Opinion: Broad Appeal Key to Winning Mayoral Race

(Photo by John Morton, Flickr Creative Commons License)

As voting demographics change, candidates will have to aim for appealing to groups across the board, says Andrew A. Beveridge. (Photo by John Morton, Flickr Creative Commons License)

A commentary piece by Andrew A. Beveridge in Gotham Gazette examines changing demographic trends among the city’s voters and what this means for the mayoral candidates.

Declines occurred among non-Hispanic white and black populations, who in terms of race are the largest voting groups, while Hispanics and Asians saw single-digit increases.

Most notably, the proportion of the electorate that is non-Hispanic white has dropped from 54 percent in 1990 to about 42 percent for the latest year. Most likely it has declined even more since then.

At the same time, the percent of the electorate that is non-Hispanic black has declined to about 24 percent after increasing slightly from 1990 to 2000. Meanwhile, the Hispanic electorate has grown from about 18 to 23 percent, and the Asian electorate has gone from about 4 percent to about 10 percent.

In describing Hispanic and Asian electorates, however, ethnicity and immigration must be taken into account. When broken down by ethnicity, however, only the percentage of Puerto Ricans in the electorate reaches the double digits.

While roughly 90 percent of voting age non-Hispanic white population are citizens, and virtually all Puerto Ricans are citizens, only 26 percent of Mexicans are citizens. For the other Hispanic groups, the range is from the 40 to 60 percent. For instance, about 59 percent of Dominicans over 18 are citizens. (Click to see the tables).

The same pattern holds for the Asian groups. For South Asians, generally about 60 percent of the voting age are citizens, while for the Chinese and Koreans it is also about 60 percent. Both the growth of the immigrant population and the length of time specific groups are in the United States and the extent to which such groups have children and their children become 18 affects the size of the citizen population of each group. So as time goes on, more and more will be citizens and thus have a potential political clout.

The South Asian group is now about 2 percent of the electorate, the Dominicans and Chinese are both about 5 percent, while the Puerto Ricans are 11 percent. All of the other groups are no more than about one percent — and often much smaller. Of course, they are larger in certain areas, but only in a few cases do they approximate an absolute majority.

Given these numbers, winning a mayoral race means not just garnering support across the board, but especially within your own demographic, a lesson one mayoral candidate learned in his first venture into politics.

At the same time, because non-Hispanic white electorate has declined to near 40 percent, winning an election means that other groups must work in coalition. If the new groups are split apart or split among themselves and one or more candidates from each group runs a campaign that does not reach across groups, they will undoubtedly lose.

This is a lesson that John Liu learned when he unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 1997. He faced two other opponents of Chinese descent, and challenged an incumbent who famously characterized the increase of Asians in the Flushing area, as an invasion. It was also a hard-earned lesson in the 2001 election when term limits forced a large turnover in the City Council but the number of seats won by community and ethnic activists was very few.

Though the growth of immigrant and ethnic groups can empower such groups, to win elective office usually requires reaching across groups and ethnic divisions and fashioning a winning coalition. It also means getting members of those groups through the citizenship process, registered and to the polls.

What must the candidates on both sides of the spectrum do, according to Beveridge?

Not only do Republican candidates need to go beyond the 16 percent of electorate who enroll in the GOP as Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani did, but Democratic candidates need to get support beyond their ethnic group and local area to even have chance.