Monthly Archives: September 2013

Reading Between the Numbers: Christie’s Up by How Much?

Election season can always be a particularly volatile time for polling.  Different polls reporting different results with different samples at different times can all make for confusion over where the race really stands.  So many factors go into trying to “predict” a race (though these results are not really “predictions,” but rather just snapshots of what the public expresses during that moment in time).  Polls can often have varying results that are more than just a few points apart from one another.

The best thing to do, like we said in our last post, is to pay attention to several polls – or at least to the average of many polls, such as provided on realclearpolitics.com.  But it is also beneficial to take a closer look at polls individually since it is the individual polls that create confusing headlines.  And with the current governor’s race in New Jersey, in particular, the media love focusing not on who will win – every poll has Christie up by double digits – but rather by how much.  So as each poll has appeared in recent weeks on this race, headlines have been obsessed with reporting how big or small Christie’s margin has become.

The most recent results come from a Quinnipiac University Poll, which shows Christie running away with a 34-point lead, 64 percent to 30 percent for Buono.  This is Christie’s widest margin – with likely voters, no less – from any major poll since the race heated up with the end of summer; until this poll, Christie’s lead has appeared to be tightening slightly into the 20s, as we reported earlier this month.  We would expect narrowing: races often get closer in the last few months and weeks as the challenger gains greater recognition, as the opponents ramp up efforts to vie for the vote, and as the portion of the electorate who will actually vote (likely voters) solidify in their choices.  So to see this most recent spike in Christie’s margin – much higher than any likely voter poll in the past month – comes as a bit of a “September surprise.”

We should also note that Kean University released a poll immediately after Quinnipiac with Christie up only 18 points.  The issue with Kean’s poll, is that, much like recent polling by Stockton, they provide little transparency about their polling – no sample characteristics and few, if any, methodological details, nor do they show what their questionnaires look like. Polls that fail to be transparent are unfortunately impossible to assess.

What has changed? Anything? How did Quinnipiac come up with a 34-point lead when we had it at 20 only two weeks before?  Did Christie benefit from yet another bump due to his leadership during and after the Seaside boardwalk fire?  Could Buono’s salacious Tea Party retweet have really caused that much of a stir?

Actually, if we read between Quinnipiac’s numbers a bit, however, we find some possible explanations for this larger margin and a few good lessons in general that we should always keep in mind about election polling.

Telling the fence sitters to get off the fence

It may seem like everyone in New Jersey has an opinion on the governor’s race, but our most recent Rutgers-Eagleton Poll numbers show that 8 percent of likely voters still do not know where they stand.  Eight percent may seem small, but that’s actually quite a significant number of New Jerseyans, reaching into the hundreds of thousands.  Democrats in our polling are even more likely to express uncertainty; 11 percent are unsure; 8 percent of independents are as well.  Even if likely to vote by our measure, we count them as uncertain at this particular time and do not award them to either major candidate.

A close look at Quinnipiac, on the other hand, shows that their results are actually based on both the typical vote question and a follow-up question that encourages undecideds to pick a side.  In other words, Quinnipiac’s reported results include “leaners” – respondents who initially express uncertainty but are prompted to choose the candidate that they lean toward most.  As a result, Quinnipiac reports many fewer “don’t knows.” Only 5 percent of all voters, 5 percent of Democrats, and 5 percent of independents are unsure in their poll.  Moreover, most of those reluctant voters move to Christie when pushed. This certainly seems to have an impact on Democrats especially: 35 percent choose Christie in Quinnipiac’s poll, while we found only 28 percent for the governor. Interestingly, both polls put Democratic support of Buono at 60 percent. Quinnipiac also shows a slightly higher percentage of independents supporting the governor than we did.

Since Quinnipiac does not report their head-to-head numbers without leaners, we can’t be sure about how great of an impact these leaners really make. But the point here is that we should always know who is included within the numbers we are talking about.  Knowing leaners are included in their reported head-to-head may explain a few percentage points of the large 34-point margin, compared to the smaller margins found by Rutgers-Eagleton and other polls in past weeks.

