Siena College poll: most NYers feel bail reform needs serious work


A majority of New York voters believe ending cash bail for many criminal charges has been bad for New York and has led to a rise in crime, but at the same time are concerned adding more discretion for judges could lead to racial discrimination, a Siena College poll released Monday found.

The poll also showed Gov. Kathy Hochul holding a commanding lead over the current Democratic primary field in the race for governor. But the lead shrinks significantly if former Gov. Andrew Cuomo were to enter the race, even as the majority of voters and Democrats prefer he not run.

The poll comes as Hochul and state lawmakers are negotiating a state budget that is expected to pass by the end of this week. Hochul has called for changes to the state’s bail law that could expand the circumstances in which cash bail is set, such as for people facing multiple criminal cases, as well as gun crimes and violent felonies.

Republicans have called for further action, such as applying a dangerousness standard for defendants; progressive advocates have urged lawmakers to reject any changes.

The poll shows voters have soured on the current law approved in 2019, when a survey at the time of its passage showed support for it, 55% to 38%. The Siena survey released on Monday showed an opposite result: 56% of voters believe it has been bad for New York; 30% do not.

Calls for changing the law have come amid a rise in violent crime, including in parts of New York and around the country. Opponents of the law have linked the two issues, which supporters call unrelated given the societal upheaval of the pandemic.

But voters in New York blame the 2019 bail law, 64% to 24%. Voters by a wide margin of 82% to 11% believe the law should be changed so judges have more discretion to set bail based on a defendant’s record or the seriousness of the crime. But a narrower majority of voters side with the progressive advocates who have called such a move discriminatory for poor people and peoople of color, 56% to 39%.

In the race for governor, meanwhile, Hochul draws support of 52% of Democrats in the current three-way primary, with New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi receiving 12% and 10% of support, respectively.

Hochul’s favorable rating stands at 45% to 30%, the poll found. Voters are split on whether they would vote for Hochul in a general election or prefer someone else at 43%.

Should Cuomo, the former governor who resigned in August amid allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct, decide to run in the primary, Hochul leads him 38% to 30%.

The finding comes as Cuomo, using existing campaign funds, has aired a series of TV commercials and digital ads that insist he was wrongly accused, pointing to multiple prosecutors declining to bring criminal cases. Local district attorneys have generally stated the accusations were credible, but did not have enough evidence to bring cases against the former governor.

The poll found Cuomo’s unfavorable rating overall with voters stands at 60%, though 50% of Democratic voters and 60% of Black voters now hold a favorable view of him. Most voters, 56% to 22%, believe Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, including a plurality of Democrats and New York City voters.

And most voters, 67%, do not want him to run for governor this year at all.

Fifty-two percent of Black voters, generally considered Cuomo’s base, believe the former governor did not sexually harass multiple women.

The poll comes amid deepening concerns surroudning the economy and global uncertainty due to the war in Ukraine.

Nearly half of voters, 49%, believe New York is heading in the wrong direction, while 57% believe the country as a whole is going down the wrong track as well. President Joe Biden’s favorable rating stands at 50% favorable, 46% unfavorable, in the state.

The poll of 804 registered voters in New York state was conducted from March 20-24. It has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points. The crosstabs of the poll can be found here.

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