Marilyn Sims casts her vote in the primary election on Sept....

Marilyn Sims casts her vote in the primary election on Sept. 13 at her polling place in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island turnout in Thursday's Democratic primary more than tripled compared with 2014 governor's race, reflecting an energized party base motivated by opposition to President Donald Trump, political observers said.

In Suffolk, turnout climbed from about 6 percent in 2014 to 20 percent this year — not including thousands of mailed-in ballots still to be counted, according to state Board of Election figures. In Nassau County, turnout went from 7 percent to 20 percent, according to county figures. Statewide turnout increased from under 11 percent to 27 percent.

The number of votes cast for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and education activist Cynthia Nixon combined were unprecedented for nonpresidential primaries since at least 2000, Suffolk and Nassau election officials said. Democrats attributed the turnout to anger against the Trump administration, while Republicans said the results reflected a heavy advertising campaign in the gubernatorial race.

"Clearly, anti-Trump sentiment among Democrats is extremely high," said Donald P. Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute.

With Cuomo's decisive victory — 66 percent to 34 percent over Nixon, who challenged his progressive qualifications — Levy said it's not just the left that was eager to vote.

"It's premature to talk about any Democratic wave, but there is increased enthusiasm across all Democrats, not just those who self-identify as progressives," he said.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, called the turnout the "most significant thing to happen on Election Day. It was such a big increase, that it probably puts seats in play that had not been seen as particularly competitive."
"Anecdotally, much of this is being stoked by fear and anger at the Trump administration," Hofstra's Levy said. "There’s clearly something happening there, happening here, that was not happening prior to the inauguration."

Michael Dawidziak, a Long Island political consultant who works largely for Republicans, said the high turnout showed one of two things: Either Cuomo was able to seriously energize county committees for him while Nixon energized the left; "Or two, Democrats are fired up and enthusiastic to vote against Donald Trump."

The turnout stoked hopes of a "blue wave" in November among Democrats. Nationally the party hopes to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives and in New York State Democrats are vying for control of the state Senate. Long Island contains a number of swing districts for both Congress and the State Senate, which will be focus of intense campaigning between now and November.

"It speaks volumes to Democratic enthusiasm and Democratic interest in elections. If I were a Republican in New York State, or anywhere else, I’d be climbing for high ground, because there’s a tsunami coming," said Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs.

Long Island Republican leaders dismissed Thursday's high turnout as the byproduct of an aggressive and expensive advertising campaign by Cuomo, which highlighted divisions between progressives and liberals.

"I think their turnout was high because they had a publicized contested election and two people seemed to spend a lot of money on TV," Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo said. Democrats might have been motivated by campaigns that highlighted attacks on Trump, he acknowledged. But, he said, "I think the president also has very dedicated strong believers and supporters. I believe they’ll come out on Election Day to support Republican candidates in the mid-terms."

Nick LaLota, Suffolk Republican Board of Election Commissioner, noted that high primary turnout doesn't always lead to electoral success. In 2016, 33 percent of Democrats showed up for the presidential primary, only to have Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 7 percentage points in the county.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who's facing a challenge from Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, said Cuomo spent millions on ads while Nixon's campaign captured a lot of media attention.

"I take all my races seriously, but this looks the Democratic Party at war among themselves. It looks like a divided party," he said.

Suffolk Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer said the turnout was a positive sign, but warned Democrats shouldn’t be complacent.

“Anytime we have increased turnout, people should be excited,” he said. “But we’re a suburban county that doesn’t always stick to party lines and our candidates have to make the case that they’re better than the Republican candidates.”


Suffolk: 17,962 5.9 percent

Nassau: 24,669 6.8 percent 

Statewide: 574,350 10.6 percent


Suffolk: 65,213 20.2 percent

Nassau: 75,494 20.5 percent

Statewide: 1,512,912 26.9 percent

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