Cuomo’s approval rating has fallen. He could still win reelection.
By Nate Cohn
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has not had much good news over the past few months. His poll numbers have not been much of an exception.
A new Siena College poll this week found that Cuomo’s ratings had fallen to the lowest level of his tenure, with allegations of sexual harassment continuing to erode his support.
But for Cuomo, the worst poll numbers of his time as governor may still be enough to win reelection. His ratings are worse than they were in early 2014 or 2018, when he went on to win easily, but not by so much that it would make him an obvious underdog in pursuit of a fourth term.
The governor’s favorability rating among Democrats in the Siena poll was 56%, while 37% had an unfavorable view of him. The poll found that registered Democrats were divided on whether they would vote to reelect Cuomo. By these measures, Cuomo is more vulnerable than he was four years ago, but he has not lost so much ground as to close off his path to renomination, either.
And by another measure, Cuomo’s position is also stronger now than it was in 2018: 57% of Democrats say he is doing a good or excellent job as governor.
That Cuomo could still win is not an indication of any great political resilience. Nor does it imply he is an overwhelming favorite, even without considering whether his standing may diminish further with new revelations.
Much will depend on the conclusions of several investigations that are underway, including one by the FBI on whether his administration provided false data on deaths from COVID-19 in nursing homes, and another by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, into the sexual harassment allegations. Findings by James that lead to an embarrassing impeachment trial could prompt more voters to shun him.
Yet so far, Cuomo maintains enough support to have a good chance to prevail. If he does in the final account, he will have overcome allegations of impropriety — and a pummeling from progressive activists on social media — with persistent support from the rank and file of the Democratic Party.
In some ways, Cuomo’s popularity at the peak of the pandemic — when he was earning raves for his daily updates — was an exception to the general rule of his tenure. He has often had fairly weak ratings, at least for the governor of a blue state.
In April 2018, as Cuomo was vying for reelection, a Siena College poll found that just 62% of registered Democrats in New York had a favorable view of the governor, while 32% had an unfavorable view of him. Only 57% of Democrats said they would vote to reelect him, while 32% said they would prefer someone else. Just 53% thought he was doing a good or excellent job.
In the end, Cuomo won renomination with 64% of the vote. His 34-point margin of victory over Cynthia Nixon was slightly larger than his plus-30 favorability rating or the 24-point margin by which Democrats said they would prefer to reelect him over someone else.
It would be a mistake to assume on this basis that Cuomo is a clear favorite to win the primary so long as his ratings stay above water among Democrats. Indeed, Democrats are divided on whether they want to reelect Cuomo, with only 46% saying they prefer to vote to reelect him and 43% saying they would prefer someone else.
Why is Cuomo still competitive for renomination? One factor is that New York Democrats remain equivocal about the severity or veracity of the allegations against him.
Democrats continue to believe Cuomo has done a good job handling the pandemic in New York, despite the revelation that his administration hid data about the death toll in nursing homes. While 59% in the Siena poll say he has done either a poor or “fair” job of making public all data about such deaths, a sizable 34% of registered Democrats believe that he has done a good or excellent job of making such data available. And a 64% majority of Democrats continue to say that Cuomo has, in general, done a good or excellent job of providing information during the pandemic.
Democrats are even more divided on the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo, which he has denied. Just 39% believe he has committed sexual harassment, the Siena poll showed, while 30% disagree and another 30% are not sure. The precipitous decline in his favorability ratings since the allegations became public suggest that many Democrats take the charges seriously and have reevaluated him on that basis, but a larger number of Democrats are not ready to go so far. Most Democrats say they are satisfied with how he has addressed the allegations and do not support his immediate resignation.
Perhaps the hesitancy of some New York Democrats to believe the allegations against Cuomo simply reflects their dispassionate read of the evidence. It might also be a reflection of the loyalty of the state’s rank-and-file Democratic voters to Cuomo.
After all, many more registered Republicans believe the allegations against Cuomo than registered Democrats, a powerful reminder of the role of partisanship in shaping public opinion. Liberals, who generally argue that women should be believed when they allege sexual harassment, are the likeliest ideological group to say they do not believe Cuomo has committed sexual harassment. A majority of conservatives and Republicans, in contrast, believe the allegations.
Cuomo and other establishment-backed Democrats have often won with considerable support from nonwhite voters, especially those who are Black, in New York City, who often hold relatively moderate views on cultural and ideological issues compared with those of white progressives. And of all of the demographic groups surveyed in the Siena poll, Black voters, regardless of party registration, were the likeliest to have a favorable view of Cuomo or say he has not committed sexual harassment.
Cuomo’s path to winning the general election is straightforward: capitalize on New York’s Democratic lean. The Siena College poll found that registered voters in the state said they preferred a Democrat for governor over a Republican by a 20 percentage point margin, presumably making it quite difficult for any Republican to win the general election.
In the final account, the most powerful force to help Cuomo overcome allegations of sexual harassment may be the partisan loyalty of Democratic voters in a blue state.