President Trump lost the popular vote in New York City to Joe Biden by 53 points, an expected rout in his hometown, but he did in fact improve on his 2016 performance against Hillary Clinton, who defeated him in the city by 61 points.
An analysis by Politico indicates that support for Trump in 2020 rose in almost all assembly districts in the city relative to his 2016 performance. And in some districts, the swing was dramatic: the heavily Latino state-assembly district 86 in the Bronx, for example, swung almost 21 points in Trump’s favor. Assembly district 35 in Queens, which partly overlaps with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s own congressional district, swung toward Trump by 18.7 points.
Overall, Trump’s support against the opposing Democratic candidate rose by 11.8 points in the Bronx, 8.6 points in Queens, and 7.6 points in Brooklyn, Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman noted. Only in the Republican stronghold of Staten Island did support for the president drop.
Seth Barron, director of the NYC Initiative at the Manhattan Institute, told National Review that Trump’s gains in New York City can be largely attributed to increased Latino support. The same is true of a number of states, particularly Florida and Texas, where the president built on his 2016 coalition.
“There’s this idea that as the country becomes less white, that the Democrats will just win everything because if you’re not white you vote Democrat,” Barron said. “On a national level we’re seeing a little bit of fracture in that, and maybe we could see fractures in that on a local level.”
In particular, Barron noted, Washington Heights and Inwood, neighborhoods in upper Manhattan with a large number of Dominican expats, showed a rise in support for Trump, although “it’s not like Trump trounced anybody in these areas.”
Mike Rendino, head of the Bronx GOP, said local Republicans attempted to reach out to as many areas of the borough as possible. Rendino stressed Trump’s populism, as well as support for law and order following the summer’s George Floyd riots, in explaining recent Republican support in parts of the Bronx that the party has historically overlooked.
“You want to be a blue-collar conservative? Well, we’re going to talk to them, we’re going to talk to people in neighborhoods where we don’t usually do that,” Rendino told National Review.
Some of the turnout, Rendino said, can be explained by the simple fact that the party showed up in those long-ignored neighborhoods. Republicans held monthly meetings at New York City Housing Authority buildings, and “sometimes in community centers in Hispanic neighborhoods. We [reached out to] the Bengali population as well, and we would just talk to them.”
Rendino added that anyone “who’s been to a Bronx Republican dinner could tell it’s probably one of the most diverse group of Republicans in the whole country.”
In Brooklyn, the swing toward Trump is more easily explained by his solidifying support in neighborhoods of ultra-Orthodox Jews and immigrants from the former Soviet Union. About a week prior to the election, a “caravan” of Trump-supporting Jews even made its way through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city, culminating in a rally of roughly a thousand people and replete with Trump-Pence flags.
Support for Trump was arguably galvanized in these neighborhoods amid discontent with restrictions on religious attendance imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. The restrictions were imposed in an attempt to slow coronavirus spread through parts of Brooklyn, including in a number of predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in September; but the Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the restrictions unconstitutionally harmed religious freedoms.
In the reliably Republican borough of Staten Island, however, Trump’s share of the vote dropped by 0.2 percent. This occurred even as Nicole Malliotakis defeated incumbent moderate Democrat Max Rose, an Afghanistan war veteran who made disdain for de Blasio a central theme of his campaign. (Malliotakis’s victory appears to be an example of a national trend: Republicans gained seats in the House and in state legislatures while the president lost.)
The drop in Staten Island “is surprising,” Barron commented, “but I think there was some Trump fatigue.”
While there is some cautious optimism, local Republicans are skeptical that Trump’s 2020 performance in New York City portends a broader reversal in the party’s fortunes in the immediate future. New York voters have elected a crop of progressive politicians on the national, state, and city level in recent years and will likely continue to do so.
A modest increase in GOP support in New York “could moderate hard left politics going forward,” Barron said. “But on the other hand, who knows?”