It’s not just a question of who’s here and which candidate they favor, but whether they can and will vote.

Edwin J. Torres & Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

To win in November, Democrats must recreate the Dinkins coalition of blacks, Latinos and progressive whites, as Bill de Blasio did in 2013. Winning the 2021 primary will probably require the same broad appeal.

Strictly speaking, it is not true that New York City will elect a new mayor this year.

Rather, citizens who are eligible to vote, have registered to do so and who actually turn out to the polls are the ones who will pick the next occupant of City Hall. Given the big role the June Democratic primary will have in setting the table, and even smaller slice of the city will have a say.

That means the city that one sees on the street, or even reads about in Census data, is not exactly the same one that will decide who runs things. 

From 1990 to 2010, New York City grew substantially less white—their share of the population fell from 43 to 33 percent—and somewhat less Black (from 29 to 26 percent). Meanwhile, the Latino population expanded from 21 to 26 percent, and the Asian population exploded from 7 to 13 percent.

But data suggests that in recent citywide races, white residents have cast around 38 percent of the votes—above their actual population share—while Black New Yorkers still carry more electoral rate than Latinos, and Asian residents remain a very small part of the electorate (around 2.5 percent).

“There are two distinct challenges in figuring this out. One is who is going to vote. The other is who the people who do vote choose,” said veteran demographer and political historian John Mollenkopf, the distinguished professor of political science and sociology at CUNY’s Graduate Center and the director of the Center for Urban Research.

One conclusion that does stand the test of time is the fact that “the party choices are very strongly correlated with race and ethnicity,” Mollenkopf, who has written or edited 15 books about cities, said. However, “Many other factors affect the likelihood of voting and who people tend to vote for,” he added. “Level of education or having a college education or more is probably the single strongest factor associated with turnout in city elections or in elections generally. Homeowners are much likely to vote than tenants.”

That race and ethnicity correlate strongly with party choices will likely play a large role in November’s general election. In June’s intra-party primaries, however, the predictive power of race and ethnicity is harder to assess. It’s easy to assume that Andrew Yang will get a strong boost from Asian voters, that Dianne Morales will enjoy some advantage among Latinos who come out to the polls and that the three African Americans among the major Democrats—Eric Adams, Ray McGuire and Maya Wiley—will to some degree split the Black vote.

However, candidate identity is far from a perfect predictor of voter support. In 2013, Bill de Blasio appeared to get more Black support than William Thompson, a Black man who’d been a citywide official for longer than de Blasio and was the Democratic nominee four years earlier.

Even if a particular group did line up solidly behind a particular candidate, the impact of that support would depend on how that community turned out relative to the other groups that make up the city’s pool of voters. And predicting turnout this year—with the pandemic hangover tamping it down and the new tool of early voting propping it up—is trickier than normal. Ranked-choice voting adds a whole other layer of complexity.

Hear our conversation with Mollenkopf below, or listen to the full show:

Professor John Mollenkopf on Demographics and the Mayoral Race

Max & Murphy Full Show of May 26, 2021