New York Democrats Keep Losing Ground with Hispanic and Asian Voters
In Queens, Eric Adams' coalition was whiter and weaker than Bill De Blasio's, while a cross-racial collapse in Democratic support powered Republican City Council wins.
Eric Adams cruised to victory in New York City’s mayoral election, besting Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa by nearly 40 points - a commanding performance by any standard. But Adams’ margin wasn’t uniform throughout the city. In Queens, for example, he prevailed by only 22 points - five points fewer than Bill De Blasio’s margin here in 2017. Though Adams still made an impressive showing, New York Democrats shouldn’t pop the vegan wine just yet. Troubling demographic patterns are brewing just below the top-line numbers that could indicate tougher battles are yet to come.
In August, I reported that Hispanic and Asian areas of Queens swung heavily toward Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, powering the best performance by a Republican nominee in the World’s Borough since 2004. Precincts that are more than 75% Asian swung toward Trump by 16 points in 2020. Precincts that are more than 75% Hispanic saw an even more dramatic pro-Trump swing of 25 points. Now, an analysis of Tuesday night’s returns in combination with demographic data from the 2020 census reveals that these patterns are trickling down to local elections too.
In 2017, Bill De Blasio won Queens precincts that are over 75% Asian by 34 points against Republican nominee Nicole Malliotakis. This week, Adams won them by just 20 points over Sliwa: a 14-point swing toward Republicans. De Blasio won Queens precincts that are over 75% Hispanic by a whopping 70 points over Malliotakis. Adams won them by 40 points over Sliwa: a 30-point swing toward Republicans.
These results provide some of the first clear evidence that the trends we saw emerge in 2020 - when most Hispanic and some Asian voters began drifting rightward - will continue to assert themselves in the post-Trump era. They may even be accelerating. Last year, Trump peaked at around one-quarter and one-third of the vote in the most Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods in Queens, respectively. Last night, Sliwa got almost one-third of the vote in Hispanic enclaves and 40% in Asian ones, despite a massive resource disadvantage against Adams and limited exposure in the press.
This should disturb both conventional Democrats merely concerned with the party’s short-term electoral prospects as much as socialists hoping to build mass support for radical politics. At the moment, all that either faction can boast is that the other is flailing just as desperately as they are. But if the conservative turn among non-white, non-college voters continues to gain momentum, the only group that will succeed in building a party of the multiracial working class will be Republicans.
Growing conservative sentiment among Hispanic and Asian voters was also at work in Conga enthusiast Vickie Paladino’s shocking upset over Tony Avella in Northeast Queens. Avella is a longtime ally of the Vallone family, a local Democratic dynasty that has presided over Northwest and Northeast Queens for decades. For eight years, he represented the latter in the State Senate as a Democrat, though he caucused with the Republicans as a member of the Independent Democratic Conference to facilitate right-wing control of the chamber. In 2018, he was successfully primaried by John Liu in a progressive wave that wiped out six of the eight members of the IDC.
This year, Avella attempted a comeback by running for the overlapping City Council seat, currently occupied by fellow Moderate White Man Paul Vallone. But this time, his constituents decided that if they wanted a Republican to represent them, they might as well go with the real McCoy - or the real Paladino, anyway. In 2017, Vallone sailed to victory against only nominal Republican opposition and a progressive third party candidate. But this week, Democratic support collapsed among every major demographic group in the district.
In 2017, Vallone dominated with both white voters and voters of color. He notched over 70% of the two-party vote in majority-white precincts, as well as precincts where less than one-third of residents are white. Ditto for precincts that are majority-Asian and more than one-third Hispanic. But on Tuesday, Paladino secured majorities in the most white and the most Hispanic areas of the district, and split the least white precincts with Avella 50-50. He clung to bare majorities only in Asian neighborhoods. Though some issues of ecological inference are at play with Hispanic voters since they don’t constitute a majority in any one precinct, almost every precinct that is more than one-third Hispanic is also less than one-quarter white, so we can be reasonably sure it wasn’t white voters driving the shift in those areas.
