled the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this year there is diminished enthusiasm for Obama, as voters have tired of the gridlock on Capitol Hill and some who supported the president have grown increasingly frustrated with broken campaign promises and what they perceive as problematic compromises.
“Obama promised change, and he hasn’t completely delivered,” Zimmerman said. “He might not run as strong as he did in 2008.”
In an August poll by the Siena Research Institute, Obama had a 30-percentage-point lead over Romney. Voters preferred implementing the president’s health care reform bill, rather than repealing it, by a 59-36 percent majority, and also supported the president’s proposal to eliminate Bush-era tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 by a 58-37 percent margin.