Sunday, April 17, 2016

Musing About the Big Apple

"In the first half of the 20th century, New York was the dominant state in presidential politics. It had the most electoral votes, and of all the large states, it was usually the most evenly divided between the two parties. In the 21st century, New York — with 33 electoral votes in 2000, 31 in 2004 and 2008 and 29 in 2012 — has come to be the most heavily Democratic large state. It's easy today to forget that in 1976 Jimmy Carter only carried the state with 52% of the vote, winning just seven counties and only three outside New York City."

Richard E. Cohen with James A. Barnes
The Almanac of American Politics 2016

I've been reading a lot and listening to many reports about Tuesday's New York primaries, and I really have to wonder about its significance, especially on the Republican side. It probably means about as much in the long run as Hillary Clinton's victory in the Democratic primary here in Texas. Whichever Republican wins the New York primary — even if, as now seems probable, it is native New Yorker Donald Trump — is not likely to win the general election there.

But the Republican race is about delegates now, and there are 95 available in New York. All indications are that the delegate race will be very tight at least until the California primary in June so that, more than anything else, will attract media attention on Tuesday.

That along with the fact that Trump is likely, as he has elsewhere, to draw many new participants into the electoral process. In 2012, fewer than 200,000 New Yorkers participated in the Republican primary — and the GOP nomination had, in all fairness, already been decided

As Cohen and Barnes correctly pointed out, there was a time — not so long ago, really — when the outcome of a presidential campaign in New York was not a foregone conclusion. In six of the first 10 presidential elections following World War II, Republicans carried New York. But New York has voted with Democrats in the last seven elections. New York hasn't voted for a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

"The Almanac of American Politics" observes that this transition was caused by Jewish voters becoming more strongly identified with Democrats, rising black and Hispanic populations, and white Catholics, who once voted largely on the basis of cultural issues like crime are more likely now to vote on the basis of issues like abortion, gun control and gay rights.

Of course, New York's electoral performance often seems to be influenced by the presence of a New Yorker — or someone with regional ties — on a national ticket. But not always. In that 1984 campaign, the Democrats had New Yorker Geraldine Ferraro on their ticket, but Reagan took nearly 54% of the state's popular vote.

New York offers a big chunk of delegates in its Republican primary. It isn't winner–take–all. The winner of the state overall will secure a huge block of votes, but some will be allocated based on the results in congressional districts — and if the CBS News/YouGuv poll that was released today is accurate, that could mean a very big night for Donald Trump.

And I suppose it is possible that Trump's presence on the ballot could put New York in play in November — but I doubt it. In the last five presidential elections, New York has never given a Democratic nominee less than 58% of its vote.

That being the case, it might be more instructive to observe the results in the Democrats' primary.

That CBS News/YouGuv poll found Clinton with a 10–point lead over Bernie Sanders. Considering the facts that Clinton was elected to the Senate twice by New York voters and beat Barack Obama by 17 points in the 2008 New York primary, a 10–point win over Sanders would suggest declining support in her "home" state — which could, in turn, suggest declining support nationwide.

A Sanders upset would change the game for certain.

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