Among the key issues for Long Islanders heading into the upcoming election are abortion rights, crime, the economy and energy costs. According to a Newsday/Siena poll, three-quarters of Long Islanders believe abortion rights should be protected, but for many voters that issue won't necessarily be the deciding factor. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

An overwhelming majority of Long Islanders strongly supports abortion rights, and a significant share, whether they oppose or support it, say they will vote only for candidates who agree with them on the issue.

While 42% say the issue would govern their vote, a plurality, 48%, say their vote could hinge on other topics.

Those are some of the findings of a Newsday/Siena College poll to understand the mood of Nassau and Suffolk voters just weeks before Election Day, Nov. 8.

Voters say crime, housing, energy costs and protecting drinking water are serious issues. They oppose a recent overhaul of the state’s bail laws and a proposal to charge motorists more to drive into Manhattan. 

What to know

  • The Newsday/Siena College poll found strong support among Long Island voters for abortion rights, with 76% saying it should be legal.
  • Voters also said crime, housing affordability, high energy costs and drinking water protection are serious issues.
  • In the marquee race on the Nov. 8 ballot, LI voters favor Republican Lee Zeldin over Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul — 48% to 46%.

A slim majority favors forgiving a portion of college students’ debt.

And whether they are in the Biden or Trump camps, few (2%) are even open to switching support to the other side.

As for the marquee race on the ballot, it’s almost a dead heat on the Island between Republican Lee Zeldin and Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul — 48% to 46% in Zeldin’s favor. But the difference is within the margin of error, which is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Zeldin leads in Suffolk County; Hochul in Nassau, in keeping with recent election trends on the Island. Statewide, Hochul led Zeldin 54% to 37% in the latest poll.

For the Long Island survey, Siena talked with 993 registered voters from Oct. 2-6. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points on the questions about issues.

For the Hochul-Zeldin question, Siena weighted the survey to account for registered voters who are “likely” to go to the polls, a change that increases the proportion of Republican voters and decreases the share of independent/minor party voters, based on turnout trends. “Likely voter" surveys typically are viewed as more accurate in forecasting elections.

Concerns and pessimism

The survey showed Long Islanders have strong opinions and serious concerns about a range of high-profile issues.

For example, the topic that rated the highest concern was housing affordability — 93% called it a serious problem.

Others weren’t far behind: Energy costs, 91%; Crime 90%; and drinking water quality, 78%.

Asked about lifestyle changes over the last year, 33% said they made no real changes, while 59% said they have cut back on some items to make ends meet. The latter figure is lower than what Siena has found in other parts of New York or other states, said Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute.

“In other states, we're seeing mid- to high-60s,” Levy said, meaning Long Islanders aren’t cutting back as much as others, which might reflect higher incomes compared with other states.

Yet they are more pessimistic than others.

Only 36% said they were optimistic about the future of the country, while 60% said they were pessimistic. The net, a negative 24 points, is much greater than the statewide average, 9 negative points, Levy said.

Key issues

By better than 2-1, Long Islanders opposed a recent overhaul of the state’s bail law.

The change in bail laws means a defendant arrested on most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies cannot be held on bail. A recent amendment allows judges to consider a defendant’s history and the seriousness of the crime, and decide to impose bail anyway.

Republicans have blamed a rise in crime during the pandemic on the bail law. Democrats point out that other states, which made no bail changes, also are experiencing a crime rise.

To no surprise, 76% of Long Islanders oppose “congestion pricing” — charging motorists higher fees for driving into midtown Manhattan during certain hours, a plan intended to reduce congestion and encourage mass transit ridership. Just 18% support it. 

But Long Islanders are split on college debt.

About 50% support President Joe Biden's plan that would cancel $10,000 of student loan debt for a single person earning less than $125,000 annually.

 About 46% opposed — strongest among men (56%), Republicans (76%) and whites (55%).

Abortion

With the U.S. Supreme Court overturning federal abortion rights, the issue has become a major campaign theme and has already influenced some elections earlier this year.

On Long Island, 76% of all surveyed said abortion should be legal and 17% said illegal.

Among Republicans, a large majority favored abortion rights: 59% to 30%. Democrats, as expected, were even more in favor: 93% to 4%.

When asked if they would vote only for candidates who agree with them on abortion rights — regardless of whether that was for or against — 42% said yes.

Another 48% said they could vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on abortion if they agreed on other issues.

Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to say they’d only support candidates who agree with them on abortion.

Among voters who either are members of a minor party or not members of any party, 33% said they’d vote only for candidates who agree with them on abortion and 58% said they could support a candidate who disagrees with them.

Hochul support

Hochul has been hammering Zeldin over two key issues: abortion rights and his vote on Jan. 6, 2021 — amid the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — against certifying the presidential election in which Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump.

Those are big factors for some voters who talked to Newsday.

“There’s nothing about Lee Zeldin that appeals to me. He’s an election denier and not someone I’d want” as governor, said Jill Reuss, 83, a Republican from Nesconset. She said she has been leaning Democratic in recent years because the Republican Party “isn’t where it used to be.”

“I’m anti-abortion but very pro-choice,” Reuss said. “It is a very important part of our freedom.”

Zeldin’s ad campaign on crime and bail isn’t convincing, she added: “I’m not as opposed as the advertisements say I should be."

Tim Giebel, 63, of Baldwin, is an independent who favors abortion rights but “it’s not my end all and be all.” He is supporting Hochul because he doesn’t like the direction of the Republican Party.

“I am not a strident anti-Republican. But the way the Republican Party is going these days, I don’t want to encourage that,” Giebel said. He’s split his ticket before but won’t be supporting Republicans “unless and until it turns away from MAGA-Trump idiocy.”

Zeldin support

Zeldin, for his part, has been hammering Hochul on crime, the bail overhaul and the economy.

Those issues are resonating with the Zeldin supporters who participated in the poll.

“I don’t believe (Hochul) has been tough enough on crime and I don’t think the state is going in the right direction,” said Juan Montes, 49, of Patchogue. “I think Lee Zeldin has a better chance.”

Montes said he favors abortion rights, but his top issues are crime and the cost of living. Though a Democrat, Montes voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but says he no longer supports the former president.

Taylor Madlinger, 25, a Manorville Republican, said she favors Zeldin in part because her family does. She cited gas prices and a "return to normal" regarding the COVID-19 pandemic as factors for her.

 "My family are small-business owners" and Republican policies generally are better in that area, Madlinger said. "So I am pro-them." 

Read the full results from the Newsday/Siena poll:

Newsday/Siena survey results by Newsday on Scribd

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