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Ignore your base at your peril, Bill de Blasio

What kids in New York City wish they had been doing when they were instead stuck in school. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
What kids in New York City wish they had been doing when they were instead stuck in school. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

It began Thursday morning as a whisper* by a 7 year-old on the 17th floor of a nondescript building somewhere in Manhattan. But before long, it had spread out of control.** Three simple words that will likely echo throughout the remaining years of Bill de Blasio’s political career. Three simple words no one had ever expected to hear out of the mouth of one quite so young, quite so quickly: “I miss Bloomberg.”

Much has been made of the fact that de Blasio rose to power without the kinds of debts to organized interests that normally shadow Democratic mayors in New York City. Endorsed in the primaries by no union other than the one of the faculty at the City University of New York — admittedly sort of like the Teamsters, but slightly less muscular — de Blasio was pronounced free to pursue his own ambitious agenda.

But missing in these declarations of independence was the one group toward whom de Blasio had undeniably pandered, making them the centerpiece of his prominent policy proposals: elementary school children. Promises were made again and again. Free universal pre-K to get their younger siblings out of the house.  Free universal after-school activities for them once they reached middle school. This was a man who knew how to win the vaunted 5- to 10-year-old demographic! No misguided talk of lengthening the school day or shortening the summer. Simply more after-school activities and better preparation for kindergarten. A generation was smitten.

Political scientists have long recognized the importance of political loyalties that are formed earlier in life. In their classic book Partisan Hearts and Minds, Donald Green, Bradley Palmquist and Eric Shickler posit that partisan identities are largely fixed by age 30. Other scholars have documented how the relative prevalence of political discussion in children’s homes affects the development of partisan attachments. Multiple studies have pointed out how important one’s years in school are to the development of partisanship.

All of which makes the speed with which de Blasio seems to have turned on his 5- to 10-year-old base during the first weeks of his administration that much more stunning. Mr. “Universal pre-K” has become Mr. “No Snow Day” faster than you can say, “What do you mean every other school in the region is closed?” New Yorkers are notorious for thinking there is no where else they could ever imagine living, but a whole lot of 10-year-olds are now walking around thinking that Atlanta or Chapel Hill sound pretty good these days. Hell hath no fury like a 7-year-old repeatedly denied fresh snow in the park in the morning only to discover it has turned to wet sludge by the time school lets out.

You heard it here first: When the de Blasio 2036 presidential campaign falls apart after he shockingly fails to win his home state’s primary due to lack of support in the 25- to 35-year-old demographic, you’ll know why…


*By whisper, I mean a Facebook post, quoting the boy, by his father.

**By out of control, I mean my son wouldn’t stop repeating it.


Joshua Tucker is a Professor of Politics at New York University. He specializes in voting, partisanship, public opinion, and protest, as well as the relationship of social media usage to all of these forms of behavior, with a focus on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

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