Wonky Wednesday: Onondaga County 2022

Welcome back to #wonkywednesday. Each week I take a deep dive into the electoral and voter registration data that makes up our home here in Onondaga County and across New York State. Once again, I revisit how redistricting is impacting our county. This week I once again look at our county as a whole and see what the voter registration numbers say about our home.

It is helpful to think of Onondaga County as having three distinct populations. You have the urban core in the City of Syracuse which behaves like most urban cores in our country, heavily blue but with participation issues in local years. You also have the rural communities, towns under 10k population. These towns (colored red above) wind around the southern half of our county and up the western edge. Like most rural communities they tend to be more conservative and more republican. We then have the suburban community of towns that have over 10k voter registration (colored purple above). These communities are the towns immediately surrounding Syracuse as well as the northern towns. These communities have gone through the most change over the last 20 years as urban communities that have left Syracuse and newer voters have made these towns more swing districts, and more populous, then in the past.

The current enrollment of Onondaga County is 300,222 down from our all-time high of 308,798 in June of 2021. This drop off is normal in the years following a Presidential election as voters tend to not update voter registration becoming inactive and new voters fail to register. The Democratic share of Onondaga County has is at 38%. The GOP share is currently just over 27%. The Non-enrolled earlier this year for the first time actually overtook the GOP enrollment and is now at just over 28%. The three distinct regions of Onondaga County show where the population lies as well. The rural towns make up a large land mass but have just 13% of the voting population. The City of Syracuse gets a lot of attention in terms of cultural significance to our county but makes up just 23% of the population. The vast majority of our county live in the Suburban large towns which house 64% of the voting population.

As we look at these three regions it is clear why Democrats are emerging as a plurality and the GOP are falling to third place. The dominance in the City of Syracuse continues with Democrats having four times as many voters as the GOP and the non-enrolled doubling the GOP. But even in the suburban towns Democrats have a plurality with a growing and significant lead over the GOP and the non-enrolled are just behind. Only in the rural towns does the GOP hold a significant, and growing, numerical edge. However, the smaller population there can not make up for the huge losses in Syracuse and loss of ground in the suburbs. Next week I will further breakdown the towns into regional subgroups to analyze them further.

Though Democrats have had significant growth since 1996, there is sign that there may be stagnation in that growth. One of the fallouts from the Trump candidacy of 2016 in the northeast was a large growth in Democratic population in his 4-year term while the GOP struggled to keep pace. We certainly saw that in Onondaga County from 2017-2019 as Democrats gained each year and the lost ground. In 2020 both parties saw surges in enrollment for the presidential but are now on a 2-year decline. This could be normal decline as voter population has declined as well. However, the non-enrolled population has grown consistently since 2015. That pace did not match the Democratic growth until 2020 where the N/E growth grew substantially and continues to grow as Partisan enrollment has declined. As registrations pick up later this year, we will get a better sense of if this is an anomaly, or a trend.

The emerging Democratic plurality in the county has not always led to electoral success. Though turnout is an issue in odd numbered years, Democrats have not always been able to put together winning coalitions in even years as well. President Biden won this county by almost twenty points in 2020, however the congressional race between John Katko and Dana Balter was a nail biter with Katko having a small 2.52% plurality in the vote. Complicating that race was the presence of a third-party candidate Steve Williams on the WFP line due to a fluke in filing paperwork. We see in 2018 Dana Balter actually won Onondaga County by 2.14 points without that third party presence and likely would have in 2020 as well. Governor Cuomo in 2018 won our county by 6.07 points but not with a majority, though in Governor years there are always an inordinate number of third-party candidates that siphon votes from the major parties. In the same year though Democrats lost the Sheriff race by over ten points against incumbent Gene Conway.

This year there are several County Wide candidates that will be looking to try to mobilize the Democratic plurality and win races. We have 2 County Court judge seats and Sheriff on the ballot this year. Onondaga County will also be critical to the Governor, Supreme Court, and congressional races as well. It will be important for Democratic chances in those races to not only mobilize Democratic population but win or break even in the ascending non-enrolled population.

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