U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel has been drawing plenty of primetime national attention while holding congressional hearings and giving speeches about foreign policy and impeachment on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Yet all of that anti-President Trump publicity has not translated into higher public opinion numbers back home in Westchester and the Bronx, according to a new poll from Data for Progress.
Engel has been a member of Congress for more than three decades, yet half of all poll respondents could not name Engel’s ideology. And six of every 10 registered Democrats said they aren’t sure who they’ll vote for in the June 2020 primary election.
Engel, who has served 16 terms in Congress, is facing two Democratic primary challengers: Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal from the Bronx who’s endorsed by the progressive group Justice Democrats, and Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a special education teacher born to parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Eritrea.
About 50 percent of registered Democrats in the 16th District described their own political views as “very liberal” or “liberal,” but only 22 percent said they would describe Engel’s views that way. Thirty-eight percent called themselves "moderate." Twenty-five percent described Engel as "moderate."
The Data for Progress Poll surveyed 578 registered in-district Democrats between Sept. 9 and Sept. 13.
“While Eliot Engel has been a U.S. congressman for 30 years, voters in the 16th Congressional District have not been left with much of an impression,” said Bilal Tahir, Bowman for Congress campaign manager. “Jamaal just announced for Congress in June, but thanks to his long record of leadership and service in the district, we are already within striking distance of a longtime incumbent.”
When registered Democrats were asked who they would vote for if the primary were held today, 60 percent of the respondents said they weren’t sure, 29 percent said Engel, and 10 percent were for Bowman. The poll showed Ghebreghiogis with support from 1 percent of the poll's respondents.
“Without a doubt, Jamaal is the alternative to Eliot Engel,” Tahir said.
Data for Progress, a progressive think tank, is aligned with Bowman. Bowman’s campaign has raised $189,000 to Engel’s $566,200. Ghebreghiorgis has raised $67,400, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Bowman's campaign website says he supports “schools and education, not bombs and incarceration.” He’s in favor of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and reforming the criminal justice system. Bowman also pledged to refuse corporate PAC money and has criticized Engel’s reliance on PAC money and large-dollar contributions.
Ghebreghiorgis said that the poll shows vulnerability: “What does it say that a 16-term incumbent can’t count on the support of even one in three voters in the district?”
Engel represented the 16th District since 2013, holding seats in the 17th and 19th districts before that. He was a New York state assemblyman from 1977 to 1988, when he was first elected to Congress.
Name recognition remains a leading factor for all three primary candidates: The poll found that 59 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Bowman and 75 percent said the same for Ghebreghiorgis.
For more Data for Progress poll details, click here.