Earlier this month, headlines labeled Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State message calling for the passage of gun control, an increase in the minimum wage, and the Reproductive Health Act a "turn" to the left.
Then last week, the governor was criticized by the statewide advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education for not "getting us back on track" on school funding. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Lynam of the Citizens Budget Commission, a New York fiscal watchdog, complimented Cuomo for producing a spending plan grounded in a "responsible framework."
When you study the public opinion underlying the full range of Cuomo's proposals for this legislative session, however, you see that he was neither leaping to placate liberals in his State of the State speech, nor trying to ameliorate conservatives' concerns in his budget plan. Instead, the governor was standing astride the new vital center of New York State's electorate.
The real story about the governor's program for 2013 is how far an overwhelming majority of New York State voters have moved away from bedrock conservative positions on social justice, while leaning toward fiscal balance on taxes and spending.
On gun control, a Siena College poll this month showed that voters statewide support Cuomo's proposals to ban assault weapons and magazine clips of more than seven bullets by 73 to 26 percent. The same poll found statewide support for an increase in the minimum wage crossed the 80 percent threshold (83 percent of New Yorkers support increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75 per hour, while 15 percent are opposed).
Supporting that minimum wage hike were 80 percent of independents and 70 percent of Republicans, as well as 87 percent of those earning less than $50,000 per year and 80 percent of those earning $50,000 to $100,000 a year. Support for a minimum wage hike strikes a deep chord in New York's middle class.
Regarding the public policy debate at the heart of the Reproductive Health Act, a Quinnipiac University poll last May showed that, statewide, 67 percent of voters said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, vs. only 29 percent who said it should illegal in all or most cases. Quinnipiac even found that 44 percent of Republicans in the state favored abortion rights.
Back in 2009, the political polling firm Global Strategy Group released the last polling data on the Reproductive Health Act, which found 72 percent of New Yorkers in support. The act would guarantee a woman's right to contraception, as well as erase defunct state laws that criminalized abortion.
One can disagree with the governor on the substance of his proposals on all three of these issues -- gun control, the minimum wage and reproductive rights. But based on the polling data, it can't be said that support for these measures is anything but firmly embedded in deep majorities at the very core of the electorate.
Nor has the governor's popularity been reduced by his consistent advocacy of cuts to slow the growth rate in state spending as the path for closing deficits. Siena's latest poll put the governor's favorability rating at 71 percent. In fact, in four of Siena's last six polls dating from June 2012, Cuomo's favorability mark was at or above 70 percent.
The enigma is not that Cuomo believes in melding fiscal prudence and social justice -- he has built his governorship on those twin pillars. Instead the puzzle is that conservative and, to a lesser extent, liberal analysts, don't see that both these policy positions are exactly the foundation New York's voters want from their government.
Bruce N. Gyory is a consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at the University at Albany.