By Christopher Cameron and Jessica Chin
A Siena Research Institute poll released this week shows Donald Trump is still leading New York’s first congressional district on Long Island by three points, but several political scientists are raising concerns about the validity of the results.
Professors of political science from both Hofstra University and Stony Brook University have said that Suffolk County follows a polling trend comparable to the rest of the United States, where Hillary Clinton could be as much as 14 points ahead.
“Long Island is very typical for the country,” Helmut Norpoth, professor of Political Science at Stony Brook University, said. “The average of Suffolk and Nassau put together is almost dead-right to what the country as a whole is.”
Thirty-two percent of Americans identify as Democrats as opposed to 29 percent who identify as Republicans, according to a 2015 Pew Research report.
Experts within the Siena Research Institute, located in Albany, disagree with the notion that Long Island is typical as a voting bloc for the United States.The Institute’s director, Don Levy, said that Suffolk County isn’t just different from the rest of the county, but the rest of New York state as well.
“The composition of the state of New York [contains] twice as many Democrats as there are Republicans. Suffolk County is not like that,” Don Levy said. “In Suffolk County, there are actually more Republicans registered than there are Democrats.”
Suffolk County as a whole is leaning Republican due to the rapid decrease in diversity and a high median income in the region, Daniel Lewis, a faculty fellow at Siena Research Institute, said.
“Though Suffolk hasn’t voted for a Republican since 1988, the margins in the county have become increasingly narrow over time.” Lewis said in an email. “The first Congressional District is now represented by a Republican after 12 years of Democratic representation.”
One might conclude that Republicans have an advantage in the first Congressional District, since historically there are more Republican voters than Democrats. But Trump’s narrow lead is not in line with the significant lead held by Lee Zeldin, the district’s incumbent, Don Levy said.
“The fact that 30 percent of Republicans say they have an unfavorable opinion of Trump is noteworthy,” Don Levy said. “The first impression is why is Trump doing so well. But, in reality you might say, he really ought to do even better.”
Suffolk County’s support for Trump polling higher than the national average could be attributed to pockets of working class voters who have not recovered fully from the great recession, Lawrence Levy, the Executive Dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said.
“These people are going to sound rich by national standards, but relative to what it costs to live on Long Island, relative to the lifestyles they had 20 years ago and even 10 years ago,” Lawrence Levy said. “They’re not doing very well at all. We’re talking about people with incomes under $100,000.”
Although Trump’s rhetoric about immigration may be driving some of his support, Professor Christopher Niedt at Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies said that he would not read much into the SRI poll.
“Whatever effect the immigration issue is having, the fact is Suffolk County polls is still following the national average,” Niedt said.
While both candidates claim New York as their home state, Donald Trump is polling at an average of 20 points behind Hillary Clinton in New York overall as of September 23rd. Suffolk County made up eight percent of New York state’s voter turnout in the last presidential election.