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2009 Elections Preview: NYC Mayor

Over the course of this week, I’ll be running previews of the five highest-profile elections that will take place next Tuesday, November 3rd. These are the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, the special Congressional election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, and Maine’s Question 1, which seeks to ban gay marriage in the state. But we’ll start things off this morning right here in New York City, where citizens will be electing their new mayor.

New York City — Mayor

The Candidates:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (incumbent), independent
City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Democrat

The Polling: Bloomberg leads by 12 and 16 points, respectively, in two recent polls of likely voters from SurveyUSA and Marist, respectively, with little discernible momentum in the numbers.

Analysis: Bloomberg has approval ratings in the low 60s, a position that would not ordinarily render an incumbent vulnerable — especially one who has an essentially unlimited budget and who has been running ads promoting his leadership for the better part of a year. However, Bloomberg risked stirring some discontent among swing voters by persuading New York’s City Council to extend the city’s mayoral term limits from two to three terms, allowing him to run again. In addition, he’s an independent — who until recently was a Republican and will in fact be listed as both an independent and a Republican under New York’s electoral fusion rules — in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. Thompson has been endorsed by President Obama, albeit tentatively.

All of this, however, is liable to merely bend rather than break Bloomberg, as the two candidates are likely to roughly split the city’s Democratic vote (about 70 percent of the electorate) while Bloomberg cleans up with Republicans and independents. The Marist poll shows Thompson polling more competitively if the electorate is expanded to include registered rather than likely voters, but the massive turnout that might be required to make things “interesting” seems unlikely — there is relatively little buzz about the race here in New York City, as most people simply assume that Bloomberg will win, and while there are pockets of annoyance with his mayorship, they tend not to be especially impassioned. Unusually for New York, there are also a series of highly competitive statewide races on the docket in 2010 — governor, Kirsten Gillibrand’s Senate seat, and the closely-divided and chaotic State Assembly — which may have distracted attention away from the Mayoral race. As a further distraction, the Yankees are playing in the World Series, which may extend past Election Day and will give Bloomberg some additional face time with his constituents.

The Odds: Although Thompson has run a relatively vigorous campaign, neither the polling nor the intangibles point to much possibility for a major upset; he should win The Bronx while losing the other four boroughs. I’d probably rate him as something like a 35:1 underdog, mostly on the chance of some late-breaking and heretofore unforeseen developments.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.