The Three Lanes of NYC Mayoral Election Traffic

"Come on, let's run some red lights!"

I made the mistake of trying to build a ranked-choice voting election model for the NYC Mayoral Race this weekend.

To quote Facebook, “It’s complicated.”

That being said, it’s an exercise that forces you down a bunch of rabbit holes relating to ideology, race, gender, and all sorts of other factors that, unfortunately, aren’t well polled.

I’ll give away the basics of where I got to with it and some of the biggest questions still left answered. From what I can tell, there are basically three lanes where the votes will end up and are not likely to shift between each other.

There’s the Andrew Yang lane, the “Experience” lane, and the Progressive lane.

Andrew Yang has polled everywhere from 16% to 32% in the three major polls that have come out so far. Wherever he actually is, I think two things are probably true:

1) Yang supporters appear to be ride or die—unfazed by his lack of experience, flip flops, gaffes, and seemingly bizarre stances like being against speedy busways. I mean, is the constituency for people driving across 14th Street really worth going after? They just love the idea of an outside-the-box pick promising to turn NYC into a crypto utopia.

2) At 85-90% name recognition, he has probably already topped out early. Anyone canvassing for a campaign will tell you that those that are for him are for him, and those that aren’t listing him first are having a visceral reaction to the idea. Somewhere around 60-70% of the voters both know who he is and have already decided not to pick him, representing the high water mark for that figure among all the candidates.

Hopefully, we’ll get some more consistent polling to figure out where he is exactly, but he’s a bucket unto himself at whatever number he really is.

The “Experience” lane is clogged with people who are mostly telling you what they’ve done and positions they’ve held—how their resume makes them a good candidate to run the city. This includes Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Wall Street exec Ray McGuire, former Obama cabinet member Shaun Donovan, and Campaign Finance board member Art Chang. You could also potentially call this group a “moderate” group, but that I think that oversimplifies the ideological spectrum of the race more or less around one issue, or rather, a slogan.

Some voters are making “defunding” the police a litmus test for progressive policy when all of the candidates have called for serious changes to how NYPD works to keep the city safe. Realistically, the NYPD’s budget will almost certainly shrink in the next year, regardless of who is Mayor, simply because the city is short on cash. Would it not count as “defunding” if an operations wonk like Kathryn Garcia, who has already spoken out about protest tactics and kettling, is able to cut the NYPD budget by reeling in the costly overtime hours? Does it count more as actual police reform if Maya Wiley successfully shrinks the force via the budget, but doesn’t do anything to affect the culture of the remaining officers?

Either way, there seems to be a big chunk of voters trying to figure out who to land on among those whose propositions actually require some research. What exactly did Shaun Donovan do to help “rebuild NYC after 9/11”? (I don’t remember him being around then, do you?) Is Ray McGuire’s economic plan actually groundbreaking or is a smooth-talking poor kid turned banker story not quite the monorail to Springfield we all want to hop on? And what exactly does a Borough President even do anyway? And did Eric Adams really say that we need more good guys with guns like off-duty cops concealed carrying to church to keep us safe?

The sub-plots here are where it gets interesting.

Several times throughout the race, Andrew Yang has complimented Kathryn Garcia’s experience. It seems obvious that he’d like her to be a part of his administration if he wins. Those kind words might be earning her a bit of spotlight and #2 selections that others, especially Eric Adams, are unlikely to get. In fact, Adams can be so polarizing and negative that he might be hurting himself on getting secondary slots. Otherwise, an experienced, politically moderate Black candidate who has both been on the receiving end of police abuse and been a cop himself could be the poster child for a big tent. If anything, his numbers are lower than you’d imagine just based on his resume—and I supposed it’s his sometimes erratic public comments that might hurt him in a ranked-choice voting situation.

Also, is it likely that Kathryn Garcia is one-way vote receiver? Would female Progressives add her to the ballot to keep figures like Adams, McGuire and Yang off? Would Shaun Donovan voters be happy to also have her, but KG fans balk at his circumvention of campaign finance laws by getting support from a multi-million dollar PAC funded by his father?

And what of Art Chang? In the wake of Anti-Asian violence and that community’s growing frustration with Andrew Yang—who seems to think the answer is more police when immigrant communities can often be the target of police harassment—does he have a chance to move the needle as an alternative? He certainly has more NYC-specific experience than Yang.

While it might take several weeks, this group is probably where most of the 50% undecided number we saw in the last poll is going to go—given that the last group, Progressives, are usually the most well-informed and theoretically the earliest deciders.

Progressives are choosing between Maya Wiley, Dianne Moreles, and Scott Stringer. Is it likely that a true progressive, after everything we saw last summer in NYC, selects a straight white male over two women of color? My hunch here is that Stringer’s experience in government, a.k.a. “electability”, is what he has going for him—but should either Wiley or Moreles show momentum and viability, his supporters might be willing to get on board. Race and gender play a super interesting role in this side of the race. Do some Progressives feel like NYC isn’t likely to elect not just a woman, but a woman of color, and so Stringer feels like the “safer” choice to get on board with, or does his race and gender actually hurt him when it comes to this base?

Not totally sure here—but ideologically, they’re all pretty close.

Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that this time in 2013, Anthony Weiner was still leading the race, with Bill de Blasio in 4th or 5th at best.

Tune in to The Schlep to City Hall this week for an update on the state of the race.