Will energy translate to votes?
Lots of evidence of enthusiasm on eve of elections, but where it goes remains to be seen
Democratic voters in the Capital Region are hoping to flip the traditional midterm election script on Tuesday.
While Republican-leaning voters traditionally see their share of the electorate increase when the presidential race isn’t on the ballot, the writing on the wall indicates Democratic candidates locally and across the state will benefit from unusually high levels of enthusiasm from their supporters.
New voter enrollment data, requests for absentee ballots, campaign fundraising, grassroots movements and polling signal an engaged Democratic electorate.
“(President Donald) Trump did us a favor. He energized people,” said Phil Markham, a Working Families Party activist from West Sand Lake.
The 2016 presidential race was a transformative experience for Dianne Hobden, a Democrat from Canaan, who spent the night crying on the phone with a friend after the results came in. After the shock of Trump’s victory wore off, she decided to volunteer in local elections for the first time.
“I wanted to do something to change things,” she said.
It was a similar political
awakening for Jennifer Porter, a Democrat from Stephentown, who joined a local chapter of the “Indivisible” group, a national left-leaning activist network that emerged in 2017.
Despite voting regularly, she is helping rally other voters for the first time, which she regrets not doing during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Amy Standaert, a Republican from Clifton Park, said she recognized similarities with the enthusiasm on the left to the creation of the tea party on the right, which exploded onto the political landscape in response to Obama’s 2008 election. She said a driving factor in both cases was “fear” of the new presidents and their policies, and blamed political rhetoric for exacerbating people’s concerns.
“Unfortunately, fear gets people out to vote,” she said.
But Standaert doesn’t think election turnout will be an uneven on Tuesday. “I think both sides are motivated and energized to come out,” she said.
In the 19th Congressional District, almost threequarters of likely voters have “a lot” of interest in the race, according to a Monmouth University poll. At least 81 percent of Democratic voters have had a high level of interest since September, while the amount of interested Republicans has increased from 63 percent to 79 percent during this time.
The most apathy about the race is from undecided voters.
Based on the voter turnout for special elections since 2016 and the local elections in 2017, there has been growing anticipation of a surge of Democratic voters for the general elections. The likelihood of a national “Blue Wave” is generally considered a foregone conclusion, and there are indications that it is going to pack a punch when it hits locally.
Democratic turnout in the Capital Region for the state’s primaries in September was up 64 percent from four years ago. In April’s special elections, Democratic candidates for Capital Region Assembly seats drastically outperformed previous attempts to win those races.
Democrats have a 20-point edge in enthusiasm over Republicans from parts of Albany and Schenectady counties, according to private polling from this summer.
By comparison, the level of interest between the two parties was practically even in polling two years earlier, and Republicans had a 10-point advantage in 2014.
Based on Hobden’s interactions with Democrats on the campaign trail, she said, “I’ve never seen such enthusiasm.”
In Columbia County, the difference in excitement is evident in the absentee ballot requests, with the number of ballots issued to Democrats growing by 172 percent since 2014, and 42 percent above the mark in 2016, a presidential election year, which typically sees much higher voter turnout than midterm elections.
By comparison, the number of ballots issued to Republicans is 17 percent higher than 2014, and 20 percent less than 2016.
Columbia County Democratic Committee Chair Keith Kanaga attributed the Democratic edge to increased voter enrollment, as well as people being “very geared up” for the elections.
Democrats made up a plurality of the new voters in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties since November 2016.
Additionally, the number of active Democratic voters in this region increased by 1.2 percent since April, and the GOP number decreased by 0.1 percent.
Aside from Trump, health care has been the motivating issue for Democrats across the country, and the Capital Region is no different. In the 19th Congressional District, 56 percent of Democrats identified it as their top priority, and this is being played out in the recurring campaign ad attacks on GOP incumbent John Faso for his vote to replace Obamacare.
On the other side of the aisle, though, only 15 percent of Republicans feel health care is a top priority, according to a Monmouth University poll.
Standaert, the Clifton Park Republican, said Republicans are talking about health care, but not to the same degree as 2010, when the issue captivated her attention. When knocking on doors this campaign season, she said the economy is the top issue she hears about.
A plurality of Republican voters in the 19th Congressional District, 34 percent, identified immigration as their biggest concern.
“I think immigration is a huge deal,” Standaert said. “That’s why Trump won.”
Unique to the conversation surrounding Faso’s re-election bid are the rap lyrics of Democratic challenger Antonio Delgado, which have been the focal point of polarizing television advertisements that have run incessantly for months. Despite the aim of the advertisements, to make Delgado seem out of touch with the district, more voters feel like he shares their values than Faso, according to the Monmouth poll.
Monmouth poll director Patrick Murray said the “attacks haven’t changed the overall trajectory of the race.”
The political dialogue in the Capital Region shifts to corruption and state taxes when voters contemplate state races, according to private polling from Republicans and Democrats. Creating jobs, state aid for education, and property taxes are also recurring priorities in these polls.
And despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo being on the top of the ticket for Democrats, Hobden said the two-term incumbent — facing Republican challenger Marc Molinaro and three third-party candidates — doesn’t come up when talking to local voters.
Because of the governor’s lesser popularity in the region compared to downstate, though, he is a recurring figure in local print, television and social media advertisements from Republican candidates hoping to link him to their Democratic opponents.
Ultimately, the presidential results from 2016 will be the dominating factor on Tuesday, as the party out of the White House gets a bump during that first mid-term election.
“This is a referendum on the president,” Standaert said.