Gov. Andrew M. 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 Mr. Cuomo’s ratings had fallen to the lowest level of his tenure, with allegations of sexual harassment continuing to erode his support.
But for Mr. Cuomo, the worst poll numbers of his time as governor may still be enough to win re-election. 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 percent, while 37 percent had an unfavorable view of him. The poll found that registered Democrats were divided on whether they would vote to re-elect Mr. Cuomo. By these measures, Mr. 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, Mr. Cuomo’s position is also stronger now than it was in 2018: 57 percent of Democrats say he is doing a good or excellent job as governor.
That Mr. 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 F.B.I. 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 Ms. James that lead to an embarrassing impeachment trial could prompt more voters to shun him.
Yet so far, Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo was vying for re-election, a Siena College poll found that just 62 percent of registered Democrats in New York had a favorable view of the governor, while 32 percent had an unfavorable view of him. Only 57 percent of Democrats said they would vote to re-elect him, while 32 percent said they would prefer someone else. Just 53 percent thought he was doing a good or excellent job.
In the end, Mr. Cuomo won renomination with 64 percent 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 re-elect him over someone else.
It would be a mistake to assume on this basis that Mr. 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 re-elect Mr. Cuomo, with only 46 percent saying they prefer to vote to re-elect him and 43 percent saying they would prefer someone else.
Why is Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo has done a good job handling the pandemic in New York, despite the revelation that his administration has hid data about the death toll in nursing homes. While 59 percent 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 percent of registered Democrats believe that he has done a good or excellent job of making such data available. And a 64 percent majority of Democrats continue to say that Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo, which he has denied. Just 39 percent believe he has committed sexual harassment, the Siena poll showed, while 30 percent disagree and another 30 percent 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 re-evaluated 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo.
After all, many more registered Republicans believe the allegations against Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo has committed sexual harassment. A majority of conservatives and Republicans, in contrast, believe the allegations.
Mr. Cuomo’s resilience is also a reminder that New York Democrats are fairly moderate, despite counting some of the nation’s most famous progressive politicians, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and a thriving Democratic Socialist left among their ranks. In recent Democratic primaries, New Yorkers backed Hillary Clinton and Mr. Cuomo over idealistic, reformist, good-government progressive challengers.
Mr. 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 Mr. Cuomo or say he has not committed sexual harassment.
Mr. 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.
Difficult does not mean impossible. It is not wholly uncommon for Democratic states to elect Republican governors, or vice versa. The three states where President Biden’s performed the strongest — Vermont, Massachusetts and Maryland — all have Republican governors, albeit moderate ones; the Democratic governors of Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana offer examples on the other side of the political spectrum.
Mr. Cuomo’s ratings are weak enough statewide that he could be vulnerable against a strong and moderate Republican challenger, who would probably need to accede to the state’s prevailing cultural views, perhaps even on abortion and Donald Trump’s presidency. Most of the Republican contenders so far do not fit into that category. Many have strong ties to national Republican politics, including several House Republicans and even Andrew Giuliani.
There’s still time for a stronger challenger to emerge, but for now it is not easy to identify someone comparable to the three anti-Trump Republicans who currently govern blue states.
In the final account, the most powerful force to help Mr. Cuomo overcome allegations of sexual harassment may be the partisan loyalty of Democratic voters in a blue state.
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