In their high-profile rematch, Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has opened a wide lead over Democrat Thomas Suozzi less than a month before Election Day, in part because independent and minor-party voters are breaking his way, according to a Newsday / News 12 / Siena College poll.
Mangano leads Suozzi 52 percent to 35 percent among likely voters, with 12 percent saying don't know/no opinion, reflecting a striking change from an August poll that showed the rivals in a dead heat. The new poll of 710 likely Nassau County voters was taken Oct. 6-9. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Though 52 percent believe Nassau is on the "wrong track," voters aren't holding Mangano responsible, the poll found. Fifty-eight percent of voters view the incumbent favorably, while just 34 percent view him unfavorably.
Donald P. Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute, said Mangano's surge in this rematch of the 2009 election is based on four major trends:
Non-major-party voters. Those who are either not enrolled in any party or who are enrolled in a minor party favor Mangano 53 percent to 27 percent. In August, these voters were evenly split, with 38 percent supporting each candidate.
"Independent and others absolutely have moved in a meaningful way toward Mangano. No question," Levy said.
Party base. The poll found Republicans appear to be more solidly behind him (76 percent to 17 percent) than Democrats are behind Suozzi (63 percent to 27 percent).
Favorability. Suozzi's "unfavorables" have risen significantly since August. Then, 53 percent had a favorable rating of the Democrat and 31 percent unfavorable. Now, 46 percent have an unfavorable rating of Suozzi, 45 percent favorable. In contrast, Mangano's favorability is almost unchanged.
Even if voters think Nassau isn't doing well, Levy said: "There isn't this wellspring of animosity against Mangano."
Head-to-head. More Nassau voters are pleased with the job Mangano has done running the county over the last four years than the job Suozzi did when he was county executive from 2002 to 2009, Levy said.
"There doesn't look like there's any romance in looking back at the Suozzi years," Levy said.
Levy said "there's a chance" that a lengthy federal government shutdown could hurt Republicans at the local level such as Mangano, though there is no indication of that yet.
Mangano edged Suozzi by just 386 votes in 2009. Then, Mangano was a virtual unknown running against a two-term incumbent. At the beginning of October 2009, Suozzi had a 23-point lead, according to a Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll at the time. Fourteen percent said don't know/no opinion.
"County Executive Mangano appreciates the support residents have shown for his efforts in freezing property taxes, eliminating the home energy tax, creating jobs and helping residents rebuild after Hurricane Sandy," said campaign spokesman Brian Nevin. "Residents already fired Tom Suozzi for hiking property taxes by 23 percent and are now rejecting his campaign of lies and distortions."
But Suozzi said "this poll is about as credible as Mangano's claim that he hasn't raised taxes. This is the same pollster that said I would beat Mangano by 23 percent in 2009. It's actually good for me. I like being an underdog and I know it will psych up me and my team to work harder."
County taxes -- a major campaign theme for Mangano -- were cited most often by voters when asked what issue was the "single most important" in determining whom to back in the race: 38 percent. Other choices weren't close: jobs (19 percent), government efficiency (14), reducing county debt (14), crime (6) and superstorm Sandy recovery (4).
Siena asked Nassau voters who did a better job during his time in office on a variety of issues, including county finances, jobs, residents' financial concerns, "making Nassau County the type of place you want to live," facilitating economic development and entertainment venues, and quality of life. For each question, voters strongly supported Mangano.
When asked whether the county's problems are too large for any executive to solve, 40 percent said yes. But 55 percent said a county executive should be capable of addressing Nassau's issues.
Notably, most of those surveyed said they aren't likely to change their minds during the final weeks of the campaign: 52 percent of those surveyed said they are "absolutely certain" whom they are voting for and 36 percent said "fairly certain" -- numbers Levy called "very high" for early October.
Kathy Ryan, 41, of Syosset, a retired schoolteacher, hasn't always been a registered Republican, but she is now and wants to see Mangano returned to office. "He's the best candidate on every front, including keeping down crime and taxes and boosting jobs and the economy," she said.
Jason Coryell, 40, of Merrick, an LIRR train conductor and a Democrat, said he believes Suozzi can help bring Nassau out from its current decline. "More jobs, economic growth and straightening out the assessment system is what's needed," Coryell said.
Further, perception is swinging Mangano's way, too. Regardless of whom they support or their party affiliation, 59 percent of voters said they believe Mangano will win; just 28 percent believe Suozzi will.
Levy said the poll results are daunting for Suozzi.
"He's going to have to look around a bit to find people who might change their mind," Levy said. "He has got to get an awful lot of mobilization about those Democrats who are leaning his way. It looks demanding . . . [the Suozzi campaign] has to make a huge effort."
Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 60,000 in Nassau, though GOP voters historically have a higher turnout rate.
There are some negative findings for Mangano in the poll. Just 46 percent said the Republican was doing an excellent or good job running the county, while 52 percent said fair or poor.
"Suozzi has to tap into that, turn that table and convince voters he's the one who can do a better job," Levy said.
Among other Nassau contests, the poll showed Republican Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos and Democrat challenger Howard Weitzman locked in a close battle, with Maragos slightly ahead, 39 percent to 38 percent. Besides finding that 23 percent are undecided about comptroller, the poll results said that 55 percent of voters said they didn't know enough about either candidate to have an opinion on him.
The poll said District Attorney Kathleen Rice enjoys a huge lead over Republican Howard Sturim, 63 percent to 26 percent.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo still enjoys a high marks with Nassau voters (66 percent favorable, 29 percent unfavorable). But more voters believe New York State is on the wrong track (46 percent) than the right one (42).
With Sid Cassese
and Robert Brodsky