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OpinionEditorial

Mesmerizing toss-up in 2016 race

Presidential candidates Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.),

Presidential candidates Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Hillary Clinton. Credit: AP

Many New Yorkers are seeing red at the state of the nation and their prospects for the future. They are so furious that they could even get behind Donald Trump in November, perhaps even turning one of the bluest states on the map red. That was last done by Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Heading into the Super Tuesday primaries next week, Trump looks strong nationally, but a Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll of Long Islanders says that among Republicans on Long Island, he dominates.

The billionaire businessman notched 49 percent of Republican voters, while Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush drew 41 percent combined. Trump’s support quadrupled that of Rubio and Kasich, tied for second at 12 percent. Exit polling in the early primaries shows Trump supporters cut across all demographics, despite often being stereotyped as less-educated and low-paid white males. That broad appeal is found among Island Republicans as well.

What comes through in the survey is disgust at the political status quo. This anger, fear and clamor for change that have made voters distrust establishment candidates could extend to the contests for the State Legislature. Long Island‘s 22 State Assembly seats, nine State Senate seats and five House seats could be caught up in this furor in November.

The anger reflected in Trump’s popularity also combines with the pragmatism you’d expect on Long Island. Hillary Clinton’s “unfavorable” rating is 13 percentage points higher than Bernie Sanders’ among all voters surveyed, and 1 point higher than his unfavorable percentage with Democrats. But when Democrats were asked whom they’d vote for in a primary, Clinton beat Sanders by 18 points.

A major test of the popularity of Clinton and Trump could come on April 19, when New York holds its presidential primaries, but those contests will be flawed. About two-thirds of Long Island’s voters are registered with the two main parties. New York’s election laws, tightly controlled by party bosses, eliminate the other third of the electorate — voters aligned with neither party — from casting ballots in primaries. These rules help suppress the rise of any populist insurgent who could challenge the establishment picks. There is enormous interest in the 2016 contest, partly thanks to Trump and Sanders. It should be easier for independents and minor-party New Yorkers to vote in a primary, and be able to more quickly switch registrations, as in some states.

Predicting this wild contest would be foolhardy. In this instant snapshot of Long Island, Trump led Clinton 41 percent to 38 percent head to head, but the 3 percent margin of error makes it a statistical tie. However, voters here, again pragmatic, preferred a billionaire less reckless with his words and with more experience to lead the nation. In a three-way race, the top pick was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is considering entering the race. At 35 percent in the poll, Bloomberg was 6 percentage points higher than Trump and 9 better than Clinton.

Long Island and the nation are at a very uncertain moment, one reminiscent of the social and cultural turmoil of the 1960s. When Trump, a celebrity New Yorker, leads Clinton, a former New York senator, in our poll, no political outcome is too crazy to consider.

— The editorial board

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