Mounting a pair of surprising comeback bids in New York City, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer are constantly compared with one another thanks to the salacious scandals that ended their previous tenures in public office. But Weiner and Spitzer are linked by more than just their unlimited ability to provide fodder for the city's tabloids: Both men owe their current leads in the polls in large part to the support of black voters.
In a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday afternoon, Weiner, with 25 percent of the vote, is narrowly out in front of the six-candidate Democratic primary field in the mayoral contest, while Spitzer holds a 15-point lead over Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer among Democrats in the race to be the city's next comptroller. Weiner and Spitzer both trail among whites but maintain their overall leads by running up big margins among black Democrats.
In the mayoral contest, City Council Speaker and one-time frontrunner Christine Quinn finishes second overall, just three points behind the former congressman. Quinn leads Weiner, 22 percent to 20 percent, among white Democrats. But Weiner outpaces the speaker by 15 points, 31 percent to 16 percent, among blacks. Former Comptroller and 2009 Democratic nominee Bill Thompson, the only major black candidate in the Democratic field, finishes third among African-American Democrats with 14 percent (Thompson was in third place overall, with 11 percent).
Weiner has consistently performed better among blacks than whites in the four Quinnipiac polls conducted since news broke in April of his interest in running for mayor, and he has outperformed Thompson among blacks in all but one of the four surveys.
The racial divide is even starker in the comptroller's race. Despite his double-digit overall lead in the poll, Spitzer trails Stringer among white Democrats by 8 points, 44 percent to 36 percent. But the former governor has a staggering 35-point advantage, 61 percent to 26 percent, among blacks. A WNBC-TV/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll unveiled last week showed a similar racial split: Stringer led, 46 percent to 32 percent, among white Democrats, while Spitzer led, 50 percent to 25 percent, among blacks.
Weiner and Spitzer also earn significantly higher personal favorability scores among black Democrats than whites. In the Quinnipiac survey, 52 percent of black Democrats said they have a favorable view of Weiner, while 33 percent of blacks reported an unfavorable view. By contrast, only 36 percent of white Democrats said they hold a favorable view of Weiner, compared to 50 percent of whites who said they have an unfavorable view of the former congressman. Similarly, black Democrats gave Spitzer much higher marks (64 percent favorable/22 percent unfavorable) than their white counterparts (43 percent favorable/49 percent unfavorable).
Hispanic Democrats also support Weiner and Spitzer at a higher rate than whites, although Quinn has a narrow edge among Hispanics in the latest Quinnipiac poll. One potential source of the overall racial divide could come from having less familiarity with the potential alternatives to Weiner and Spitzer. When Quinnipiac asked Democrats for their feelings on Quinn and Stringer, more black and Hispanic Democrats than whites said they hadn't heard enough about those candidates to form an opinion.
In an op-ed for the New York Daily News last month, Democratic strategist Evan Thies tried to explain why Weiner was outperforming Thompson among black voters. Citing a quote from Rep. Charles Rangel about the unwavering support Bill Clinton received from black voters during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Thies offered one theory near the end of his piece that could apply to both Weiner and Spitzer: "On average, white voters live in lower-crime areas, have more money and enjoy a higher quality of life than black voters. To put it bluntly: Perhaps white voters (like me) can afford to judge their candidates on character, while black voters can’t."
The latest Qunnipiac poll was conducted from July 8-14. It surveyed 738 New York City Democrats, for a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.6 percentage points.
The Democratic primary is September 11. In the wide-open mayoral field, if no candidate crosses the 40-percent threshold in the primary, a runoff will be held on October 1 between the top two finishers.