The week of a highly contested midterm election is as good a time as any to take a look at the longer-term political currents flowing through the mid-Hudson and Catskills region. Every county in the lower Hudson Valley had more potential voters this year than it had in 2000. In contrast, every major Catskills county except for Ulster had a smaller active electorate in 2018 than it had in 2000.
What did all that change bring in terms of political affiliations?
In Ulster County, many more Democrats, somewhat fewer Republicans. The pattern has been pretty much the same at the county level in most of urban New York State. As urban folks buy second homes and change their places of residence to a more rural setting, they often bring with them their urban party affiliation, more often than not Democratic. That’s what’s been happening in Ulster County for the past couple of generations.
Looking at recent Ulster County political registrations, it helps to remember that as recently as the beginning of this century active Republicans (those who usually voted) still outnumbered the active Democrats in Ulster County, 34,307 to 31,645. Most of the officeholders were Republicans.
The Ulster County municipalities where the Republican nomination was equivalent to election are now much diminished. The shoe is now on the other foot. It’s in the Democratic municipalities where the primary has become more consequential than the general election.
Countywide, the roll of active voters this year includes 45,670 Democrats and 28,148 Republicans. According to the county board of elections, some 4386 Ulster County residents have registered as Democrats in 2018 as of October 19, versus 966 Republicans.
The surge in activism in the Catskills this year has followed many years of relative political quietude. Greene County, Ulster’s immediate neighbor to the north, had about 1600 fewer active registered voters this year than it had at the end of the last century. Ulster’s neighbor to the southwest, Sullivan County, had 5000 fewer, Delaware County to the west had 3000 fewer, and sparsely populated Schoharie County to the northwest 450 fewer.
In contrast, Orange County, south of Ulster, added 17,000 active voters to its rolls between 2000 and 2018. And Dutchess County to Ulster’s east added a robust 18,000 additional active voters Every county in the lower Hudson Valley had more potential voters this year than it had in 2000.
Except for Delaware County, where the Democrats lost fewer potential voters than the GOP over the years, the electorate-losing Catskills counties lost about the same proportion of Democrats and Republicans. That indicates either that the second homers or weekenders chose to register Republican or that there not many of them were eager to register at all.
There’s a lot more long-distance commuting in the Hudson Valley than there used to be. More workers in the suburban ring around New York City commute to Gotham, and people in the northern exurban fringe of the Hudson Valley commute to jobs in the smaller cities and suburbs.
Median household income among counties reflects these patterns. Ulster County’s median household income may be the highest in the Catskills, but it’s lower than that in most of the counties in the New York metropolitan area. According to the census estimates for 2009-2013, Ulster’s median annual household income is $58,590, as compared to $70,458 in Orange County, $72,525 in Dutchess County and $81,496 in Westchester County — three counties where Democratic enrollment has increased since 2000 by 94,000 while Republican enrollment has dropped by 33,000. It’s interesting that the pattern of political registration in Ulster County has followed that of the other three counties while its economic circumstances seem so divergent.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been closely following the local congressional race between incumbent Republican John Faso and Democratic challenger Antonio Delgado. Centered in Ulster County (I would think that, wouldn’t I?), the district stretches northward to the Capital area, southwest to Sullivan County, and westward through the Catskills to Cooperstown and Otsego County. Its turf encompasses many of the different aspects of the patchwork quilt that is today’s Upstate New York. The outcome at the polls next Tuesday ought to provide a fair test of the starkly competing narratives of the American future that the contenders have been putting forth.