Shock poll shows anti-gun Hochul with slim lead in NY governor's race

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Just how close is the New York governor’s race at the moment? If you’re a Democrat, you can point to polls from Siena and Marist that show Gov. Kathy Hochul with a comfortable lead of 8 to 11 points over Republican challenger Lee Zeldin and say you’re unconcerned. If you’re a Republican, however, you can show off recent surveys from Trafalgar and Quinnipiac that indicate the race is much closer, even if Hochul still has a slight advantage.

The Trafalgar survey, conducted from September 30th to October 3rd, found Hochul leading Zeldin by just two points, 45-43. The Quinnipiac poll, which was just released on Tuesday and was conducted between October 12th through the 16th, shows Hochul with a slightly larger lead of 50-46. The topline might be enough to cheer up Democrats fretting about Hochul’s political future, but a deeper dive into the polls findings shows that Zeldin still has a fighting chance.

According to Quinnipiac’s survey, which quizzed about 1600 likely voters, Hochul’s approval rating is split, with 43% of respondents approving her performance as governor and 45% disapproving. Zeldin’s approval rating is slightly lower, at 43%, but only 37% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican gubernatorial candidate and sitting congressman.

That’s not the only good news for conservatives to be found in the survey results.

Hochul leads in New York City 59 – 37 percent. The race is very tight in the suburbs with Zeldin receiving 50 percent and Hochul receiving 49 percent. Zeldin leads upstate 52 – 44 percent.

… “In the blue state of New York, the race for governor is competitive. Democrats have cruised to victory in gubernatorial races since 2006, but Governor Hochul’s narrow edge puts Republican Lee Zeldin well within striking distance of her,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow.

Asked to choose the most urgent issue facing New York State today, crime (28 percent) ranks first among likely voters followed by inflation (20 percent) and protecting democracy (14 percent).

There are wide gaps by political party. Among Republicans, crime (42 percent) ranks first followed by inflation (31 percent). Among Democrats, the top issues are protecting democracy (23 percent), crime (18 percent), and inflation (12 percent). Among independents, crime (31 percent) ranks first followed by inflation (21 percent) and protecting democracy (11 percent).

“Across the board, crime ranks high on the list of pressing issues. Zeldin making crime a major part of his campaign could be where he’s making inroads in this race,” added Snow.

As of last year there were more than twice as many registered Democrats than Republicans in New York, but the fastest growing group of voters were non-affiliated; a group that according to Quinnipiac, is going for Zeldin by a 20-point margin, 57-37. A quick glance at the issues that are most important to independents shows why: crime is a top concern, followed closely by inflation. That tracks with the issues that are most important to Republicans as well, while Democrats are most concerned with “protecting democracy”, with crime and inflation falling well behind.

If Zeldin is going to pull off the upset and become the first Republican elected statewide in two decades, he’s going to need to pull in a lot of support from independent voters as well as increasing the Republican turnout as much as possible. Zeldin has been making crime a centerpiece of his campaign, vowing to declare a state of emergency over the rising rates of both violent and non-violent crime if he’s sworn in.

Zeldin has promised to undo cashless bail laws, get tough on juvenile crime, and remove Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg from his position over his “refusal to enforce the law” if he’s elected; slamming Hochul and the New York legislature for giving criminals a break at the expense of public safety.

The Republican has been a little quieter on the campaign trail when it comes to Second Amendment issues, but Zeldin did issue a statement in support of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down New York’s “may issue” laws when it was announced back in late June, saying:

The Supreme Court’s decision marks a historic, proper, and necessary victory for law abiding citizens of New York, whose Second Amendment rights have been under constant attack. It reaffirms their inherent right to safely and securely carry to protect themselves, their families and their loved ones, and the principle that this Constitutional right shall not be infringed.” 

The Republican also slammed Hochul and New York Democrats for rushing into a special session in order to enact new restrictions on the right to carry in the wake of the SCOTUS decision, declaring that “under one party Democrat rule can criminals run amuck armed with illegal guns, while law-abiding New Yorkers are stripped of their right to safely and securely carry a firearm solely for self-defense.”

With crime and public safety the top concern for many New Yorkers, Zeldin has a real chance of pulling off the upset in New York, and increased turnout among independent and conservative voters could also have an outsized impact in the state’s congressional and legislative races. It would take a red tsunami to return control of the New York State Senate to Republicans, but we could see several swing districts side in favor of the GOP in three weeks, which would reduce the advantage that the gun lobby currently enjoys in Albany, and even give more “moderate” Democrats cause to back off their support for infringing on the rights of residents (and voters).

I still think that Zeldin is the underdog in this race, but there’s enough evidence that his focus on crime is paying off that I don’t believe Democrats are assured of victory on Election Day. If Zeldin is able to follow the Glenn Youngkin playbook and drive up turnout in rural parts of the state while eating into the Democrats advantage in the cities and suburbs, he could definitely pull off the upset. New York gun owners have every reason to be furious at what Hochul and New York Democrats have done to their right to keep and bear arms, and they have their chance to get revenge at the ballot box by voting out these anti-civil rights politicians and replacing them with ones who’ll respect and support their Second Amendment rights instead.