Signs of a Zeldin Spillover Effect in New Jersey

By January 10, 2023Uncategorized

by Drew Weinstock, Research Analyst

Despite a midterm cycle in which many voters opted for the status quo by re-electing incumbent governors and senators, two states, Florida and New York, illustrated encouraging gains for Republicans. While Florida cemented itself as a red state, New York highlighted Democrats’ vulnerability by holding its closest Senate contest since 1998 and its best showing for a Republican gubernatorial candidate since the party last won the governorship in 2002.

Sitting atop the ticket, Congressman Lee Zeldin steered much of the election’s narrative by keeping a narrow focus on rising crime in New York City and Long Island as well as urban areas further upstate.  Zeldin ultimately drove this message home by outspending his opponent by over $3 million on TV, radio, and digital ads in the final week of the campaign.[1] More broadly, this was the most expensive governors’ race in New York in 20 years. Kathy Hochul spent $56.3 million on the race, while Lee Zeldin spent $24.2 million.[2] Outside conservative groups narrowed the spending gap by allocating at least $21 million to New York in support of Zeldin. Outside groups spent over $500K in support of Kathy Hochul.[3]

New York Governor’s Race – Margins of Victory[4]

2006 2010 2014 2018 2022
D +38% D +29% D +14% D +23% D +6%

However, the Zeldin campaign’s success in raising the salience of crime policy among voters may have been felt beyond New York’s state lines due to the sprawl of the New York City media market. In addition to Pike County in Pennsylvania and Fairfield County in Connecticut, the New York media market takes up the northern half of New Jersey as well as most of the state’s eastern shoreline. According to the latest Census data, 75% of New Jersey’s voting age population falls within the New York City media market, while the remaining 25% falls within the Philadelphia media market. A similar breakdown can be seen in terms of voter registration. As of November 2022, 74% of New Jersey’s registered voters reside in the New York City media market compared to 26% of registered voters who fall within the Philadelphia media market.

New Jersey DMA Map

This being the case, a closer look at New Jersey’s voting trends broken out by media market could offer insight into a potential spillover effect of Lee Zeldin’s crime-focused campaign. Given that 2022 was the third midterm election in the last twelve years with a sitting Democratic president, one barometer of a spillover effect is how voters in each of these media markets shifted their support at the top of the ticket. Knowing that voters tend to trust Republicans on the issue of crime more so than Democrats,[5] a sign that Zeldin’s campaign had an outsized effect on the New Jersey portion of New York City’s media market could be a larger swing towards Republicans in 2022 relative to the portion of the state covered by the Philadelphia media market, in comparison to the 2010 and 2014 midterms.

Dating back to 2008, Barack Obama carried the state by a 16% margin, winning the NYC DMA by 13% and the Philadelphia DMA by over 22%. Yet, the picture shifted dramatically two years later in 2010 when the Republicans gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives to take a commanding 242 seat majority. House seats sat atop the ticket in New Jersey that year and Republicans collectively carried the state by 1.4%, moving the state red by 17-points compared to 2008’s margin. The Philadelphia media market outpaced the NYC DMA swing. The Philadelphia DMA moved red by 20%, compared to the NYC DMA’s 16% shift toward Republicans.

2008 – Presidential 2010 – Congressional 2008 -> 2010 Swing
NJ – NYC DMA D +13.1% R +2.6% R +15.7%
NJ – Phila. DMA D +22.5% D +2.1% R +20.4%
NJ Statewide D +15.6% R +1.4% R +17.0%

The 2014 midterms involved a similar landscape after Barack Obama won re-election in 2012. Although unlike this year and 2010’s midterm election, a Senate race held the top spot on the ticket for New Jersey voters.  Becoming the first African American Senator from New Jersey in the process, Cory Booker won the seat by a 13.5% margin. Booker won the NYC DMA by 13% and the Philadelphia DMA by 15%. Again, the Philadelphia media market outpaced New York City’s in moving right compared to the then most recent presidential election.

2012 – Presidential 2014 – Senate 2012 -> 2014 Swing
NJ – NYC DMA D +15.2% D +12.8% R +2.4%
NJ – Phila. DMA D +22.4% D +15.4% R +7.0%
NJ Statewide D +17% D +13.5% R +3.5%

In 2022 this dynamic was turned on its head.  New Jersey voters in the NYC media market swung harder right relative to 2020 than their counterparts in the Philadelphia media market. Like in 2010, Congressional candidates were at the top of ticket this year in New Jersey. Collectively, the state swung red by over 6%. The New York City DMA moved right by 6.8%, while the Philadelphia DMA moved right by 4.3%.

2020 – Presidential 2022 – Congressional 2020 -> 2022 Swing
NJ – NYC DMA D +15.1% D +8.3% R +6.8%
NJ – Phila. DMA D +18.2% D +13.9% R +4.3%
NJ Statewide D +15.9% D +9.7% R +6.2%


2008 -> 2010 Swing 2012 -> 2014 Swing 2020 -> 2022 Swing
NJ Statewide R +17.0% R +3.5% R +6.2%
NJ – NYC DMA R +15.7% R +2.4% R +6.8%
NJ – Phila. DMA R +20.4% R +7.0% R +4.3%
NYC – Phila. DMA Comparison Phila. +4.7% Phila. +4.6% NYC +2.5%



NY Governor’s Races

2010 2014 2022
D +29% D +14% D +6%

Granted, South Jersey saw its own share of political spillover this cycle. Prior to the Georgia runoff, Pennsylvania was home to the most expensive Senate race this cycle. Yet, if crime defined political advertising in New York, the personalities of John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz did so in Pennsylvania. While there was likely little transferrable for New Jersey voters regarding Pennsylvania Senate advertising, a constant stream of crime coverage leading up to election day could have registered plainly with many voters in the northern part of the state.

Taking these results as a sign that northern New Jersey voters may have prioritized political concerns differently as a result of the messaging they were exposed to suggests a need for candidates to be deliberate in their own messaging with respect to more pervasive sources of information. In this instance, any Congressional candidate running a campaign in northern New Jersey would have been imprudent to ignore the predominant crime narrative trumpeted by NYC-based media sources. Additionally, more specific to candidates running in northern New Jersey, how New York’s statewide candidates set the agenda in off-year elections, and spend on the airwaves to communicate their messages, could be critical to many New Jersey voters’ frame of mind.

Nonetheless, it takes more than a supplementary media narrative for Republicans to flip seats in a traditionally deep blue state like New Jersey. Republicans controlled just two of the twelve Congressional seats in the state entering this cycle. Of the three New Jersey seats the Cook Political Report considered “competitive” in 2022, two (NJ-5 and NJ-7) fell entirely into the NYC DMA and one (NJ-3) split between the state’s two media markets.[6] However, the only seat to flip red, NJ-7, had a Republican with substantial political credibility on the ticket in Tom Kean. The other two districts nominated Republicans with no prior experience holding public office and each lost by double digits. Thus, while all signs point to crime’s salience reaching rare heights in northern New Jersey, the candidate on the ticket was likely more indicative of whether voters were persuaded to vote differently than they had in past cycles.






[4] The 2010, 2014, and 2022 NY governor’s races all coincided with midterms in which there was a sitting Democratic president.

[5] According to a national October poll by Ipsos, on the issue of crime, 37% of voters trust Republicans, 22% trust Democrats, 10% trust “both,” and 30% trust “neither.”

[6] 2022 House Race ratings | Cook Political Report


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