Lack of Competition in NY Politics

New York State is not what you would call competitive, at least as far as politics are concerned.

I tend to avoid any discussion of New York politics on this blog (this is only the third such post in the past year) because I live and work in New York politics.  These statistics are important enough to overcome my reluctance.

In the 2012 elections the average state legislative winner received 80 percent of the vote.  So, over 213 races, 150 in the Assembly and 63 in the Senate, a politician was elected or re-elected with four out of every five votes cast.  Not bad, but even better if you are a Democrat.

Democrats in the State Senate won an average of 86 percent of the vote.  In the Assembly they only won a mere 85.4 percent.  Republicans won with 74.1 percent and 69.9 percent in the respective houses.

Those tallies are skewed by a considerable number of unopposed contests.  In the Senate eight Democrats and nine Republicans enjoyed a stress-free election day.  In the Assembly, 33 Democrats and 11 Republicans had the day off.  Thus, 27 percent of Senate races and 30 percent of Assembly races were uncontested.

Let’s not let uncontested races, too frequent though they are, skew the average winning percentages.  Removing the uncontested races (which I computed as 100 percent of the vote) I ran the numbers a second time.  Without the effect of the unopposed elections, the average Democrat won 80.91 percent in the Senate and 78.83 percent in the Assembly.  For Republicans the numbers are 74.1 percent and 69.9 percent respectively.

In the Assembly, only five races were even close, with the winner receiving less than 53 percent of the vote.  All five of those races were in Republican districts.  Democrat Assembly districts had zero close races.

You may say that in state legislative races, particularly in “safe seats,” such as New York City seats for Democrats, the primary is more important than the general election.  You would be right to say that, but those races only look close by comparison.  The overwhelming number of primary elections are never really in doubt, and most of those are for third party ballot lines, not major party endorsements.

When a primary is close the results still fail to demonstrate a vibrant and engaged electorate.  This year one of the best major party primary battles was fought for the Democrat line in the 110th A.D., representing (mostly) Albany’s northern suburbs.  For that race 5.5 percent of eligible voters showed up.  Republicans were no better.  In their statewide tilt for a candidate to the United States Senate – the big leagues – primary election turnout edged 5.2 percent.

Of course this paved the way for a big general election turnout in a Presidential year.  On November 6, 2012, an unimpressive 42 percent of New Yorkers bothered to vote.  This absence of enthusiasm gave the top statewide winners, Barack Obama and Kirsten Gillibrand, big wins.  Obama’s 62 percent in New York was among his best performances in any state, and Gillibrand’s 72 percent set a state record, topping the previous record of 71 percent, set by fellow U.S. Senator and Democrat Chuck Schumer in 2004.

The point is that in New York, elections are just not a big deal.  Earning the endorsement of your party is pretty much the only think one needs to do.


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