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Beyond Santos: New York special election has import for both parties

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Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District matters to both parties for reasons that have nothing to do with George Santos. 

For one thing, whoever wins the seat previously held by the expelled GOP congressman may become a decisive vote in the narrowly divided House of Representatives. And with just nine months to go before November, the race offers an early test of campaign messaging in a swingy suburban district. 

Why We Wrote This

Experts caution against reading too much into special elections. But both parties will be watching the vote in former Rep. George Santos’ district for what it signals about campaign messaging and voter engagement.

At the same time, strategists will be looking to see if Tuesday’s results confirm a pattern that has been emerging in recent special elections – and that could herald a major rethink in how both parties approach everything from the rules around voting to the types of campaigns they run. 

Do Democrats now have a leg up in low-turnout elections?

For years, Republicans tended to have an edge in lower-participation contests – off-year and special elections, and other nonpresidential votes – while Democrats did better in high-turnout environments. But recently, that dynamic seems to have flipped.

It’s the effect of a larger partisan realignment, as Democrats have been winning over more college-educated voters, who tend to be highly engaged, while Republicans have gained ground among nonwhite voters and those without a college degree, who often only turn out in presidential years.

Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District matters to both parties for reasons that have nothing to do with George Santos. 

For one thing, whoever wins the seat previously held by the infamous ex-congressman will become a potentially decisive vote in the narrowly divided House of Representatives. 

And with just nine months to go before November, the race offers an early test of campaign messaging in a swingy suburban district. President Joe Biden won by 8 points here in 2020, before Mr. Santos – the recently expelled Republican who misused campaign funds and lied about almost every aspect of his résumé – won by an almost equal margin in 2022. The Long Island district is rated by the Cook Political Report as a “toss-up,” with former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi holding a narrow lead in recent polls over Republican Nassau County Legislator Mazi Pilip. 

Why We Wrote This

Experts caution against reading too much into special elections. But both parties will be watching the vote in former Rep. George Santos’ district for what it signals about campaign messaging and voter engagement.

At the same time, strategists will be looking to see if Tuesday’s results confirm a pattern that has been emerging in recent special elections – and that could herald a major rethink in how both parties approach everything from the rules and restrictions around voting to the types of campaigns they run. 

Do Democrats now have a leg up in low-turnout elections?

Typically, non-presidential elections draw fewer voters to the polls than contests with presidential candidates on the ballot. And special elections, like the one being held Tuesday in NY-03, tend to feature very low participation, since they occur on randomly determined days (when voters aren’t used to voting) and only feature one race.



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