This also makes the point that it is crucial to know exactly what the question wording is, and exactly what, if any, follow-ups are asked. Polls that do not provide this information should be taken with extreme caution since you can’t know what they mean without this vital information.

Determining who will show up on Election Day

So who will vote on Election Day, November 5? The answer is, we really don’t know. We can put together some good estimates, which is what we do when we talk about “likely voters.” But that’s all they are – estimates. While likely voters are a mystery that pollsters often think they can crack, it’s tough to do so, and we can never be sure until Election Day. This is particularly true in special elections like the upcoming October 16 U.S. Senate race, where polling is also widely divergent.

As we said the other day, likely voters are the subset of registered voters who are most likely to vote in an election based on a variety of characteristics.  These characteristics may include past voting behavior, interest and attention to the race, and a direct question about likelihood of voting in the election.  But there is no set formula for how to take these characteristics – or even requiring the usage of these characteristics – to determine the perfect likely voter subsample.

Polls are often vague about how they determine likely voters – much like magicians, never revealing their secret process.  They hint at the types of questions they use but not how they use them. Do they weight one likely voter screening question more than another?  Do they all count equally?  What and how many questions make up their “likely to vote” scale?  What is their cut-off between those likely to vote and those not likely to vote?  Some polls even derive likely voter subsamples from listed samples of registered voters, simply counting those registered voters who vote more frequently as their likely voter subsample.  The possibilities for determining such a subset are seemingly endless.

So as we look at the newest results from Quinnipiac (and any other likely voter sample) we must keep this in mind. Every polling organization has its own unique likely voter formula, and based on what questions go into that formula and how some respondents who are more or less likely to vote for Christie or Buono answer those questions, likely voter numbers can and will differ.

Looking at the samples they report (again, Quinnipiac, Monmouth, and Rutgers-Eagleton have all provided transparent information about their recent samples; Kean and Stockton have not) we see that recent polls using likely voter models have noticeable differences in their weighted sample characteristics, particularly in terms of partisanship.  In the past three likely voter polls that report demographic breakdowns – Monmouth from August, Rutgers-Eagleton from September, and the most recent Quinnipiac – Quinnipiac’s likely voter sample has by far the lowest percentage of Democrats (clearly mostly Buono supporters) by at least 5 percentage points, as well as the highest shares of independents/other (a majority of whom are consistently for Christie) by 5 points or more.  We at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, on the other hand, have more Democrats than either Quinnipiac or Monmouth, are in the middle with independents, and somewhat at the low end with Republicans.

These differing sample breakdowns must be a result of how each poll is determining likely voters through its screening. Unfortunately, none of us provide a lot of detail on this, although we at Rutgers-Eagleton do report exactly what “likely voter” characteristic questions we ask and what the response percentages are, something others do not appear to do.

The nature of the sample has a huge effect on the final numbers and the size of Christie’s lead when you consider that nearly all Republicans support Christie, as do a large majority of independents. A sample with more Republicans and independents, will give Christie a larger lead than a sample with more Democrats. Above everything else, this is probably why Quinnipiac shows such a large margin favoring Christie because it’s rooted in who they think will actually vote.

Of course, none of us know who will show up, how many voters will vote, and whether one party will be more energized than the other. We can make some guesses, but in the end only time will tell if those guesses are on or off the mark.

Lessons learned

It is taking a closer look at times like these that teaches us just how much of an art and not just a science polling really is.  Paying attention to how each poll derives its numbers – whether through adding leaning likely voters into the mix or through how polls concoct their likely voter formulas – gives us a better understanding to the differences we see in the headlines.  Is Christie really up by 34 points against Buono with only a little over a month to go until Election Day?  Is Buono starting to close the gap? What about Booker/Lonegan – is Booker winning by 35 as we showed three weeks ago? Probably not quite. Is he winning by only 12 as Quinnipiac shows? Most likely not that either.

