NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – With New Jersey’s gubernatorial election now less than three weeks away, Gov. Chris Christie commands a 26-point lead over Democrat state Sen. Barbara Buono among likely voters, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Christie now leads Buono, 59 percent to 33 percent – a 6-point increase in the margin since last month.
These gains come despite likely voters consistently disapproving of Christie’s performance on the state’s taxes and the economy. With the exception of same-sex marriage, however, they still think the governor would do a better job than his challenger on most other issues.
“Barbara Buono is not making any new gains, even among those who should gravitate to her,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Chris Christie simply seems to be a force of nature all but unstoppable in this particular election.” Redlawsk added that most voters – about 90 percent – say they are unlikely to change their mind between now and Election Day.
“As has been the case all season, most think Christie will win,” Redlawsk said. “Even 73 percent of Buono backers do not expect her to win.”
Nearly all Christie voters (87 percent) say their vote is to support the incumbent, rather than to oppose the Democrat. That’s not the case among Buono’s backers. Two-thirds of her supporters are motivated by their opposition to the governor. Only 32 percent are primarily voting in support of her.
“For the last several months we have reported that voters disapprove of Christie’s performance in key areas,” said Redlawsk. “The problem for Buono is that she has not convinced them she would do any better. Voters would rather stay with what they know, than to turn over the reins to someone who has not been able to make an effective case for change.”
Results are from a sample of 562 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points, drawn from 799 New Jersey registered voters polled statewide from Oct. 7-13, on both landlines and cell phones. The registered voter sample margin of error is +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Christie betters Buono on most issues
Likely voters say Christie would do a better job than Buono on a wide range of issues, including New Jersey’s economy and jobs (59 percent to 28 percent) and taxes (56 percent to 30 percent). As is expected, Democrats are more likely to say Buono would do better on the economy and jobs, but only by 19 points; nearly a third of Buono’s partisans say Christie would do the better job. Republicans are more unified: 88 percent say Christie is better on the economy and jobs, while only 6 percent choose Buono. Similarly on taxes, 55 percent of Democrats pick Buono, while 27 percent choose Christie. Among Republicans, Christie’s Republican margin is 84 percent to 7 percent.
Independent voters also believe Christie will do the better job on the economy and on taxes, by margins of 41 points and 40 points, respectively.
The governor is also preferred on the issue of crime and drugs (by 43 points), and the state budget (by 38 points). Christie even does better than the challenger on two core Democratic issues on which Buono has campaigned – health care (10 points better) and education (11 points better).
Buono’s only advantage is on same-sex marriage, where previous Rutgers-Eagleton Polls have shown majority support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry in New Jersey. Fifty-eight percent of likely voters say Buono would do a better job on this issue, compared to 26 percent who pick Christie. Majorities of Democrats and independents say Buono would do best on same-sex marriage, while Republicans are split on their choice, 43 percent to 42 percent in favor of Christie.
“Ultimately, voters like Chris Christie personally, and they are not convinced Buono will do better on the issues they care about,” said Redlawsk. “While she does well on marriage equality, the fact is this is relatively low on most voters’ list of issues.”
Christie voters like his non-nonsense governing style
Christie’s performance in office and his candid, no-nonsense style are the biggest reasons 87 percent of his voters say they are more in support of him than opposing Buono. Thirty percent of these voters cite his governing style, including statements such as Christie is “a great governor for the state,” and he is moving the state “in the right direction.” Another 12 percent name policy stances, while 11 percent talk about the governor’s infamous brand of straight-talk, calling him a “man of his word,” a “straight shooter [who] doesn’t pull punches,” “outspoken and honest,” “refreshing,” and a true “Jersey guy [who] tells it like it is.” And Superstorm Sandy still matters: seven percent still say his leadership before, during, and after the storm is the reason why they plan to vote in support of the governor.
Only about a third of Buono voters say their vote is in support of her, rather than in opposition to Christie. Most of these voters (30 percent) prefer her stances on education, same-sex marriage, and minimum wage. Another 10 percent say they favor her because she’s a Democrat. The fact that Buono is a woman is also cited by 10 percent of her supporters, who say “a woman will be more responsible” and who express desire for a “woman governor.”
Few Christie voters are choosing him simply because they oppose Buono, but two-thirds of Buono voters are voting more against Christie than for her. These voters are opposing Christie mostly because they disagress with the governor’s policies generally, his handling of education, schools, and teachers’ unions specifically, and his “bully[ish]” and “arrogant” personality and attitude.
Christie maintains wide leads among all except Buono’s base
Christie’s double-digit lead spans almost every group, including Republicans and those not usually in his corner. The governor wins 93 of his own party members, as well as 68 percent of independents. Buono gets support from 22 percent of independents.
Although a sizeable gender gap exists, Christie has a 20-point lead among women. Even so, men are still 7 points more likely to back the governor than are women.
Christie also leads across all age groups, income brackets and education levels, though the margin is smaller among the most educated voters, at 10-points. His lead has increased among voters in lower income households that would usually vote Democratic; they now favor Christie, 55 to 38 percent. He also leads in every region of the state by a minimum of 9 points.
Buono’s only significant leads continue to be among likely Democratic voters (65 percent to 25 percent) and voters in public union households (52 percent to 43 percent). She also holds a 9-point edge among nonwhite voters, 50 percent to 41 percent. Not surprisingly, 85 percent of voters with an unfavorable impression of Christie support her, as do 81 percent of those with a favorable impression of the challenger.
Regardless of their personal choice, large majorities of voters of every stripe say Christie will win again – including Buono supporters, those who view her favorably, voters with a negative opinion of Christie and Democrats in general.