Home / General / Is Upstate New York Like Alabama? (SPOILER: No).

Is Upstate New York Like Alabama? (SPOILER: No).


Murc in comments [combining two]:

That’s the flip side, yes. I enjoy pointing out that without the city, upstate New York is basically Alabama…upstate New York is economically impoverished and composed a lot of strongly conservative white folk. In other words, the south.

Well, I happen to have another upstate resident right here — myself. And I can assure people unfamiliar with the area that this is abject nonsense, even allowing for some rhetorical license.

First of all, take a look at the most recent House elections. My district, NY-20, voted for an orthodox Democrat ~70-30. Democrats also hold the House seats in the North Country and in the districts containing Rochester and Syracuse. I’m not actually wild about defining “upstate” New York as “everything outside of New York City,” but since Murc’s assertion would have no chance at all without it we’ll go with that. Even in Western NY and the Southern Tier (as well as the upstate-by-any-definition Upper Hudson Valley), the House elections won by the GOP were coin flips. Only in NY-22 did a Republican (narrowly) get even 60% of the vote. That’s more conservative than NYC, but Alabama it really, really ain’t. Metro Birmingham votes GOP like the capital region votes Democratic, the Huntsville area is 65-35 GOP, Montgomery about the same…I don’t think I need to belabor this point further.

And, of course, even this is being too charitable to the argument, because it assumes that New York and Alabama Republicans are the same. While most readers of this blog know there’s no longer any functional moderates in the Republican conference, many voters don’t know that — Richard Hanna and Chris Gibson would not win Republican primaries in Alabama. If we look at the presidential level, a more useful metric in this context, we can see that upstate New York is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2012, Obama lost three of New York’s 27 congressional districts: NY-22 [central New York] by .4%, NY-23 [Ithica and parts of the Finger Lakes] by 1.2%, and finally one solid Romney win in NY-27 [suburban Buffalo.] In Alabama, conversely, Romney’s percentages in the 6 of 7 districts he won were 62, 63, 62, 74, 64, and 74.

Admittedly, Murc did start to walk back his claim, conceding that “[u]pstate has the I-90 corridor, and the decaying urban cores strung out along it are pretty liberal.” But at this point the claim has been narrowed to an empty tautology. “If we exclude the majority of upstate that’s liberal or moderate, it’s conservative.” I mean..I can’t argue with this, exactly, but the assertion that upstate New York is like Alabama has now been rendered inoperative.  If you have to exclude metropolitan Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, the North Country, and much of the Hudson Valley from your definition of “upstate New York” for your characterization to hold water, it’s wrong.

Saying that upstate New York is like Alabama, therefore, is like the assertion that Obama is really a moderate Republican. It’s either meaningless to the point of constituting dissembling (“look — a powerless and unrepresentative nominal Republican who has positions indistinguishable from a mainstream liberal Democrat — he’s like Obama!”), or it’s false.

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