First politicians couldn't define where upstate NY is. Then academics and historians were in disagreement on the matter. And now, thanks to a new poll, we've learned that even the people who (probably) live there aren't sure where upstate NY is—nor whether they are upstaters.
According to the poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling in anticipation of the April 19th presidential primary in New York, 29% said the best definition of upstate is anything north of Westchester County; 25% said it's anything north of NYC; 22% said anything north of Poughkeepsie; 7% said anything north of Poughkeepsie except for the Buffalo area; 9% went with the ever-helpful "something else" option, and 7% admitted they weren't sure.
Breaking down those numbers a little more: of people who self-identified as upstaters, 25% said it's everything north of Poughkeepsie, 20% said it's everything north of Westchester, 15% said it's north of NYC, and 14% said it's north of Poughkeepsie excluding Buffalo. Out of those who identified as NYC voters, things were a bit simpler: 38% said everything north of the city is upstate, 31% said north of Westchester, and 16% said everything north of Poughkeepsie.
Two other stats that stood out: the most self-assured group on the topic are 18-29 year-olds, 47% of whom defined upstate NY as anything above the city. Also, 43% of people who filled out the survey online agreed with that definition as well. Besides those two spikes, no other response to the question of where upstate is garnered over 40%.
In case you missed our longer discussion on the topic last week, disagreements and confusion over the term, and how best to divide the state, have been around as long as the term has been used (it dates to the early 20th century). Overall, the state is too varied and big to reduce to just two terms (upstate/downstate), and there are historical precedents that indicate "upstate" has moved farther north over the last 200 years (back in the 19th century, what is now 204th Street was considered the country).
We boiled everything down to three major recurring views on the question:
a) Everything outside of NYC is upstate. Hard-liners called this an "Us v Them" mentality on the part of New Yorkers. Some were more generous about considering the greater "NYC sprawl zone," which leads to...
b) Everything north of NYC except Westchester and Rockland counties is upstate. This reasoning, while somewhat vague, actually seems to be the one most regularly cited by politicians such as Gov. Cuomo, and includes MTA-serviced regions where a large amount of the population commutes to Manhattan.
c) Everything above Dutchess County is upstate. Basically, everything you can't get to via Metro-North (Wassaic being the final stop/most northern region). As Politico NY reported, "This is closely mirrored by the statute that created the state’s Energy Planning Board, which includes Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester in the 'Downstate region,' as well as Ulster (which lacks a Metro-North station)."