The Democratic Hilltowns all went for Trump, some more than others

WESTERLO — The Nov. 8 voting for president in this eastern-most Hilltown hewed pretty closely to party enrollment numbers, but in a mirror-image way that reflects Donald Trump’s electoral dominance in rural America. And perhaps suggests, as well, how  feeble party allegiance may be among enrolled Democrats in the only part of Albany County that is neither urban nor suburban.

Although Westerlo may be a long-time Democratic stronghold located  only a short drive from Albany,  a city known for its liberal sentiments and politics,  Westerlo might  as well have been in Nebraska, considering the way it voted in 2016.

According to official results from the Albany County Board of Elections, Donald Trump received 971 votes on the Democratic line, a number which is close to the town’s  current Democratic  enrollment  0f 995 voters, and another 161 votes on the Conservative line. That’s almost  64 percent of all votes cast for president in a town where only 21 percent of voters are registered Republicans.

Hillary Clinton garnered 501 votes — 470 0n the Democratic line plus another 31 votes on other party lines — a number close to the current Republican enrollment in Westerlo  of  495 voters. She won about 28.5  percent of all votes cast, far short of the 43 percent of voters who are enrolled as Democrats.

The remaining 7 percent of votes went to other-party candidates, were write-ins, or were unrecorded because of  improper ballot completion.

Clearly, a lot of Westerlo Democrats — many more than the number who defected to Mitt Romney in 2012 — voted for Trump, while town Republicans stood by their man.

In 2012, Romney achieved a narrower victory in the town: 841 votes against 694  for Barack Obama,  a result smaller than the margin by which John McCain edged out Obama in 2008 — 978 to 743.

In 2016, therefore, a town that had been  pretty evenly split — if not in enrollment, then  in top-of-ticket voting — suddenly tipped way to one side.

Maybe the results here were not as lopsided as  in Grant County, Nebraska,  where 93 percent of voters voted for Trump, but in the words of the song: “There’s something’s happening here/what it is ain’t exactly clear.”




Trump took the Hilltowns

The Trump effect in Westerlo’s neighbor to the west was strikingly similar.  Rensselaerville voters awarded Trump 62 percent of all votes cast for president in a town where only 21 percent of voters are enrolled as Republicans. He got 610 votes. Clinton received 343  votes 0r about 35   percent of all votes cast, compared to the town’s Democratic enrollment of 45 percent.  The town went for the Republican nominee in 2012, too, but by a much smaller margin, by less than 100 votes.

The two remaining Hilltowns — also majority Democratic — went for Trump, too, but not  as decisively as their neighbors to the south and east.

Like them, Berne is overwhelmingly Democratic, at least as suggested by party enrollment: 44 percent Democratic. 18 percent Republican. But, as in Westerlo and Rensselaerville, party-line voting for president seems to not be in the town’s nature. Obama won Berne by only 100 votes in 2012; Trump took the town by 194 votes in 2016.

Knox is slightly less Democratic and slightly more Republican than Berne:  36 percent against 23 percent.  Voters there cast 571 votes for Clinton and 847 for Trump. The town went for Romney in 2012 by a narrow margin:  705 for Romney to 661 for Obama.

In Albany County as a whole,  78,054 votes were cast for Clinton on the Democratic line and 42,554 votes for Trump on the Republican line. That’s a hefty 56 percent of party-line votes going  to Clinton and about 30 percent going to Trump.

In suburban Guilderland, Clinton carried all but one of the town’s 30 elections districts —  district 16 which runs along both sides of  the New York State Thruway; and she carried all but two of them — districts 26 and 27 —by a comfortable margin.

In Albany County, the Hilltowns are not just an outlier in altitude compared to the urban flatlands below that, although not far away in miles,  are a world away  by other measures.

The Hilltowns are also an outlier in attitude.

Despite their apparent preference for the party of Hillary Clinton, they —like the rest of rural America — found something they liked in Donald J. Trump.

Pundits have weighed in on why rural areas like the Hilltowns — including many that had gone for Obama in 2012 — liked Trump as much as they did in 2016.  Economic distress? Globalization? Distrust of female leadership? Belief in Trump as an agent of change? Social conservatism? Being fed-up with rule by so-called elites? Older median age? Sheer orneriness? Or, some combination of all of the above?

Like the song says, “It ain’t exactly clear.”

More Hilltowns News

  • The dam was found to be leaking in 2018 due to a broken pipe, but there were problems finding a vendor so the issue was tabled by the Rensselaerville Town Board at the time. Now, the leak appears to be getting worse, says Ed Csukas, who chairs Rensselaerville’s water and sewer advisory committee. “It’s getting close to being urgent,” he said, “but hopefully not an emergency.”

  • With the rural district poised to lose $1.2 million in two years if the governor’s budget proposal is accepted, Superintendent Timothy Mundell said that such a loss would require either a 12-percent property tax increase over those two years, or slashed personnel and programming levels. 

  • The town had discovered that health benefits for retirees were being paid without authorization, necessitating a resolution to that effect. In addition to formalizing an existing practice, it also adjusts the way benefits work for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2024. 

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