The answer, in the end, is as we always say here at Rutgers-Eagleton. Polls are fun, and we can learn a lot from what they tell us, but no one should ever get overly excited about any one poll. Follow the aggregators like www.realclearpolitics.com or others (for some commentary on that, click here). Then sit back and see what actually happens in the real world.

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MOST NEW JERSEYANS SUPPORT CHRISTIE’S APPEARANCE IN STORM ADS

Full text of this release follows. Click here for a PDF of the text, questions, and tables.

MOST NEW JERSEYANS SUPPORT CHRISTIE’S APPEARANCE IN STORM ADS, BUT THINK COMMERCIALS’ CREATORS CHOSEN FOR POLITICAL REASONS

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While state Sen. Barbara Buono continues to criticize Gov. Chris Christie’s involvement with New Jersey’s “Stronger than the Storm” ad campaign, 54 percent of registered voters side with the incumbent, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. The majority say Christie’s appearance in the commercials was focused on promoting confidence in the shore’s recovery, while 34 percent say the appearances were mostly about gaining publicity for his re-election campaign. Another 11 percent are unsure.

Views are more mixed over the appropriateness of the choice of MWW, the company the state used to create the ad campaign. Democrats criticized the firm in recent months for its supposed close ties to Christie, and a price tag reportedly $2 million higher than its competitors. By a 2 to 1 margin, voters believe MWW was chosen primarily for political reasons. A noteworthy 37 percent are uncertain about where why the firm was chosen.

“While voters see Christie’s appearance as part of his job to promote the state’s recovery, many are cynical about why MWW was chosen,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “We specifically tested Senator Buono’s criticism to see if it resonates, finding that many view the award of the project as political. But that perspective does not change the positive view of the governor’s role in the ad campaign.”

The “Stronger than the Storm” campaign generated high levels of awareness, as 80 percent of voters saw or heard the ads promoting Jersey shore tourism this summer.

Results are from a poll of 925 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Sept 3-9. The subsample of 814 registered voters reported on here has a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Partisanship for sure at the shore

While a majority of respondents approve of Christie’s role in the ads, the level of support varies, with those typically in Christie’s corner more favorable. More than 70 percent of those planning to vote for Christie support his appearance in the ads. Just over a quarter of Buono voters feel the same. Republicans are the strongest backers on the issue, at 73 percent compared to 56 percent of independents. Democrats are evenly split – 44 percent support Christie’s appearance, but 43 percent think it is about personal publicity. Thirty-three percent of independents and 17 percent of Republicans view the campaign as mostly about publicity for the governor.

Personal experience with Hurricane Sandy and awareness of the ads also affect opinion about Christie’s starring role. Those personally affected by the super storm are slightly more likely to say Christie was promoting recovery, 58 percent versus 53 percent of those not affected. Respondents from the hardest hit parts of the state agree more strongly than others that Christie’s appearance was nonpolitical – more than 70 percent from the shore and 59 percent from northwestern exurban counties.

Those who actually have seen or heard the commercials support Christie’s role as the shore recovery spokesperson by a nearly 2 to 1 margin – 60 percent to the 33 percent who think he appeared primarily for re-election publicity. Those who have not seen the ads are much more split: 35 percent side with Christie, 39 percent side with Buono’s criticism and 26 percent are uncertain.

“Seeing the ads clearly made voters think of Christie as promoting recovery, something that we all expect a governor to do,” said Redlawsk. “For those who did not see the ads, there is a much more willingness to simply see this as just another part of Christie’s re-election campaign.”

Voters assume politics in choice of campaign’s creators

Voters are more likely to side with Democrats when it comes to the controversy about MWW’s selection. Even Christie voters are divided, with 34 percent saying the company was the best choice for the job, 27 percent believing the choice as political and another 39 percent are unsure. Those voting for Buono are more united in their belief that politics was at play: 66 percent call the choice of MWW politics, and 28 percent are unsure. Only 6 percent believe the company was the best choice.

