NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – With the midterm election only days away, New Jersey voters statewide are moving toward Republicans, as the overall generic ballot tightens, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. While 41 percent of registered voters say they will vote for a Democrat, with 31 percent preferring a Republican, likely voters are leaning more Republican; a generic Democrat leads by only 46 percent to 40 percent.
This is a distinct improvement for Republicans, who trailed by 11 points in a September Rutgers-Eagleton Poll among likely voters. Only 7 percent of likely voters remain undecided.
Concurrently, there is a noticeable “enthusiasm gap” between GOP backers and Democrats. About two-thirds of Republicans are at the “top of the enthusiasm scale” compared to 42 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of independents. About half of New Jersey registered voters say they are moderately or very enthusiastic about voting.
“Partisans remain with their party,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “But independent likely voters who moved toward Democrats in September are trending back to Republicans, preferring a generic Republican by a 42 percent to 35 percent margin. If independents turn out, they could tip close races, especially if Democrats stay home.”
The poll of 885 registered New Jersey voters was conducted Oct. 21-27. The registered voters sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. Generic vote questions were asked of random half-samples, which have a margin of error of +/-4.6 percentage points. Results do not apply to specific districts but give a sense of the overall mood of the state.
Overall support for incumbents increasing
To test attitudes toward incumbent members of Congress, half those polled were asked if they would vote for a generic Republican versus a Democrat, while the other half were asked if they would vote for their current representative or a challenger.
While the partisan vote has tightened, voters have also become more supportive of incumbents in the final weeks of the campaign. Among registered voters, 37 percent would vote for their “current congressman,” while 26 percent would support a challenger. When faced with this choice, 16 percent say they would not vote, and 19 percent are unsure.
Likely voters also prefer their incumbent to a challenger, 44 percent to 34 percent, with 22 percent unsure. This is a large shift from September, when incumbents were favored by two points.
“We see a partisan split in the generic incumbent test,” said Redlawsk. “Likely Democratic voters statewide support incumbents by almost a 4-1 ratio, while Republicans prefer a challenger by 4-to-3. Independents also slightly prefer challengers, by a 10-to-9 margin.
Republican incumbents increasingly safer
In GOP-held districts across the state, 48 percent of likely voters say they will vote Republican, while 38 percent will vote for a Democrat. Eleven percent are undecided. This is a substantial improvement for Republican incumbents, who were losing the generic ballot test in September, 42 percent to 44 percent.
When framed in terms of “current congressman” versus a “challenger,” Republicans are doing even better: 50 percent of likely voters support their current representative, 27 percent, the challenger and 23 percent are unsure. “While we can’t speak about a specific district, we see no evidence that any of the state’s five Republican representatives is in danger next week,” Redlawsk said.
Some Democrats in trouble
Across New Jersey’s eight Democratic congressional districts, little has changed since September: 52 percent of likely voters support a Democrat, while 36 percent will vote Republican. Another 8 percent prefer a third party candidate, and 5 percent don’t know. When framed as incumbent versus challenger, likely voters favor their current congressman by only 2 points. Registered voters prefer the incumbent by nine percentage points.
“Those more likely to turn out in these districts are at least in part motivated by anti-incumbency,” said Redlawsk. “Even so, the generic party ballot suggests that most Democratic incumbents will win as usual.”
Examining the three most competitive Democratic-held seats paints a very different picture, Redlawsk observed. Across the 3rd, 6th, and 12th districts combined, a generic Democrat holds a four percentage point lead, a “tossup” when the small size of the sample is considered. Moreover, in these districts likely voters favor a challenger over their current congressman by 15 points, 49 percent to 34 percent.
“We see very tough races for incumbents Rush Holt (12th CD), John Adler (3rd CD), and to a lesser extent, Frank Pallone (6th CD),” said Redlawsk. “Our separate 3rd District polling shows a tie, while this generic across-district polling shows things tight in all three districts. The key is turnout. Among registered voters, the generic Democrat leads by eight percentage points, but by only four points among likely voters. And when we ask about incumbents, registered voters are only slightly anti-incumbent by four points, while likely voters are ready to throw them out.”
Voters mood somewhat worse with more ready for Republicans
Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of likely voters report that the country is on the wrong track, while only 30 percent think it is going in the right direction. Republicans and independents overwhelmingly feel this way, with 89 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents feeling things are on the wrong track. Forty percent of Democrats feel the same.
Voters seem to be less willing to give Democrats more time to do things in Washington, with 48 percent saying Democrats should get more time and 43 percent saying it is time to turn to the GOP. Support for Democrats is down substantially from September, when 56 percent would have given them more time, and only 36 percent said it is time to elect Republicans. Independents support electing Republicans by a 46 percent to 40 percent margin.
The long campaign may finally be wearing on voters, the poll found. Only 31 percent of likely voters now say they are following news about the election very closely, compared to 42 percent in September.