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Siena poll: N.Y. voters united in cost of living concerns but divided on other issues

President Joe Biden speaks on the debt limit during an event at SUNY Westchester Community College, Wednesday, May 10, 2023, in Valhalla, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo/AP
President Joe Biden speaking at SUNY Westchester Community College, in May. His aptitude for office in 2024 was one of several topics covered by the poll. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

More than 80% of voters say the cost of living in New York State is a major problem, and a plurality say it's the most important issue for leaders to work on. The next top issues are crime, the migrant influx and affordable housing. That's all according to a Siena College Research Institute poll. Siena's Steve Greenberg spoke with WAMC's Ian Pickus.

It's not very often that there's such wide agreement, but it seems that the cost of living has united New Yorkers.

Well, 80% of Democrats say it's a major problem, 86% of Republicans, 87% of independents. But we also saw that (with) other issues, too. You mentioned the availability of affordable housing, 77% said that's a major problem, 73% of New Yorkers say crime is a major problem, 62% say the recent influx of migrants is a major problem. So what we did is after asking about seven issues and saying and having voters grade them: major problem, minor problem, not much of a problem for the state, we said if Albany leaders could only work on one issue, what's the single most important? And as you point out, cost of living of the plurality winner, 27% of New York voters said that's the top issue.

The next three are virtually tied for second tier. 19% of New Yorkers say crime is the number one issue, 18% say it's the recent influx of migrants and 17% say housing. On the cost of living, not a partisan divide it per se, 24% of Democrats say it's the number one issue, 25% of Republicans, but even more 35% of independents. Not surprisingly, influx of migrants more important issue for Republicans, 30% say it's the top issue, only 14% of Democrats say that, and then you can flip it on the housing. 23% of Democrats say that's the top issue, compared to only 8% of Republicans.

Well, we know New York state is one of the more expensive places to live, but isn't this a 'is water wet' kind of question? In other words, respondents are never going to say, ‘Yeah, I'm satisfied with the cost of living,’ right?

Well pocketbook issues, as we know, are often the drivers of election. We can go back to James Carville famously in ‘92 talking about it, ‘It's the economy, stupid.’ People feel the prices at the gas pump, at the grocery stores, when they make their mortgage or rent payments. So yeah, in that sense it's not surprising. But what it does show is when crime is a huge issue, and the media and the public is focused on it, like the recent influx of migrants that has gotten a lot of attention in the media, in government meetings, in town hall discussions. Yet those three issues, crime, migrants, affordable housing, while important to New Yorkers, clearly, more New Yorkers still think that the cost of living is the top issue.

Well, there were some good news/bad news dynamics going on here for Governor Kathy Hochul. How is she doing in the minds of respondents to the poll?

Oh a little bit better than last month, but not great. Right now, 40% of New Yorkers have a favorable view of Hochul, 41% view her unfavorably, last month it was 40 favorable, the same 46 unfavorable, so the bad numbers (are) down a few points. Her job approval rating, up seven points from last month. Right now, 48% of voters approve of the job Hochul is doing as governor, 41% don't approve, Last month it was 46-46. But I think one of the issues that has to be concerning to state officials, the governor certainly and others, is (that) we had a question, ‘Do you think things overall in New York State right now are getting better? The quality of life, it getting better, staying the same, or getting worse?’

14% of New Yorkers say the quality of life in the state is getting better. 27% say it's staying about the same. But a strong majority, 57% of New Yorkers, say the quality of life in the state is getting worse. 81% of Republicans say that, 60% of independents, and even 43%, a plurality of Democrats, say the quality of life in the state is getting worse.

Yeah, if I were an incumbent reading that during an election year, I would be biting my fingernails, I think. Well what about some presidential polling? It sounds like respondents don't want either President Biden or former President Trump to move back into the White House.

That is true. But let's start with the bigger picture, which is we asked the horse race question, ‘If it's a rematch, if it's Joe Biden the Democrat, Donald Trump the Republican, who do you support?’ 52-31 Biden leads, not surprising in a state where 50% of the enrolled voters are in fact Democrats, but it's up from last month. Last month, Biden (had) only a 13-point lead 47-34, now up to a 21-point lead. But when we asked voters, ‘What you think about the mental and physical fitness needed for a president to serve a four-year term, do you think both Biden and Trump are fit to serve a four-year term? Biden is but Trump isn't? Trump is but Biden isn't? Or neither Biden nor Trump is fit to serve a four-year term?’ And what we find is only 9% of New York voters, 1 in 11 says that both of them are fit to be president for a four-year term. 26% say Biden is (but) Trump isn’t, 28% say Trump (but) is Biden isn't, and the plurality winner, 34% of New Yorkers say neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump is fit to serve a four-year term as president.

You also were able to ask about the nascent House impeachment probe in time. That number surprised me a little bit; 46% said they support the House impeachment effort.

Yeah, 72% of Republicans not surprisingly support the House impeachment inquiry. Independents, 47% support. That doesn't sound like a high number, but only 24% oppose, so two-to-one support from independents and more than a third of Democrats. 35% of Democrats say they support the impeachment inquiry, 60% oppose. Interestingly, we see a little bit of a gender gap here. 54% of men support the impeachment inquiry, but women by a four-point margin oppose it.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.