Aside from Christie voters, the partisan divide is strong. But Republicans are more likely to express uncertainty than to support MWW. Thirty percent say the pick was for political reasons, while another 34 percent support the choice, and 37 percent are unsure. A plurality of Democrats and independents feels political motives were behind the selection, though over a third of each group remains uncertain. Just 14 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of independents support the choice as fair and square.

Even those who have seen or heard the ads are most likely to feel that the selection was political – 42 percent of viewers compared to 22 percent who support MWW. Thirty-six percent are uncertain. Those personally affected by Sandy are just as likely as those not affected to believe the company was chosen based on politics instead of who was best for the job.

“Of course, voters have relatively little information on this issue,” noted Redlawsk. “Thus, for the most part, the responses of those opposed to Christie are not surprising. What is surprising is that the governor’s supporters are more divided, suggesting that cynicism about the decisions politicians make exists even when the decision is made by your own team.”

‘Stronger than the storm’ widely viewed

Eighty percent of New Jersey voters saw or heard the state’s “Stronger than the Storm” advertising campaign and only 18 percent have not. Shore residents (85 percent) and exurbanites (88 percent) are especially familiar with it, though about three-quarters of voters in every other region encountered the ads as well.

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Support for Minimum Wage: Different Numbers, Different Meanings

This post was prepared by Ashley Koning, Manager, Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Yesterday, we released some new numbers on the upcoming elections for the state Legislature, as well as on the amendment to raise the minimum wage that will also be on the ballot in a little over a month.  It just so happens our friends at Monmouth released some numbers on the minimum wage increase, too.  Both polls were in the field during similar dates in early September, and both polls show a large majority in support of the minimum wage amendment.  Our Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows support at 76 percent if the election were held today, compared to only 22 percent who would oppose it, and just 2 percent who are unsure.  Monmouth, on the other hand, shows a slightly different picture: 65 percent in their poll say they will vote for the minimum wage increase, versus 12 percent who say they are against it, with another 24 percent either unsure or not voting on it at all.

So why is there a difference?  Specifically, an 11-point difference in support and a 10-point difference in opposition?  Is one set of numbers right, and the other wrong?  In order to understand what each of these results means, we need to understand the context – specifically who we are talking about in the analysis and how these questions were asked in the first place.  Upon a closer look, these slightly different numbers are telling slightly different stories, which is important to acknowledge when interpreting the results.

The Who

A big and immediate difference between the two polls is who each of them is talking about.  Monmouth’s release focuses on registered voters, whereas our release features likely voters.  While the two subsamples stem from the same voting population in New Jersey, registered voters are simply that – those who say they are registered to vote.  But that does not mean that they actually vote.  Likely voters, in turn, are a smaller subset of registered voters; they are the ones most likely to vote in an election based on a variety of characteristics that may include past voting behavior, interest and attention to the race, and likelihood of voting in the election.  Polls usually analyze likely voter subsets when it gets close to election time, filtering out among registered voters those who are less likely to fulfill the aforementioned traits.  Likely voter subsamples are meant to give us a – hopefully – clearer picture of what the people who will actually being casting votes may do come Election Day.

Because not all registered voters are likely voters, numbers between these two groups can certainly vary, and support can grow stronger or weaker based on who fits the likely voter profile for that particular election – hence, the fluctuation we see between Monmouth’s numbers and our own.  And while we have usually analyzed these questions using registered voters in the past, we this time talk about a likely voter subsample in our most recent analysis – just like we did in our previous U.S. Senate and gubernatorial election releases the other week – since we are getting closer to Election Day.  Those who are most likely to vote in the governor’s race will also be most likely to vote for state Assembly, state Senate, and the minimum wage amendment since they are all on the same ballot, so analyzing just likely voters should give us the best approximation of what will happen come Election Day.

