Over four weeks after Election Day, in a district that President Donald Trump carried by over 15 percentage points in 2016 and where there are 26,924 more registered Republicans than Democrats, Anthony Brindisi can now securely call himself a congressman-elect. How did he do it? Some voters in the 22nd congressional district of New York state split their tickets.
When a voter splits their ticket, they choose candidates from different parties as they go down the ballot. In this election cycle, Broome County voters went with Brindisi, a Democrat, over GOP incumbent Claudia Tenney 56 percent of the time. At the same time, however, by a margin of 8 percentage points, 51 percent of Broome County voters also supported Republican candidate for governor, Marc Molinaro, over Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo.
Paired with the nationalization of politics, or a growing association of federal party leadership — like Trump or Senator Chuck Schumer — with state and local contests, it’s surprising that some voters would choose candidates from different parties. But November’s poor performers, Cuomo and Tenney, have something in common: they make people in their parties uncomfortable, and were punished for it. Though he won the Democratic primary over actress, activist and first-time candidate Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo suffered serious flak from progressives and more conservative Democrats alike during the campaign. Tenney, for her part, has been a staunch and consistent supporter of Trump, who usually performs poorly in popularity polls, and her hard-right rhetoric served to isolate typical GOP voters in a district that typically has moderate conservative leadership.
Even while individual candidates may swing some voters here and there, scholars and journalists see serious split-ticket voting as a remnant of a past, more civil age in American politics. According to Stanford political scientist Shanto Iyengar, our partisan identities — which political camp we fall into — have become so important in how we see ourselves so as to now trump other social identifiers, like religion, race and gender. But isn’t it troubling that the Brindisi of politics exemplify the rare exceptions, rather than the rule? Primary turnout in New York is abysmal, and a concrete unwillingness for general election voters to stray from the party line serves to further the Democratic deficit within a district’s party direction.
So maybe Brindisi’s small margin of error to win the race tells the story of burgeoning Binghamton politics — not of a district comprised of devout party members, but one of the fair-minded voters, who take into account the issues of the day and the character of the politicians on the ballot before making their choice. If we are to believe — and as Iyengar notes in a co-authored study (though most every American on the street could probably tell you the same) — that passionate Democrats and Republicans really don’t like each other, then Brindisi’s win offers a beacon of hope in hyper-partisan America. To quote the Press & Sun-Bulletin, I think it’s a good thing that “[w]here NY state voters zigged, those in [the] Binghamton area often zagged.”
Jacalyn Goldzweig-Panitz is a senior majoring in political science.