Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other surrogates for the maverick candidate insist New York is in play for the presidential elections for the first time in 30 years, but the numbers and polls show that even in an unpredictable election year that goal is daunting.
Trump, the Manhattan billionaire, consistently includes New York among the 15 states on which he’s focusing. He has noted that his overwhelming win in the April GOP primary in New York gave him the boost he needed to all but wrap up the Republican nomination.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is counting on New York’s 29 electoral votes to reach the 270 needed to win the presidency. Most public opinion polls show her with a comfortable lead here (12 points in the latest survey, conducted by Quinnipiac University) and the website Real Clear Politics calls New York a “solid Clinton” state. But Republicans claim they can turn that around.
At the Republican National Convention in July, Rep. Chris Collins, of upstate Clarence near Buffalo, the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Trump, said that New York is in play and Gingrich said Trump will not only win New York, but win it by a historic margin. Trump argues he will attract blue-collar, white Democrats and voters not enrolled in a party and those who agree with him that Clinton is unfit for office.
But those assertions were made before the Democrats wrapped up their convention and polls showed Clinton increasing her lead nationally and in some swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Since the conventions, Trump has traveled to several swing states and the “super PAC” backing him has said it would focus on Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — with New York noticeably omitted.
“A large majority of votes are predetermined by partisan identity, and there are really only about 10 to 12 states to follow closely — no matter what the campaigns are claiming,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and longtime national political commentator.
“Most gaffes and daily happenstances have no real effect on the election outcome,” Sabato said. “There are not a ton of game-changers, no matter what some journalists want us to believe.”
Still, New York Republican chairman Ed Cox said the state committee is already raising money and building voter support for a Trump win in New York, a move Republicans hope also will force Clinton to spend unbudgeted money and time in her home state.
“In the doldrums of summer it may look difficult, but November could very well be a different story,” Cox told Newsday. “With our economy still sour, Mrs. Clinton’s broken promises as senator to create 200,000 jobs (statewide) and the growing threat of terrorism, New Yorkers will be reminded of her failed record and looking for a new direction for the country.”
To win the Empire State, the math shows Trump would need to attract the vast majority of Republicans and independent voters, and then also draw a lot of Democrats from the party that twice elected Clinton as their U.S. senator, according to the political scientists. Trump, however, could reduce his disadvantage because of a trend in which the Republican Party turns out a bigger share of its voters.
New York has 5.7 million enrolled Democrats, 2.7 million Republicans, 159,355 Conservative Party members, and 475,566 voters not enrolled in a party. Turnout in New York was 64.9 percent in the 2012 presidential race and produced a slightly narrower gap among voters who cast ballots: Democratic President Barack Obama received 4.2 million votes to Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 2.4 million votes.
New York hasn’t been “in play” nationally since Republican Ronald Reagan won the state in his 1984 landslide over Democrat Walter Mondale. Since then, Obama has won 63 percent of the New York vote and before him Democratic nominees John Kerry and Al Gore won about 60 percent, as did Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996. In 1988, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis carried New York over Republican George H.W. Bush, although narrowly at 51.6 percent to 47.5 percent.
“We haven’t had a close presidential election in New York since ’88, and there is nothing to indicate that we are suggesting it’s going to get closer,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College Research Institute poll.
In the April primary, Clinton attracted just over 1 million more Democratic votes than Trump received from within the smaller Republican Party. She beat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont by a vote of 1.1 million to 820,000.
Averaging the latest polls, Real Clear Politics says Clinton holds an 18-point advantage over Trump.
“It would be very unusual if any Republican, including Donald Trump, put New York in play,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. He noted the 2-1 Democratic voter enrollment advantage and the racial and ethnic diversity of the state favors Clinton.
“The path for Trump to win the contest is narrow, but New York is not likely to really be in his reach,” Miringoff said.
There are, however, some wild cards, Greenberg said. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New York in 2006, have reached 10 percentage points in some national polls.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein is attracting single digits. Each could have an impact in a close race between Clinton and Trump, who have historically high unfavorable ratings for presidential candidates.
“It’s too early to tell how large a factor a third-party candidate will be,” Greenberg said. “There are Bernie Sanders Democrats who say, ‘I can’t vote for Trump, but I don’t like Clinton, so I’m going to vote for Stein.’ But you also have Republicans like [Utica area] Congressman [Richard] Hanna who say they will vote for Clinton and some Republicans are embarrassed by Trump, but can’t vote for Hillary, so they vote Libertarian. It cuts both ways.”
A core of Sanders’ supporters have refused to support Clinton, and their resolve was steeled by the revelation of emails from the Democratic National Committee that some staffers plotted against Sanders when the committee was supposed to be even handed.
In addition, many close races have been upended when the candidates face off in nationally televised debates, the political scientists said. Given the high TV ratings of primary debates, general election debates like the one scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University are expected to draw larger audiences than in past presidential campaigns.
“We are now 95 days from Election Day, that is many lifetimes in the political world,” Greenberg said. “Donald Trump has done things in the last year that no talking head or prognosticator was predicting. So anything is possible, but I would say that the odds of Donald Trump winning New York on Nov. 8 are about as good as there being snow in Albany this month.”
Sabato said he sees no realistic scenario for Trump to win New York.
“If somehow he wins New York — which he won’t — he would be winning the election easily,” Sabato said. “The swing states are far less Democratic than New York, so Trump carrying New York means he’s winning most or all of the swing states.”