The How

But even in our registered voter subsamples in April and June, our numbers on minimum wage have hovered around 76 and 77 percent.  So perhaps the real culprit behind these differing numbers here is question wording.  How a question is worded has a significant impact on subsequent opinion towards it, whether that means a difference in the actual words used, a difference in the thoughts that are invoked, or a difference in the choices that are presented.

Here, we have a difference in how respondents are asked to think about it and how they are told they can answer.  First, while our question and Monmouth’s question about the minimum wage amendment are very similar, there is a slight difference in how we ask about the respondent’s choice: we ask about it as “if the election were being held today,” while Monmouth asks about what respondents will do in the future come the actual Election Day.  The difference is seemingly small but can influence how people respond.  Polls are a snapshot of what is happening at that moment in time, so to ask about what people will do in the future on Election Day may change between now and then and can lead to greater uncertainty due to the variability in future plans.  Asking the question instead as if the respondent has to cast a vote right at that moment gives the decision more immediacy and captures what the respondent is feeling right then and there.  In fact, most election questions are typically asked in the way in which we word this one; the “if the election were held today …” prompt has been a tried and true staple of polling.  But there is not necessarily a right or wrong way of asking this– just a need to acknowledge that the slight difference in asking the voter how to think about it can impact their subsequently expressed attitude.

Lastly, the two questions differ in the answer options they give respondents, which in turn can effect the distribution of opinions and how we can interpret them.  Monmouth asks, “[…] Will you vote for or against this, or are you not sure?”  We, on the other hand, ask, “[…] Would you support or oppose this constitutional amendment?”  Monmouth here explicitly provides the option of expressing uncertainty to the respondent, giving them an alternative choice beyond siding for or against the amendment.  We instead present respondents with a “forced choice,” which is what occurs in the voting booth, asking them to choose one of two ways in which they can vote on the amendment.  While respondents can certainly say they “don’t know” or will not vote in our question – and we note this in our results as well – we do not emphasize the opportunity to express uncertainty, and therefore, this answer may not be at the forefront of respondents’ minds when answering.

In addition, and this relates back to the “who” component mentioned above, likely voters – aka, the subset of registered voters that we analyze in our release – tend to be more certain in their expressed views than registered voters.  This could be the reason behind why only 2 percent of them express uncertainty about their stance on the amendment.  Likely voters are more likely to vote, more engaged in the political process, and thus, their opinions – especially about what they will eventually be voting on – are presumably more solidified.  While our “don’t know” responses were still in the single-digits with registered voters in past months as well, the number of those saying they are unsure is cut in half in these latest results among likely voters.

So what’s the moral of the story here?  Poll results can vary for a whole variety of reasons, and differing results do not automatically mean that one poll is good, and another poll is bad.  Differing results should instead teach us to explore further into why they differ and what each poll is trying to tell us.  In this case, while each of these polls tells a slightly different story, reading either one of these results leads to the conclusion that there is a very good chance voters will pass the minimum wage increase come Election Day.  But it is only until then when we will find out the actual numbers of how many truly support or oppose the amendment.

A Coda

As we were preparing to post this today we saw the new report from Quinnipiac that Booker is only 12 points ahead of Lonegan in the U.S. Senate race. Of course, we reported two weeks ago that Booker held a 35 point lead. More interesting, Stockton State University, which does occasional statewide polling, reported a 26-point Booker lead yesterday. All three polls are of “likely voters” so that’s not the difference (except we may all be defining likely voters differently.) Is it plausible Booker lost 2/3 of his lead in two weeks? Or dropped 14 points “overnight”? No, of course not. While we have not yet had time to examine this in detail, we suspect there are a number of potential reasons for the differences.