Another remarkable result from Tuesday was that Vallone lost his own bid for a Civil Court judgeship to a Republican candidate with virtually no resources or professional campaign infrastructure. The Queens County judiciary is notoriously corrupt; the nomination process is tightly controlled by the Democratic machine, and judgeships are given away as patronage to party insiders. Although the judicial district that Vallone ran in does not overlap with his base in Northeast Queens - and in fact includes some of the most conservative neighborhoods in the borough - that wouldn’t have been a problem in a less polarized era. His defeat is the first time a Democratic judicial nominee anywhere in Queens has lost to a Republican in recent history.
New York isn’t the only place where Democrats fell short with voters of color this week. In the Virginia governor’s race, Terry McAulliffe bled far greater support in Biden precincts with large black and Hispanic populations than he did in Biden precincts that are mostly white. Predictably, the NGO mafia is running with the idea that pointing out this fact is somehow racially problematic. AJ Springer, Senior Communications Manager for the Working Families Party, tweeted: “Newsflash to pundits, consultants, and other politicos: A party having to win 70, 80 ,90+% of POC to win an election doesn't mean the issue is with POC turning out to vote.”
That’s quite the statement considering that for many years, progressive pundits, consultants, and other politicos have been arguing that the Democratic Party must deepen its dependence on voters of color in order to liberate itself from the need to appeal to white people. Very often, they say this is not only a strategic necessity in an age of deepening racial polarization, but a moral imperative that is the party’s only means of honoring its commitments to black and brown people. Yet Springer portrays growing Democratic reliance on voters of color not as a vindication of that analysis, but as a burden placed on them by unreliable whites.
Here in Queens, some on the left have expressed similar sentiments. On Tuesday, Republicans held on to their last remaining City Council seat in the borough when Joanne Ariola defeated progressive Democratic nominee Felicia Singh in a 36-point landslide. Aleda Gagarin, a left-wing organizer and former City Council candidate in Central Queens, commented: “I also don't want to see any ‘hot takes’ on D32 that don't include taking white supremacy and white rage to task. Republicans didn't just ‘keep a seat.’ They used overtly racist fearmongering as a key strategy and tactic. White rage was on full display throughout this election.”
There’s no doubt this is true: right-wing interests poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race to portray Singh as an anti-police radical, and Ariola’s supporters grew increasingly belligerent over the course of the campaign. The weekend before Election Day, Singh was forced to cancel an event with Senator Chuck Schumer after pro-Ariola protesters at the venue were heard making threatening remarks.
What’s doubtful is how much of a role all this played in Singh’s defeat. Majority-white precincts did indeed swing 10 points to the right over 2017, when Democrat Mike Scala lost to Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich. But Scala didn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse of Breezy Point either; he and Singh both got less than a quarter of the white vote in their respective races. In other words, Singh’s platform and identity didn’t provoke especially strong blowback in terms of actual votes, though clearly they heightened the visceral hatred Republicans felt for her. But the results from elsewhere in Queens suggest that her slide among white voters probably wasn’t even about her at all. Deepening partisan polarization is coming for everyone trying to keep the flame of outer borough Democratic viability burning, regardless of ideology or identity.
A more uncomfortable fact is that Singh failed to rally enough voters of color to make up for softening white support. Though her margin in the district’s majority-Hispanic precincts was slightly better than Scala’s, her raw vote total was lower. And while she won a much higher vote share than Scala in precincts with a large Asian presence, her raw vote there increased by less than 50. This isn’t meant to be negative judgement. Bernie Sanders’ strategy for winning the Democratic primary in 2020 was to turn out poor and working people who don’t typically vote, and with more resources and name recognition than anyone to ever seriously attempt such a feat, he failed. There’s no easy solution to the decades-long demobilization of working-class voters.
But the left can’t afford to chalk up all of our defeats to whitelash alone. This country is in the midst of a profound realignment along axes of culture and education that are about to make race and class seem like yesterday’s news. If we want to prevent this outcome, the first step is admitting that it’s happening.