>Hot Race in CD-3. Adler leads among registered voters; Runyan among those paying attention

>As promised, we are releasing our first poll of the congressional campaign season, and we are focusing on the 3rd District, and the pitched battle between incumbent John Adler and challenger Jon Runyan. Results are interesting. Among all registered voters, Adler holds a pretty strong lead, and among those who claim they are at least somewhat likely to vote, the lead jumps to 10 points. But, among those who say they are actually paying attention, Runyan is up by 1 point, an 11-point swing.

These numbers actually include an option to “not vote”. If the people who choose that option are then dropped from the totals, Adler’s overall lead is an additional point higher. We reported the “Not Vote” in the head-to-head because there is an interesting pattern when we include Peter DeStefano, the (maybe) self-identified Tea Party independent who Runyan says is a plant for Adler. What happens is that DeStefano takes more votes from Adler than Runyan [though we’re only talking about a handful of actual people], and the number who say they will not vote drops dramatically. But DeStefano doesn’t get them, they move to undecided rather than any candidate. In our poll, DeStefano, who we did NOT label as “Tea Party”, gets only 4 percent of the vote.

The bottom line seems to be that this race is as competitive in August as people thought it would be. Whether it stays so depends on who is paying attention, the extent to which Runyan can minimize Adler’s much larger cash-on-hand advantage, and what the political environment looks like by November 3.

Here’s the press release:

ADLER HOLDS LEAD IN NEW JERSEY 3RD DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE

But Runyan Catches Adler among Voters Paying the most Attention

NOTE: This release with Questions and Tables can be found here.

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – In the already heated battle for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Democrat John Adler holds a narrow lead over Republican challenger Jon Runyan, among all registered voters according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. With third party candidate Peter DeStefano included, Adler leads 31 percent to 25 percent, while DeStefano polls at 4 percent, and 34 percent say “don’t know”. Another 6 percent say they will not vote in the Congressional race. Without DeStefano on the ballot, Adler leads Runyan 35 percent to 28 percent, with 23 percent don’t know and 13 percent not voting.

The telephone poll of 421 registered voters living in the 3rd Congressional District was conducted August 5-8, 2010 and has a margin of error of +/-4.8 percentage points.

While Adler leads among all registered voters, Runyan pulls ahead 36 to 35 percent among voters who are paying the most attention to the campaign.

Adler Support Higher among Self-Identified Likely Voters; Small lead with Independents

Among registered voters who say they are “very” or “somewhat” likely to vote in November, Adler’s lead grows to 10 points, 40 percent to 30 percent, with 22 percent don’t know and 8 percent saying they would not vote in this race. The 10 point lead holds when DeStefano is included in the list of candidates.

Among Republican voters, 60 percent say they will vote for Runyan, while 56 percent of Democrats will support Adler. At the same time 19 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of Democrats don’t know whom they support. Among independents, Adler has a small lead, 23 to 19 percent, but 45 percent say they don’t know who they will support.

“It is hard in August to predict who will really vote in November,” said David Redlawsk, Director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and Professor of Political Science. “Thus, while a simple likely voter screen suggests that Adler does better, more people say they will vote than actually turn out.”

Runyan Stronger among those Most Paying Attention

While likely voters give Adler a lead, his advantage disappears among the 54 percent of registered voters who report following the election “very” or “somewhat” closely, Runyan outpolls Adler from this group, 36 percent to 35 percent, while DeStefano receives 4 percent; 24 percent don’t know. About 1 percent say they will not vote in this race. However, Adler has a strong lead among those following the election “Not too closely” or not at all, 24 percent to 11 percent for Runyan, and 3 percent for DeStefano, The majority of these registered voters either answer “don’t know” (49 percent) or that they will not vote (13 percent).

“While likely voters put Adler up strongly, it’s more realistic to analyze those who follow the election news,” Redlawsk said. “In a midterm election, these are the voters most likely to turn out. If that pattern holds, then the race is essentially a dead heat.”

Experience verses the Outsider

By a 22-percentage point margin, registered voters say they prefer an experienced candidate over a political outsider. Among those who favor experience, Adler is preferred to Runyan, 38 percent to 18 percent, with 4 percent choosing DeStefano. Among voters preferring an outsider, DeStefano polls 9 percent, while Runyan gets 36 percent and Adler 14 percent.

The DeStefano Effect

Respondents were given two ballot tests: the first with candidates Adler and Runyan (with “don’t know” and “will not vote” options), and a second test that included DeStefano. Among registered voters, Adler’s support was more adversely affected than Runyon’s by DeStefano, who picked up 6 percent of initial Adler voters, but only 2 percent of Runyan supporters. DeStefano also added 14 percent of those who initially said they would not vote. These effects are relatively small however, given the low level of support for DeStefano overall.

“Despite the debate over the DeStefano candidacy, our polling suggests that he is not currently much of a factor, and if anything, affects Adler slightly more,” said Redlawsk. “Interestingly, when he is included on the ballot test, the number saying they will not vote plummets, and the ‘don’t knows’ grow. This suggests that at least some voters may be open to an alternative to the two major party candidates. Even so, it seems unlikely that DeStefano’s presence on the ballot would greatly affect the dynamics of the race.”

In the Adler internal campaign poll reported in the press, DeStefano was tagged as a “Tea Party” candidate. However, given the controversy and uncertainty over his connection to the Tea Party movement, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll simply labeled him as an “independent candidate.”

“We chose not to label DeStefano as a Tea Party candidate, and this no doubt lowered his support in the poll, compared to the internal Adler campaign poll,” said Redlawsk. “However, given the level of debate over his status, even labeling him as Tea Party would most likely have had a limited effect, especially among those voters most paying attention.”

State of the Race in the 3rd District

“As a well-funded incumbent, John Adler could be expected to start off with an advantage in the election,” said David Redlawsk. “Even so, given the general sense of frustration voters are expressing, Adler’s very close win two years ago, and the competitive nature of the 3rd District, he has a fight on his hands.”

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