We might be defining likely voters differently. Rutgers-Eagleton may have caught Booker at a particularly positive moment, since we polled just as negative news was focusing on Lonegan. By most standards Lonegan’s PR over the last two weeks has been much more positive, which could improve his numbers. Quinnipiac could be off just as much as we might be – that is, they could be too low, and we could be too high. It could also be that we have different samples, with different numbers of Democrats and Republicans, which can move numbers a few points one way or another. But the dramatic difference between Quinnipiac and Rutgers-Eagleton is hard to explain. Perhaps Stockton, sitting kind of in the middle, is closer to “reality.” But this is also hard to know, because so far we can’t find any methodology statement of details from Stockton like we can for Quinnipiac, Monmouth, and like we do here at Rutgers-Eagleton. We’ll look further into this, and of course, I’m pretty sure we will all poll again before the October 16 election day.

In any case, it’s interesting, and perhaps instructive. No one should ever get all excited about any ONE poll, even if it is ours. A poll is a snapshot in time subject to a range of errors that we do our best to avoid. But frankly, if you want to know what’s going on, follow the averages (like at realclearpolitics.com) rather than any one poll.

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CHRISTIE’S COATTAILS FALLING SHORT IN LEGISLATIVE CONTEST; MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE FAVORED BY LARGE MAJORITY

Full text of today’s release is below. Click here for a PDF of the full text, questions, and tables.

CHRISTIE’S COATTAILS SHORT IN TRENTON RACES; MOST VOTERS FAVOR MINIMUM WAGE HIKE

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Despite giving Gov. Chris Christie a 20-point lead over state Sen. Barbara Buono, half of likely voters want Democrats to retain control of the New Jersey Legislature in November, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Only 38 percent want to give Republicans a chance to take charge in Trenton.

In another sign that the GOP governor’s legislative coattails seem short, voters say they will choose Democratic candidates for Assembly and Senate seats by double-digit margins. Nearly 50 percent are voting or leaning Democratic for their local Assembly races, while 32 percent support Republicans. Results are similar for state Senate races.

At the same time, voter impressions of the Democrat-controlled Legislature are nearly evenly split: 33 percent have a favorable impression, 32 percent an unfavorable impression and 34 percent have no opinion or remain unsure.

“The statewide ballot tests do not address individual races,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “But they do give us a sense of how the voters are feeling. Right now they seem to be quite happy to split their tickets, supporting a Republican governor and a Democratic Legislature.”

Voters continue to overwhelmingly favor a constitutional amendment raising the state’s minimum wage. By a 76 percent to 22 percent margin, likely voters support the November ballot question to increase the minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 per hour. Over half of Republicans plan to vote for the increase, despite Christie’s earlier veto of a similar measure.

“This level of support for a minimum wage increase has been unwavering since the Legislature defied Christie and placed the question on the ballot,” noted Redlawsk. “Even the governor’s supporters are more likely than not to want the measure passed.”

Results are from a sample of 568 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points, part of a poll of 925 adult New Jerseyans conducted statewide from Sept. 3-9, with both landline and cell phone households. Included were 814 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points, from which the likely voter sample is taken.

Christie coattails seem short

Since April, Democrats have held a wide lead over Republicans in a statewide test of November’s Assembly and Senate races. Likely voters now prefer Democrats for Assembly by a 46 percent to 30 percent margin (49-32, when “leaners” are included) and 48 percent to 33 percent for the Senate (50-35, with leaners.)

At a similar point two years ago, Democrats held a 10- to 12-point advantage over Republicans, going on to hold all their Senate seats and gain one in the Assembly.

Even among those with a favorable impression of the governor, Christie’s sway is limited: 42 percent of these voters will vote GOP for the Assembly, but 30 percent will vote for Democrats. Those who dislike Christie are more united: 75 percent plan to support Democratic Assembly candidates, while only 10 percent will support Republicans.

Among those committed to voting for Christie, Republicans do better – leading 50 percent to 22 percent – but those voting for Buono overwhelmingly choose Democrats, 82 percent to 5 percent.

