One spot in New York City could provide an early hint as Americans await any prolonged counting of votes across the nation in the 2020 presidential election.
New York’s least populated and most Republican borough—usually not the best barometer for city elections—often points the way when it comes to the White House. Unlike their counterparts across the five boroughs, Staten Island voters chose both of the last two winners, Republican Donald Trump in 2016 and Democrat Barack Obama in 2012.
And one area of the borough has an even stronger record of predicting the national winner: The 63rd State Assembly District.
Even in 2008, when Republican John McCain won Staten Island, the district—which straddles neighborhoods on the island’s North and South Shores—went to the national winner, Obama.
Since 2004, with the re-election of Republican George W. Bush, the district has voted in favor of the candidate that won the Electoral College in each election.
In 2020, will the district foretell a Trump repeat or show the way for Democrat Joe Biden?
A District on a Streak
According to the city Board of Elections, the district voted for Bush in 2004 over Democrat John Kerry, 23,101 to 19,019. In 2008, Obama won there by a mere 239 votes.
In 2012, Obama beat Mitt Romney by 2,665 votes. The district shifted back to the Republican in 2016, with Trump beating Democrat Hillary Clinton by almost 4,000.
The state Assembly district appears to be what NPR called a swingometric bellwether, a place where outcomes mirror important swings or shifts in the national electorate. It has been represented since 2003 by Michael Cusick, the Staten Island Democratic leader, who is running this year against Republican Anthony DeGuerre, an attorney.
Staten Island’s demographics resemble the nation’s as a whole. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey. In 2018, Staten Island was 62% white, 9% Black, 18% Hispanic and 9% Asian. The nation in 2018 was about 61% white, 12% Black, 18% Hispanic and 5% Asian. New York City as whole was about 32% white, 22% Black, 29% Hispanic and 14% Asian.
The Center Holds
Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College whose work focuses on New York City politics, said that though the district fits the definition of a bellwether, outcomes cannot be taken for granted. He cautions that factors beyond demographics—including the socio-economic and political environment, the roles of the political parties and the roles of the individual campaigns—can drive election results.
As of February 2020, the city Board of Elections listed 125,232 active Democrats and 87,946 active Republicans on Staten Island. Muzzio said that the Democrats’ advantage has not meant the borough leans left.
Staten Island Democrats have been traditionally identified as Reagan Democrats, named for the voters who first crossed party lines to coalesce around the socially and fiscally conservative policies of the 40th president, who won the first of his two terms in 1980.
“Even locally, if you look at the congressional race in that borough and you look at the DA’s race, there’s bouncing around,” Muzzio said.
The swing nature of the borough makes it the one place in the city where Republicans are seen as having a chance of taking a House seat away from the Democrats.
National political-action committees are spending millions to try to sway the race pitting incumbent Democratic Rep. Max Rose against Republican challenger Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis in the 11th Congressional District, which includes the 63rd Assembly District along with all of Staten Island and part of South Brooklyn.
After all, as Staten Island goes, often so goes the nation.