>Of Tax Donkeys and Tea Parties: The State of the NJ CD-3 Race

>We are out today with our third and final poll of the NJ third congressional district race between Democratic incumbent John Adler and Republican challenger Jon Runyan. Oh, and don’t forget purported “Tea Party” candidate Peter DeStefano. The upshot? It’s tied. All locked up. 44-44. No space between the two candidates. At least among those we believe to be likely voters. And DeStefano – his 4-5 percent could be making the difference.

Our polling in this district is through live phone calls, using both landlines and cell phones. We are very comfortable that we have a reasonable sample. The trick of course is determining who is actually going to vote. I talked about that before at the beginning of our last CD3 release, so I won’t repeat it here. But even without the likely screen, things have gotten interesting. Where in September Adler was up 9 points among registered voters (while only 2 points among likelies) he has lost his lead among registered voters as well, up only 2 points (within the margin of error). No matter how we cut the data it is a tie.

We see two cross cutting currents in our data. First, overall trends are towards Runyan. Voters are more willing to support an outsider generally than last month, less positive towards Adler (and more positive towards Runyan) and at least some are annoyed by the newspaper reports that DeStefano is only on the ballot because Democrats put him there to get 5 percent. And, at least at the moment, that’s about what DeStefano is getting. Without this Democratic Tea Party, Runyan might well be ahead.

Runyan is also still benefiting from an enthusiasm gap – Republicans remain more likely to be in our “likely voter” sample than Democrats. And not surprisingly for a midterm, independents are the least likely to turn out.

On the other hand, it’s not over for Adler until the last vote is counted. Even many of Runyan’s supporters find Runyan’s tax donkeys to be an unfair use of the farmland assessment program. And of particular note is that Democrats are MUCH more unified that Republicans. While Alder wins the voters of 85 percent of likely Democratic voters, Runyan is only at 77 percent of Republicans, with 16 percent of Republicans supporting Adler. A bit of a push on Democratic turnout and Alder could win another squeaker. Remember, this is an historically Republican district in a very Republican year. Yet Runyan has not been able to seal the deal. That, if anything, gives Adler significant hope.

The release follows. A PDF of the release with questions and tables is here.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – With a week to go until Election Day, incumbent Democrat John Adler and his challenger, Republican Jon Runyan, are tied in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Among likely voters, both Adler and Runyan get support from 44 percent, while independent Peter DeStefano is at 4 percent and 9 percent say they still are not sure. But even among those who have decided, nearly a quarter may change their mind by Election Day.

The results show a distinct tightening of the race as Adler’s September Rutgers-Eagleton Poll nine-point lead among registered voters has disappeared. Among registered voters, Adler now leads within the margin of error, 37 percent to 35 percent, with 5 percent for DeStefano, 14 percent undecided and 10 percent saying given the choices, they will not vote.

“This is anyone’s race,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “All along, Runyan has been doing better among likely voters, while Adler held a lead with all voters. But recent events – including the news of Democratic Party involvement in putting DeStefano on the ballot – have moved things more toward Runyan.”

The telephone poll of 453 registered voters yielding 292 likely voters living in the 3rd District was conducted Oct. 23-24 and has a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points for registered voters and 5.6 percentage points for likely voters. The survey included both landline and cell phone respondents.

The DeStefano Effect

Recent reports speculating that Democratic Party workers were heavily involved in supporting independent DeStefano’s candidacy have had some effect on the race. While large numbers of registered (43 percent) and likely voters (39 percent) are unaware of the controversy, among those who have heard about it, nearly one-third say the controversy makes them less likely to vote for Adler. Among those who say they might change their mind, 32 percent say the DeStefano controversy makes them less likely to vote for Adler, while 59 percent say it has no effect and 6 percent say it will make them more likely to vote for Adler.

“The combination of a razor-thin race, the presence of an independent candidate drawing about 5 percent and the claims that DeStefano is merely on the ballot to take votes from Runyan creates a volatile situation,” said Redlawsk. “DeStefano supporters seem more likely to become Runyan than Adler supporters if they do change their minds. This small group could make the difference. At the same time, the Runyan campaign has not effectively publicized this controversy, given how many voters have heard nothing about it.”

Adler’s favorables decline and Runyan’s improve

Adler has become less favorably viewed by voters down the homestretch. His 12-point positive rating in September (43 percent favorable, 30 percent unfavorable) has evaporated (now 36 percent favorable and unfavorable). Runyan’s ratings have improved, however, from 29 percent favorable and 30 percent unfavorable in September to 36 percent favorable and 26 percent unfavorable. DeStefano’s favorability now is only 3 percent, half September’s tally, while his unfavorable standing grew from 8 percent to 14 percent. Most voters have no opinion of DeStefano.

Also in the 3rd District, fewer respondents view President Obama positively (44 percent) than Gov. Chris Christie (57 percent). Other indicators seem to favor the challenger as well. The majority of respondents (58 percent) are angry with Washington. Only 40 percent now prefer experience versus an outsider, down from 47 percent in September. Republicans remain more enthusiastic about voting (60 percent) than do Democrats (52 percent) and independents (44 percent).

Further, 41 percent of likely voters agree that “Adler is part of the problem in Washington,” while 44 percent disagree and 15 percent don’t know. Of those in agreement, 16 percent will vote for Adler, 75 percent will vote for Runyan and 7 percent will vote for DeStefano. Among those who disagree, 75 percent say they will vote for Adler, 20 percent will vote for Runyan, 1 percent for DeStefano, and 4 percent are undecided.

“Whether it is because of the news about DeStefano or other issues, Adler no longer is in the positive position he was all fall,” said Redlawsk. “While voters were positive toward Adler and strongly preferred experience, that has changed. The environment in the 3rd District has become noticeably more difficult for the incumbent.”

Tax, donkeys and other issues

Adler has accused Runyan of benefiting from New Jersey’s farmland assessment program by raising donkeys and barely qualifying for a significant property tax reduction. Likely voters seem to agree that Runyan unfairly takes advantage of the tax break, 54 percent to 33 percent, while 13 percent are unsure. Of those who believe the assessment is unfair, 66 percent say they will vote for Adler, while 25 percent support Runyan. Not surprisingly, those who see the assessment as fair are more likely to support Runyan over Adler, 72 percent to 20 percent.

Even so, many Runyan voters have some question about the assessment, with 32 percent of Runyan voters believing he unfairly takes advantage of the farmland assessment, while most (80 percent) Adler voters feel the same.

Nearly half (44 percent) all likely voters in the 3rd CD favor off-shore drilling near the New Jersey coast. Almost as many (43 percent) are against it and 13 percent are not sure. Among those who favor drilling, 27 percent will vote for Adler and 60 percent for Runyan. Two-thirds (64 percent) of drilling opponents will vote for Adler and 30 percent will vote for Runyan.

Forty-two percent of likely voters support the health care legislation passed this year, while 50 percent oppose it and 8 percent say they don’t know. More than eight-in-10 proponents (81 percent) say they will vote for Adler and 14 percent for Runyan. Among those opposed, 20 percent say they will vote for Adler and 71 percent will vote for Runyan.

Adler stronger with his base; Runyan up with independents

The latest poll found some good news for Adler: support from his base. Among Democratic likely voters, 85 percent support Adler, 6 percent Runyan, with only 2 percent for DeStefano and 6 percent undecided. Runyan does not do as well among Republicans: 77 percent support his candidacy while 16 percent support Adler and 2 percent support DeStefano. Five percent are undecided.

Independent likely voters favor Runyan over Adler, 49 percent to 40 percent.


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