“While some individual races will be highly competitive and seats could change hands, Democrats seem to be where they need to be statewide,” noted Redlawsk. “History suggests the GOP needs to be much closer in this generic ballot test to make major inroads across the state.”

Since Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans among likely voters here, GOP chances are hurt in statewide ballot tests because most plan to vote their party. In Assembly races, 86 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans will not cross party lines. More importantly, despite their strong support for Christie, independents are less certain when it comes to the Assembly: 34 percent favor Republicans, 26 percent Democrats and 35 percent are undecided or do not plan to cast a ballot. A few plan to split their votes.

Among likely voters with a favorable impression of the Legislature, Democrats lead Republicans by 37 points. Among the Legislature’s detractors, likely Republicans voters hold a nine-point lead. While the large number of undecided independents could still sway things toward the GOP, Redlawsk noted that historically, this has not been the case, with many simply not voting.

A similar story plays out for the Senate, where voters with a favorable impression of Christie are 15 points more likely to vote for a Republican; those who say they will vote for the governor are 31 points more likely to do so. But 78 percent of his detractors and 85 percent of Buono voters will vote for a Senate Democrat, compared to only 11 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of those groups who say they will go for the GOP.

As with the Assembly, voters will stick with their party for the Senate. Independents lean toward the GOP, 35 percent to 28 percent, but the difference is not enough to swing the test ballot.

Voters’ preferences for control the Legislature play out like the vote itself. Democrats and leaners in either the Assembly or Senate races overwhelmingly want Democrats to remain in control, while Republicans and their leaners strongly want their party to be the majority. Independents are 14 points more likely to side with the GOP, but again, this is not a large enough margin to overcome the much greater number of Democrats than Republicans in the state.

While those voting for Christie prefer Republican control of the Legislature by 2 to 1, about eight in 10 Buono supporters want Democrats in control, showing again that Buono supporters are more likely to stick with the party line than are Christie voters.

Minimum wage gets support across partisan divide

With 76 percent of all likely voters favoring the minimum wage constitutional amendment, support is strong and widespread. More than 60 percent of Christie supporters favor the amendment despite the governor’s opposition, while 94 percent of Buono backers favor the increase. Majority support for the amendment crosses party lines, though at different levels: 93 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 58 percent of Republicans want to see the amendment passed.

Women are much stronger supporters, 82 percent to 68 percent. Support decreases as income increases, though 68 percent in the highest income bracket still support the measure. In comparison, 83 percent in the lowest income bracket would vote for the amendment.

“While those working in minimum-wage jobs could certainly be expected to support this amendment, people at all economic levels seem to have sympathy for how hard it is to make ends meet in a low-wage job,” said Redlawsk. “Women may be the most affected by this proposal, since nationally they hold more than 60 percent of minimum-wage jobs. But support is not all about self-interest. Otherwise, it would be far lower than it actually is.”

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Filed under 2013 NJ Election, NJ Voters

New Polling on Gun Control in NJ

We seem to have an uncanny knack at deciding to ask gun control issue questions on our polls just before incidents of mass violence.  In our most recent poll, which concluded a week before Monday’s shootings at the Washington Naval Yard, we had a series of questions about three gun control bills passed earlier this year by the NJ legislature, and vetoed (absolutely or conditionally) by Gov. Chris Christie. We were interested first, in whether the public supported the bills, and second, in whether knowing Christie vetoed them, Garden Staters would become less supportive of the measures.

So we asked the questions in an experiment where half of our respondents were told that Christie had vetoed the bills and half were only told the legislature passed them. The three bills would have 1) required reporting lost, stolen, and discarded guns to federal databases, 2) record gun permits on driver’s licenses, require gun safety training, and create instant background checks, and 3) ban .50-caliber rifles. Interesting, the last of these was advocated for by Christie, but in the end he vetoed the bill.

