Coming into yesterday’s Democratic Party primary, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) was the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. Speculation swirled that he was destined to become a future Minority Leader or even House Speaker. By day’s end, everything had changed. Rep. Crowley’s political future had evaporated at the hands of Democratic primary voters. When the votes were counted, 28-year-old Democratic-Socialist candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had handily swept Crowley from the general election ballot.
The young, previously lightly-regarded, hard Left candidate had triumphed, even as she campaigned on positions that were unapologetically progressive. The Washington Post reported:
Ocasio-Cortez’s politics are substantially to the left of most of the party, and even Sanders. In her campaign videos and posters, designed by friends from New York’s socialist circles, she came out for the abolition of ICE, universal Medicare, a federal jobs guarantee and free college tuition. The ads also made it clear that she was a different candidate — a young Latina from the Bronx, not a white man from Queens. The posters, which she said were designed to look “revolutionary,” were bilingual and centered her face; her viral campaign video, created by a socialist team called Means of Production, began with her saying that “women like me aren’t supposed to run for office” over an image of her getting ready for the day in a busy apartment building.
What happened? Is a populist revolution from the Left now brewing?
Even as exit polls are not taken in such races, a closer look at the New York’s 14th Congressional District provides some potential insight into the outcome. The following summary is based largely on Census data from the 2016 American Community Survey for New York’s 14th Congressional District and for the United States.
Economics likely played only a modest role in the outcome. The 14th Congressional District had median household income of $53,512 vs. the national average of $55,322. The percentage of households with annual income below $35,000 was 32.7% in the 14th District vs. 32.2% nationwide. The unemployment rate (2016 average) was 5.4% in the 14th District and 4.7% in the United States. However, the structure of the labor market differed. In the 14th Congressional District, 27.0% of employment was in the services sector (18.1% nationally) while 30.4% was in management/business/science/arts (37.0% nationally).
Poverty also likely played only a minor role. The poverty rate in the 14th District was 12.1% vs. 11.0% nationwide. The poverty rate among households with children was 16.4% in the 14th Congressional District vs. 17.4% for the United States as a whole.
Health coverage also likely played only a small role. In the 14th Congressional District, 12.1% of households lacked health coverage. Nationwide, 11.7% of households were not covered. Health policy changes in Washington that were projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to increase the number of people who lacked health coverage may have played some role, especially as services sector establishments are less likely to provide health coverage than those in the management/professional sector (Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employee Benefits in the United States, 2017-Table 2)
The Trump Administration’s increasingly harsh immigration policy, highlighted by its recently abandoned family-separation policy that led to more than 2,000 children of undocumented immigrants being separated from their parents, may have played a large role. 49.8% of the population in the 14th Congressional District is Hispanic or Latino vs. 17.3% nationwide. More than 60% of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are Hispanic or Latino (Department of Homeland Security, Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States, 2014 – Table 3). In addition, 45.8% of the 14th Congressional District’s population is foreign-born vs. 13.2% for the United States as a whole (United States Census Bureau: QuickFacts). These characteristics suggest that the immigration issue would have been more likely to resonate in the 14th Congressional District than in the nation as a whole.
What does Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory mean for the upcoming election on November 6?
The 14th Congressional District is a “safe” Democratic seat. No change is likely there.
It is also unclear whether the Democratic primary outcome in New York’s 14th Congressional District is more the result of fairly unique circumstances (exceptionally high Hispanic/Latino and foreign-born populations) than a barometer of the sentiment of the broader national electorate. The Democratic primary outcome there suggests that Congressional Districts with high immigrant or Hispanic/Latino populations might be ripe for Democratic Party gains. Further, the defeat of a powerful establishment political leader may hint that the combination of continuing popular dissatisfaction with the Trump Administration and perceived impotence of more mainstream political leaders (from both major political parties) could enhance the electoral prospects for anti-establishment opposition candidates.