The Weekly Wonk: Onondaga County 2023

Welcome back to the #WeeklyWonk. Each weekend I release an article on a subject relating to elections in Onondaga County and New York State. Often these articles will have detailed stats to consume but sometimes they will be a recap of a prominent issue or on relevant election law. I am turning my eye to the 2023 elections.  Each week I hat will have races in them this fall.  I start with my annual look at our home, Onondaga County.

2023 is what is known as our County-wide office year.  Running County wide this year we have County Executive, County Clerk, District Attorney, and County Comptroller.  For years county-wide offices were solely the domain of the GOP, but Democrats have had recent success.  In 2019 Marty Masterpole was the first Democrat to win county wide office in decades and Bernadette Romano Clark won Onondaga County in her re-election campaign for Supreme Court and despite losing Julie Cerio carried the Onondaga portion of the district.  In 2020 President Biden easily won Onondaga County. Julie Cerio and Christie DeJospeh won both Family court seats and Rory McMahon won Onondaga County by a wide Margin helping him win election to Supreme Court.  In 2021 despite losing his Supreme Court bid, Anthony Brindisi won Onondaga County. 

In 2022 Toby Shelly also won Sheriff and Ted Limpert won County Court Judge and Julie Cecile won re-election for Family Court.  in 2022.  All four statewide offices, all four statewide offices Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, and Senator carried Onondaga County.  Fran Conole for Congress and all four Supreme Court candidates carried Onondaga County in their losing campaigns.  All in all, Democrats have won or carried their Onondaga County portions of their contest in 20 of 26 races since 2019, and 4 of 8 in lower turnout odd years.  In fact one race, the 2020 Congressional could have gone Democrats way if not for a split race on the WFP line due to a technicality.

This is borne out by the current registration advantages Democrats have in Onondaga County.  Democrats have a significant advantage with 117,240 registrants (38%).  The GOP has 83,366 registrants (27%) but is actually 3rd in the county behind non-enrolled voters at 85,858 (28%).  Conservatives at 5,127 (2%) and Working Families at 1,277 (>1%) are the two other recognized parties.  They are dwarfed though by the 13,979 voters who are enrolled in now defunct parties or truly minor lines.  I classify Onondaga County into 5 main regions.  First is the City of Syracuse a major blue leaning city in the middle.  The Eastern Democratic towns (Dewitt, Manlius & Salina) that make up the biggest swath of Democratic voters outside the City of Syracuse.  The Northern Towns of Cicero, Clay, & Lysander that are more conservative leaning in local years.  The Western Towns of Camillus, Elbridge, Geddes, Onondaga, and Van Buren which swing from year to year and candidate to candidate.  Finally, we have the agrarian southern towns of Fabius, Lafayette, Marcellus, Otisco, Pompey, Skaneateles, & Tully that are some of the most consistently GOP dominated towns in our county. In terms of voter population the Northern towns have the most registered voters at 82,123 (27%) followed by the City of Syracuse 71,510 (23%), the Eastern towns 65,063 voters (21%), the Western Towns 61,257 (20%) and the southern towns 26,894 (9%).

Registrations in Onondaga County are once again nearing the all-time high.  I have data going back to 1996 from the State Board.   Our current Registration as of this last week is 306,847 voters.  Our all-time high is 308,296 voters going into the Presidential election of 2020.  We have yet to do our National Change of Address and mail check cards this year which could take significant voters off the rolls.  However we are seeing that the patterns of high registration rates we saw between 2016 and 2020 are holding true for this cycle.  It may be that the old patterns of falling registrations in between Presidential cycles are broken when the advent of DMV online registrations in 2016.  With general online voter registration and automatic voter registrations coming this year we could see a massive increase of registrations going into the 2024 election.

If we look at the history of Onondaga County in registration we see the dramatic change this county has undertaken.  In 1996 this was a solidly GOP county with a major Republican advantage.  In 2008 Democrats overtook them in registrations during the Obama election.  Since 1996 Democrats have gained 31,540 voters while the GOP has lost 22,756 voters.  The non-enrolled have gained 13,292 voters in that time frame.  The data indicates that Democrats are gaining with newer voters, whether younger or transplants while the GOP voter base is aging and moving out of the area or passing away.  In addition, since 2016 we have seen large shifts to the non-enrolled base, possibly from disaffected GOP.  In 2021 the Non-enrolled finally overtook the GOP county wide and is now firmly in 2nd place.

The regional breakdowns of Onondaga County show that Democrats don’t just have opportunities in the city.  There is growing influence in the suburbs as well.  Syracuse is by far the bluest of the county.  The Eastern towns is where Democrats also do well when running county wide.  The southern towns, though small, tilt so heavily red they are able to influence close county races.  The Western and Northern towns as a whole are swing towns when looked at collectively.  However next week we will dive into the individual regions we will see some towns are red and some blue and a few truly swing towns.

If we really look into the partisan spread of Onondaga County there is some interesting data.  We see that the Democrats were gaining in influence gradually in Onondaga County right up to 2008.  It then seemed to kick into second gear during Obama’s first term (2008-2012) growing by over 235%.  It started to stall in Obama’s second term (2012-2016) gaining just over 40%.  The Trump years (2016-2020) gave a jump start to the Democratic enrollment advantage growing by nearly 50%.  However, since 2020 Democrats have only grown their advantage by a little over 2% and there are signs of stagnation and even a slight dip as of late.

Finally its time to look at the comparative races for Onondaga County.  In this section I will see how a political subdivision does when compared to some races from the past few years,  The four control races I will use in every political subdivision are the 2022 Governor year (moderate Dem result), the 2021 Supreme Court (small Dem result), the 2020 Presidential (major Dem result), and the 2019 County Clerk race (small GOP result).  I also look at the previous results in races in the subdivision, so I added in the 2019 County Executive, Comptroller, and District Attorney results as well.  Here we see Onondaga County outpaced the average result in New York for the Governor’s race.  We also see that Biden crushed Onondaga County as well.  Higher turnout elections and the county tends to be blue.  However lower turnout elections does not necessarily prove doom for the right candidate.  Brindisi for Supreme Court in 2021 and Masterpole for comptroller in 2019 shows that Democrats can win.  Certainly McMahon’s county executive race is a solid GOP win, it was also the worst a GOP County Executive candidate has performed.  Likewise the 2020 County Clerk race shows a closer than expected result with the Democrat virtually having no campaign at all.  Finally the DA’s race has the widest margin for a Republican beating a Democrat in the last 26 county wide races, however it is also one of the smallest majorities seen in 2019 due to a 3rd party candidate.  This shows a possible opening for a Democrat who can also attract conservative support.

That does it for my first look at 2023.  Next week I will delve into the towns of Onondaga County as I take a look at the general performance of the voters outside the City of Syracuse.  We will look at the overall trends of the towns as a group and some insights to the regional and individual tendencies.  Subscribe to for all content and election news updates.

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