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The New York Mayoral Election Is No Longer Andrew Yang’s To Lose

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

The race for New York City mayor is tightening

Let me take you back to 2013. Everyone had “Get Lucky” stuck in their heads, TikToks were called Vines, and former Rep. Anthony Weiner and then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn led in early polls of the Democratic primary for New York City’s open mayoral seat. But about a month before the primary, then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio surged into the lead and eventually became Gotham’s 109th mayor.

Could something similar happen in 2021? As my colleague Alex Samuels wrote in March, 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang started off this year’s campaign as a clear front-runner. A pretty representative April poll from Ipsos/Spectrum News NY1 found that Yang was the first choice1 of 22 percent of likely voters, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had 13 percent and City Comptroller Scott Stringer had 11 percent. Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia pulled up the rear at 4 percent, after four other candidates in the single digits.

But three polls of the race released in the past week paint a different picture of the race:

Polls show a traffic jam in New York City

Front-runners among recent polls asking respondents to choose their first-choice candidate in the Democratic primary for New York City’s mayor

Dates Pollster Sample Adams Yang Garcia Stringer
May 23-24 Emerson College 570 LV 20% 16% 21% 10%
May 17-20 Slingshot Strategies* 749 LV 16 19 10 13
May 15-19 Core Decision Analytics 800 LV 18 13 11 7
Average 18 16 14 10

*Poll sponsored by Andrew Yang’s campaign.

Source: Polls

After spending much of the race as the first choice of at least 20 percent — sometimes even 30 percent — of voters, Yang has fallen back into the teens and is roughly tied with Adams … and with Garcia, who is now polling in the double digits even according to a Yang internal poll. (In fact, the most recent poll, from Emerson College/PIX11 News, showed Garcia getting 21 percent of first-choice votes and winning the Democratic nomination after 11 rounds of instant runoffs. However, so far, this poll is an outlier.)

Garcia’s dramatic improvement is most likely thanks to her May 10 endorsement by the New York Times editorial board. Pollster Change Research was in the field May 6-12 and found that 4 percent of respondents picked Garcia as their first choice before the Times endorsement, but 11 percent did so after it. Normally, newspaper endorsements don’t affect how people vote, but they can still be valuable under certain circumstances, such as in primaries, like New York City’s, where voters can’t fall back on their partisan preferences, local races where the candidates aren’t very well known or elections where lots of voters are undecided. (Another major development in the mayoral race in recent weeks has been an allegation of sexual assault against Stringer. However, May polls have pegged him everywhere from 7 percent to 15 percent of first-choice votes, so it’s unclear whether the scandal has hurt him.)


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Be cautious with polls of this race, though. It’s hard enough to accurately poll an oddly timed local election; it’s even harder to accurately poll one that uses ranked-choice voting. For instance, the fact that a person’s vote will be reallocated to their second choice if their first choice is eliminated means that the candidate with the most first-place votes isn’t necessarily the winner, and some pollsters don’t even bother to simulate the subsequent instant runoffs. 

At this point, it sure looks like New York City has a competitive race on its hands — with plenty of time for the race to develop further before election day on June 22.

Andrew Cuomo is still on the hot seat

It has been almost three months since virtually every major politician in New York called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign over numerous allegations of sexual harassment and his administration’s reported cover-up of the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. Yet Cuomo still occupies the governor’s office, and the furor over the scandals has quieted down. At least in Albany. 

According to a Siena College poll conducted last week, rank-and-file New Yorkers have not much changed their opinion of their governor. Registered voters give him a 42 percent approval rating and a 55 percent disapproval rating, virtually identical to the 42-56 percent approval-disapproval rating they gave him in April. And while a slight plurality of New Yorkers have always told Siena that Cuomo should not resign, voters are still just as divided on the question as they were a month or two ago. In fact, the 41 percent who currently believe he should resign is even a tad higher than it was in April (37 percent) and March (35 percent).

Back in March, we wrote about four possible paths forward for Cuomo’s political future. While it now seems like No. 1 (resignation) is unlikely to happen, his poor polling numbers suggest options No. 2 (retirement) or No. 3 (losing reelection) are still very much on the table.

Biden makes policies less popular by association

In a just-released April 12-19 survey, Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, a pollster in Oklahoma, told half its respondents that “it has been proposed to increase Amtrak passenger rail service in Oklahoma by having a train run from Oklahoma City north to connect with other existing lines in Kansas as well as increasing frequency of service to Ft. Worth” and asked whether they were in favor. A whopping 71 percent answered in the affirmative, while only 15 percent said they opposed the expansion.

But unless you live in Oklahoma, the really interesting thing in this poll was how CHS & Associates posed the question to the other half of the sample. The pollster told them that “part of the federal infrastructure plan unveiled by President Biden [emphasis mine] will increase Amtrak passenger rail service in Oklahoma by having a train run from Oklahoma City north to connect with other existing lines in Kansas as well as increasing frequency of service to Ft. Worth.” Among this half of the sample, only 57 percent said they were in favor, while 29 percent were opposed.

Biden standing in front of a microphone against a blue background, holding a mask near the front of his face.

related: Why Biden’s Handling Of The Pandemic Polls Better Than His Overall Approval Read more. »

In other words, associating the policy with Biden decreased support for it by 14 percentage points. The poll is another reminder of how partisan identity (Oklahoma is a very red state) can be so strong that it actually drives policy preferences, not the other way around. Case in point, it’s not unusual for red states to enact liberal policies via ballot measure — in fact, Oklahoma voted to expand Medicaid just last year — but, thanks to our increasingly nationalized politics, voters in these states almost never elect the politicians who support these policies. 

Edmund Burke was wrong

In 1774, Edmund Burke, a member of the British Parliament, laid out a bedrock principle of representative democracy when he said in a speech, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” 

But here in 2021, that’s not a widely held view. According to a May 14-17 national poll from Echelon Insights, 59 percent of registered voters believe that a member of Congress should “always reflect the views of the voters in his or her district, even if he or she doesn’t personally agree.” Only 28 percent agreed with Burke that a representative should “always vote based on his or her own views and principles, even if they sometimes differ from the views of the voters in his or her district.”

It’s probably no surprise that a group of voters thinks that members of Congress should always do what voters want them to do. And it probably wasn’t too different in Burke’s day: A few years after giving that speech, Burke lost reelection.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 54.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 40.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +13.9 points). At this time last week, 52.9 percent approved and 40.9 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +12.0 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 54.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 41.3 percent, for a net approval rating of +13.0 points.


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Footnotes

  1. For the first time, the mayoral election is being held under ranked-choice voting, whereby voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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