Cynthia Nixon’s hope may lie to Gov. Cuomo’s left, experts say

Legislative Gazette file photo
Cynthia Nixon only has a 20 percent favorability rating among registered voters in New York state, compared to a 19 percent unfavorable rating, according to the latest Siena poll. Her biggest challenge however is that 60 percent of voters have no opinion at all about the former Sex and the City star.

The most recent Siena Poll shows that actress Cynthia Nixon faces an uphill battle in her bid to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo, largely because she doesn’t have the name recognition to win in a primary against the incumbent.

In a poll of 772 registered voters in New York, Nixon received a favorability rating of 20-19 percent, with 60 percent either not knowing who Nixon is, or having no opinion.

“Name recognition is going to be huge,” said Jacob Neiheisel, assistant professor of political science at the University of Buffalo and expert on political communications and campaigns. “But [Nixon] needs to boost that, particularly when running against someone with a name like Gov. Cuomo.”

Of the approximately 363 registered Democrats polled this month, 66 percent said they would vote for Cuomo while 19 percent said they would likely vote for Nixon.

Democrats who identified as conservatives are the most likely to vote for Nixon, at 34 percent, but still favored Cuomo in the primaries, 60 percent.

In order to close the gap in the five months leading up to the September primary, Neiheisel said Nixon could make efforts to appeal to the activists in the Democratic Party.

“She could tap into some of the sentiments among the more activist left in the party that aren’t happening with the more moderate stance Gov. Cuomo has taken on some issues,” Neiheisel said.

Cracking down on corruption and taking a hard stance on gun control, Neiheisel said, could garner more support from liberals for Nixon’s campaign.

When polled earlier this month, only 18 percent of Democrats who identified as liberal said they would vote for Nixon while 63 percent voiced their support for Cuomo.

“She would need to persuade Democratic voters that she is the preferable alternative,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of The Campaign Finance Institute and professor of political science at the University at Albany. “That’s not an easy task. You would have to count on potential Cuomo voters not showing up.”

Following a close primary race between Cuomo and Zephyr Teachout in 2014, Malbin said that “this time the governor won’t be caught by surprise.”

Nixon’s candidacy, which was announced Monday, has already drawn parallels to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, due to Nixon’s status as a celebrity.

The success of celebrities in the political sphere could be accredited to a phenomena of parasocial relationships, according to a forthcoming study authored by Shira Gabriel, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo.

“Viewers feel like we know these people when in a parasocial relationship. They feel interested in their lives and feel happy when good things happen to them,” she said. “Logically, that doesn’t make sense, but we still feel connected to them when we spend time with them – and it’s a relatively healthy and common thing to do.”

Trump’s time on The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice, Gabriel said, may have played a large role in his victory.

“The mass of shows is amazing,” Gabriel said. “Fourteen seasons of hour-long episodes that presented Trump as a calm, infallible decision-maker, who listened to others but came to his own conclusions, greatly emphasized his success.”

Though Nixon’s star power may potentially make her name recognizable to New York voters, the polls show a clear gap between Nixon and a Democratic nomination. Neiheisel said, however, that the implications of a Nixon campaign against Cuomo may reach past the gubernatorial race.

“I don’t know that it’s going to be much of a challenge to him in securing the nomination or taking the primary,” he said. “What might hurt him is that he might be forced more to the left. If he’s gearing up for a presidential run in 2020 that could come back to haunt him.”