Hanging just above the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken is a single purple banner draped over someone’s balcony: Donald Trump for president. Probably the most visible political sign in Hudson County this year, it’s also a rare sight. That’s not because Trump is running for president as a Republican in a largely Democratic county, but because it’s hard to spot any political signs around the county this season. Political observers say this is almost unheard of in Hudson County, a place that’s usually obsessed with politics.
So what’s going on?
The unpopularity of both major party candidates plays a role, officials said. Money may be playing an even bigger role as national parties scramble to divert resources to areas of the nation that might actually influence the outcome of the election.
In Hudson County, which is considered one of the key Democratic strongholds, signs for Clinton are rare.
Officials and consultants said there are several reasons.
Early polling shows that despite Clinton’s unfavorable ratings, she will likely carry New Jersey. So her campaign has yanked funds that would have gone for campaign materials to use in other critical states.
“Hillary is so far ahead in New Jersey they aren’t spending money on signs in states that aren’t battleground states,” said James Barracato, a political observer out of Hoboken.
Barracato, who has connections to Clinton’s past campaigns and helped to bring the 9/11 monument to Bayonne, suggested that Clinton is using her money better to get workers on the ground for get-out-the-vote efforts in battleground states. This is why few resources are available for states like New Jersey.
He also suggested that Trump has not been spending enough of his own money, so there are few signs and other campaign paraphernalia in New Jersey, Hudson County, or even critical battleground states.
These things, along with Trump’s habit of getting in his own way, will be the reason Clinton will win, Barracato said.
Signs in rural areas of New Jersey tend to support Trump and are posted in areas that typically come out for GOP candidates. State-level political watchers such Mark Bonamo, editor of the web publication NewarkInc., agreed that Clinton signs are rarer in Decmoratic strongholds.
He said he saw a number of Hillary signs at a rally for Rep. Bill Pascrell, whose district includes a small portion of Secaucus. Most areas of Essex County have very few signs for either candidate.
Although polls show Clinton leading in Pennsylvania, rural areas there have a lot of Trump signs.
Money dried up
Another official connected with the Hudson County Democratic Organization confirmed that Clinton has given little or no money to her campaign on the ground here.
“She’s basically closed up shop here,” one official said, noting that local Democrats do not want to spend their own money, even for later bragging rights when and if Clinton wins.
“She’s not popular even here in Hudson County,” this official said. “This is part of the reason the Hudson County Democratic Organization isn’t putting out its own money.”
Though Clinton signs will likely show up the weekend before Election Day, much of the local money will be kept for local elections next year, especially in Jersey City.
“Hillary is so far ahead in New Jersey they aren’t spending money on signs in states that aren’t battleground states.” – James Barracato
Some won’t admit Trump support
There is a lot of anger among voters, especially white working class men, this official said.
“Many of these are going to vote for Trump. But they won’t put up signs because they don’t want to have to explain why they are voting,” the official said.
A prominent West New York political worker said similar things about the campaign in North Hudson, and predicts that Trump will do much better in Hudson County than many expect.
“People don’t like Clinton, so even people voting for her won’t put out a sign for her,” this worker said. “People who intend to vote for Trump won’t put out signs because they don’t want other people calling them racist.”
Nobody wants to publicly declare who they are voting for
Joe Olewski, a Jersey City cop and a local political observer, believes that the Latino and African American communities are also split when it comes to Clinton. While Trump has made disparaging remarks about Latino immigrants, Olewski said black and Latino men do not like Clinton.
Many homes in lower Jersey City, which in the past displayed signs for Barack Obama, are not displaying signs this year.
“A lot of people are just going to stay home on Election Day,” Olewski said. “Clinton is not Obama, and though she thinks she can get that vote, she’ll get women, but many men don’t like her.”
Olewski said he’s seen Trump signs on Route 440 but no Hillary signs.
“Obama won this state by 19 percent; polls have Clinton at 6 percent,” he said. “Take 2 percent from Clinton and give it to Trump, and you probably have a much closer picture of what is going on in New Jersey. South Jersey is loaded with Trump signs, Forked River and southern Jersey, and the Hackensack area have a lot of Trump signs.”
Nobody is happy
Jose Arango, chairman of the Republican Party in Hudson County, agreed that many people are turned off this year and aren’t displaying political signs.
“Hudson County, as in the rest of the country, isn’t satisfied with our choices,” he said. “Hudson County is a Democratic stronghold, but really they are a very center community, concerned with social issues, open to new ideas but not a leftist-movements community. Trump doesn’t represent the community, and Clinton is old bad news. We, today as a county, we are better than that.”
An elected official in Bayonne said an informal poll of blue-collar and municipal workers suggested that many Democratic men will vote for Trump.
“They’re just not going to talk openly about it,” he said. “They don’t want to have to answer a lot of questions.”
This official said Hudson County will likely come out for Clinton, and national polls suggest that Clinton will win the White House, but the margin of victory may be very small in some parts of the country, giving Clinton the slight edge she needs to get enough electoral votes.
“But this may be very slim in some places,” he said.
A West New York official said nobody is happy with either candidate. But he predicts a Trump upset when people actually vote on Nov. 8, despite several polls showing Clinton in the lead in several critical battleground states.
“But people are angry, and people aren’t going to tell the pollsters the truth,” he said.
Olewski said some of the polls are vague, asking voters if they would vote for someone who is racist, without using anyone’s name.
Like never before, this election seems to have pitted men against women, husbands against wives, parents against children. Social media has become a battleground between Trump and Clinton supporters, many of whom have ceased talking to each other after a barrage of bad comments. Some families have chosen not to talk about politics or make their preferences known.
“We keep it in harmony in my family,” said Kelly Mandl, a Bayonne resident. “But we strongly disagree. But it’s all harmonious because we love and care for other people, which is way more important than fighting for politicians who are going to come and go.”
She went on, “A lot of people lose friendships over it. I did have an issue with a long-term friend in the beginning. I ended up doing what she wanted to do to begin with, and I never even told her. We ended up agreeing in the end, but I was very much of a Bernie supporter until that fell through. And I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I did an absentee ballot. I know people who aren’t even voting because they don’t believe in any of it.”
Besmir Alia, a citizen of Albania and resident of Bayonne, said his friends are not polarized.
“I think the most divisive is the media,” Alia said. “They are very one-sided. I’ve heard a lot about Hillary and a lot about Trump. I can see the media is trying to take the Hillary side and trying to show, most of the time, the bad side of Trump rather than the good side of both. They [the candidates] created this kind of environment by insulting each other, not showing what they’re good at but showing what the other one is bad at. Even our prime minister said that it would not be a good decision for America to elect Trump. What I’m thinking is this time Americans are voting for the least bad person.”
The story in the numbers
Comparing Hudson County voter registration data from the 2012 election and the 2016 election, about 54 percent of voters are registered Democrats this election year, up 4 points from the 2012 election. Republicans also increased their share of the registration pie, with 8.8 percent, up from 7.9 percent in 2012. The Green Party and Libertarian Party both doubled their numbers (177 and 343 voters, respectively).
Unaffiliated voters are perhaps most surprising. With both candidates polling historically low in favorability ratings, unaffiliated registrations might be expected to rise, but they’re down by 19,081, for a total of 123,300 this election season. The drop in overall voter registration might signal a growing cohort – the disengaged. There are 3,000 fewer voters registered in a county where the population has grown by about 40,000 people since 2010, per U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
With Democrat, Republican, and third party numbers up, and more people living in Hudson County, the difference may be in those who’ve simply had enough of all of it.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rory Pasquariello may be reached at email@example.com.