Hochul’s Narrow Victory Highlights a Miss for Independent Voters

The Governor Failed to Secure the Support of Many who Want Reform

Albany, NY – This week, Governor Kathy Hochul was narrowly elected Governor of the State of New York when, for the first time since 1946, New Yorkers only had two candidates to choose from on the ballot. The Governor barely defeated Congressman Lee Zeldin, as both candidates missed a huge opportunity to secure the support of many independent voters who, through research conducted by Unite NY, specifically said they were more likely to support candidates who advocated for a series of common sense government reforms.

Unite NY Founder Martin Babinec said, “At a time when nearly 40 percent of New Yorkers have told us they are considering leaving the state, citing high-taxes and a broken political system as the reasons why, neither candidate made government reform an issue in this race. Those voters were up for grabs and clearly many, frustrated with a variety of issues, migrated to Zeldin.”

Babinec continued, “Governor Hochul could have secured the support of many of the three million voters not enrolled in either party, but she failed to address government reform as Governor, and failed again to talk about it in her campaign. Now that she’s been elected to serve a full term, we would urge her to reconnect with these voters and make government reform an immediate priority.”

Running as a Democrat in a deep blue state, even in a year when the voters were dissatisfied, all Governor Hochul had to do to assure victory was make sure a wide majority of independent and moderate voters didn’t choose to vote for her opponent, however, as her narrow victory demonstrated, she failed to do so. 

A major missed opportunity was her failure to embrace common sense government reforms already available in many other states, such as term limits for statewide offices, a path for voters to put initiatives and referendums on a statewide ballot, open primaries and expanded ballot access for candidates. Notwithstanding Rep. Zeldin’s strong push to connect with voters frustrated with New York’s political environment, scant attention got directed towards the real reforms needed to fix the state’s dysfunctional electoral system. 

And the fact remains that both candidates failed to connect with many voters, as demonstrated by a huge drop off in voter participation in New York City. This year a preliminary analysis shows that only 38% of the New York City electorate turned out to vote, down from 47% over the 2018 midterm elections, which amounts to 400,000 voters who have participated in the past yet chose to stay home. 

Unite NY Executive Director Tim Dunn said, “Voters are seeing the same problems every election cycle and instead of solutions or additional options, they are forced to choose from fewer candidates than ever before. It’s no surprise that nearly two-thirds of registered voters in New York City decided to stay home. Why vote if you believe your voice doesn’t matter? We can and must make changes to our electoral processes if we are to have any chance to reverse the very clear trend of voters losing faith in how New York State is governed.”

Earlier this year, Unite NY created a Voter Empowerment Index to determine how New York voters feel about needed government reforms. In poll after poll, the answer was repeatedly affirmed – voters thought New York’s political system was broken and they were more likely to support candidates who backed key political reforms.Some of the findings included:

  • 63% of voters were more likely to support a candidate who supports terms limits
  • 61% were more likely to support a candidate who supports ballot initiatives
  • 51% were more likely to support a candidate who supports opening up the primary process

The thirst for other reforms, ignored on the campaign trail, was also strong, including: 

  • 58% of voters support Ranked Choice Voting
  • 60% support the abolition of dark money in politics
  • 62% support no excuse absentee voting

A large part of the reason why these issues were left off the table in the race for governor was the stunning lack of choice in this election. New Yorkers had to choose between only the two major party candidates for the first time since 1946. With no additional voices to raise these issues, pleas for reform were ignored even though 60% of voters feel it is important that third parties be allowed on the election ballot.