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Cuomo benefits from Trump's unpopularity in New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the state capitol

A new poll finds that in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s numbers are rising while President Donald Trump’s are sinking.

For the first time in two-and-a-half years, Cuomo’s job approval rating is at 50 percent, after stagnating in the mid-40s since summer 2014. Steve Greenberg, spokesman for Siena College polling, said 60 percent of New Yorkers now say they have a favorable view of Cuomo, the largest number in two years.

What’s changed? Greenberg said it’s a combination of factors, including the governor’s 2017 agenda, which includes popular proposals like free college tuition for some middle-class New Yorkers.

“They like his agenda right now,” Greenberg said.

He also said New Yorkers are not happy with Trump, and that helps Cuomo.

“By comparison, they think the governor looks better,” Greenberg said.

Trump’s approval ratings are falling, with only 36 percent of people in the state viewing him favorably, and just 29 percent saying he’s doing a good job, though Trump still has the support of just over 70 percent of New York Republicans.

Cuomo has been publicly fighting against the president’s policies on cracking down on immigrants and, in recent days, against attempts by Trump and the Republican-led Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Cuomo, speaking at a Feb. 22 rally sponsored by the health care workers union SEIU 1199, said repealing the Medicaid funding associated with the Affordable Care Act would cut $3.7 billion from the state budget and “devastate” health care in New York.

“You demand and you deserve quality affordable health care as a human condition,” Cuomo shouted as the crowd cheered.

Cuomo did not mention Trump by name.

However, a group that lobbies for more funding for schools is trying to link the governor and the increasingly unpopular president. The Alliance for Quality Education, in advance of rallies planned across the state on March 4, has released a video titled  “Cuomo and Trump: Education Buddies.” It features clips of the governor and the president using many of the same talking points  against excessive education spending.

AQE, which is partly funded by the teachers union, is angry with the governor over what it says is his failure to follow a decade-old court order saying that billions more need to be spent on schools to guarantee schoolchildren their constitutional right to a “sound, basic” education. Cuomo administration officials have argued that the order only applies to New York City and they’ve already spent record amounts of money on schools.

In fact, at that same rally before the health care workers, Cuomo touted his proposal to spend $1 billion more on schools in the new state budget.

“Because there are too many failing schools out there,” Cuomo said, “especially in poorer urban communities.”

Negative ad campaigns have diminished the popularity of prior New York governors. The health care workers union unleashed television advertisements against former Govs. George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer, leading to drops in their poll numbers. Cuomo has taken care to befriend the health care workers, but he’s feuded with the teachers unions.

Greenberg said the negative campaigns can take their toll.

“We’ve certainly seen politicians get hurt,” he said.

He said the negative portrayals are effective if they resonate with something that the public already believes about a politician.

“Does it make sense to the voters?” Greenberg said. “And how much money is put behind it to feed that message?”

The ads comparing Cuomo to Trump are online, but unlike previous ad campaigns against former governors, they are not on broadcast television.

A spokesman for Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, called the ads “lobbyist lies” from a group that only wants “more money” and ignores the “facts.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.