An astonishing turnaround in New Yorkers’ concerns is bad news for Democrats

Headline after headline, day after day, week after week, New Yorkers are tired of hearing stories about our rising crime problem. They are sick of feeling unsafe, and they are done with politicians who pander to the activist pro-criminal fringe.

If you fit into this category, the latest Siena College poll confirms you are not alone in the Empire State. It’s actually the far left that’s out on an island.

This month’s crosstabs reveal a startling turnaround in our body politic. Even beyond crime, New York voters are less alarmed by the issues local Democratic leaders have long campaigned on and more driven by the national and statewide problems Republicans hope to address. In short, as the squeeze from taxes, inflation and an economic downturn becomes unbearable, longstanding GOP concerns have become more visceral in the lives of the middle class.

After crime, which 24% of survey respondents listed as their No. 1 concern for our next governor, the rest of New Yorkers’ top five issues were: taxes (9%), the economy (8%), government ethics (7%) and inflation (6%).

Two pieces of information buried in the poll help tell the story of New York’s shifting political priorities. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents want the state’s 16-cent gasoline tax repealed, including a whopping 80% of Democrats. While their party leaders hope to “break the car culture,” Democratic voters seem just as worried about their commuting costs and monthly expenses as their GOP and independent counterparts.

New Yorkers weigh in on the state of New York.
Siena College poll
Brooklyn subway shooting
Crime is the top issue to New Yorkers, with 24 percent of respondents listing it as their biggest concern.

Only 3% of voters listed climate as their top issue. That’s in contrast to polling last year, when 80% of Siena respondents claimed climate change as a concern, 79% supported the conversion to electric vehicles and 78% hoped for zero-emission energy production by 2040.  

These numbers don’t bode well for Gov. Kathy Hochul, who saw her lowest job-performance numbers to date. Her perceived ability to shepherd the state’s prosperity was a major factor. Only 30% of her constituents trust her to right the ship, and her ballyhooed Buffalo Bills stadium-financing deal, touted as a “proven economic driver,” earned the support of just one-quarter of New Yorkers, with the lowest numbers coming from upstate.

The bleak outlook for Democrats does not only stem from New Yorkers’ list of top issues. The bottom of that list should be cause for concern, as well.

New Yorkers opine about the job Gov. Kathy Hochul is doing.
New Yorkers opine about the job Gov. Kathy Hochul is doing.
Siena College poll
Defund the Police sign
A majority of respondents believe that bail reform has increased criminal activity in New York.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Only 3% cited the pandemic, and 2% said “racial, religious and social justice.” If you glance at the Twitter feeds and press releases of our elected officials, you might think Democrats have only been talking about those issues the past two years. Furthermore, the other pillars of the party’s platform — housing, health care, abortion rights and immigration — all polled even lower. By comparison, in our last gubernatorial election year, codifying Roe v. Wade and passing the state’s DREAM Act were two of the most widely supported issues in a Siena poll that spring.

Nothing highlights the broad turnaround of New Yorkers’ priorities, and perhaps the fortunes of its elected officials, more than the U-turn on criminal-justice policy. Again, looking back at 2018, two-thirds of voters supported the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanors and some felonies. The change did not come overnight, and by January 2020, within weeks of its implementation, bail reform’s support was nearly halved to 37%. Still, Democratic legislative leaders fought back against any repeal.

Gas station
Seventy-three percent of respondents want New York’s gas tax repealed.

Moreover, 2020 was the year of “Defund the Police,” a government-by-hashtag policy voters clearly associate with the Democratic Party. Yet even after Dems took a walloping on it that November, its leaders in New York, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, came out even harder in its defense.

Now, in 2022, public safety is at the top of New Yorkers’ list of concerns, a majority of voters think bail reform has increased criminality and Hochul’s approval rating on fighting crime is the lowest of any issue Siena polled.

Crime is the scarlet letter of New York Democrats and the ball and chain plunging Hochul’s approval rating to new depths.

Mayor Eric Adams’ election should have been the wakeup call for Albany leaders. On the issues of crime, policing and reforms to our criminal justice system, he has been right. Placing blame on the bad guys and not the police was a surprising platform in a Democratic primary in one of the most progressive cities in the country. Adams winning that primary should have made other elected officials take a long look in the mirror.

Fast forward one year, and little has changed. The minuscule bail-reform amendments passed in this year’s budget will scarcely change the cycle of repeat offenders in New York state — a thought shared by liberals and conservatives polled. Only the voters can shift our state’s trajectory on this issue and others; but at least it’s clear now they want a change of direction.

Joe Borelli is the minority leader of the New York City Council.

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