Below we report the total across both versions of the questions, finding that New Jerseyans overwhelmingly support the first two bills, and also support the proposed and, but not quite as strongly. In the experiment, we find that learning Christie vetoed the bills has NO effect on support for the .50-caliber ban, but REDUCES support for the other two bills he returned to the legislature. In other words, Christie’s opinion sways public opinion on the two more complex bills, but has no effect on the straightforward ban.

Text of the press release is below. Click here for a PDF with text, questions, and tables.

RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: MOST NEW JERSEYANS SUPPORT VETOED GUN CONTROL LEGISLATION, ARE CONCERNED ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Large majorities of New Jerseyans support three pieces of gun control legislation Gov. Chris Christie either conditionally or absolutely vetoed recently, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll completed before Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

The most popular of the measures vetoed by the governor, to require state enforcement agencies to report information on lost, stolen and discarded guns to federal databases is strongly supported by 73 percent of state residents. A second measure, to require that firearms purchase permits be recorded on driver licenses, create instant background checks, and mandate gun safety training garners strong support from 70 percent.

A ban on the .50-caliber rifle, a measure for which Christie originally advocated but vetoed outright, has some support from 64 percent of respondents, including strong support from 54 percent.

Concern over gun violence remains steady since Rutgers-Eagleton last polled in February 2013, after President Obama announced multiple gun-related executive orders. Seven in 10 continue remain “very concerned” about the amount of gun violence in America, and another 22 percent say they are “somewhat concerned. Only 7 percent are not concerned at all.

But fewer Garden Staters now believe controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the right to own guns: 63 percent now favor gun control over gun owners’ rights, down six points, while 31 percent side with gun owners. Much of the change is driven by those in households with guns who have become much more concerned about gun owner rights.

“After numerous very public shooting tragedies in recent years, it is clear New Jerseyans want more and stricter gun control measures adopted,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “This is true even though New Jersey already has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.”

Results are from a poll of 925 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Sept 3-9. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points.

Widespread concern persists, but more division on gun rights

While steady since February, the number of respondents “very concerned” about gun violence is down seven points from its all-time high of 77 percent recorded immediately after the December 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Concern among Democrats has dropped 8 points since December, while Republican levels of concern have actually increased by 10 points. Concern among independents has dipped 11 points since December, to 62 percent.

“The odd finding that Republicans became more concerned may be due to the emphasis Gov. Christie gave the issue earlier this year, when he advocated for several gun control laws, including banning the .50 caliber rifle,” said Redlawsk. “Given Republican’s strong support of the governor, his emphasis on the issue may have helped drive their concern up.”

More than 60 percent of Christie supporters are very concerned about gun violence. Eighty-one percent of Buono supporters and 76 percent of Christie detractors feel the same. A substantial gender gap persists. Women are 22 points more likely than men to be very concerned (81 percent to 59 percent). Even nearly 60 percent of gun owners are very concerned about gun violence, with another 25 percent saying they are somewhat concerned. Concern also increases with age.

Greater division exists, however, on the question of gun control versus gun owners’ rights.  Majorities of Democrats and Republicans are at opposite ends of the spectrum: 75 percent of Democrats say gun control is more important, but 54 percent of Republicans side with owners’ rights. While Republicans have not changed their opinions since February, Democrats’ support of gun control has dropped nine points, though most still support it. Independents’ support of gun control has declined six points since February, but 60 percent still say it is more important than owners’ rights.

Christie supporters and those who plan to vote for him in November are less likely to say gun control is more important than gun rights. Fifty-eight percent of those with a favorable impression of the governor prefer gun control, compared to 75 percent of his detractors. Similarly, 82 percent of Democratic challenger Barbara Buono’s supporters favor gun control, compared to just over half of the incumbent’s supporters.

Gun-owning households and those without also take opposing sides: 64 percent of gun owners believe protecting owners’ rights is more important, compared to 69 percent of households without guns, who disagree.  Gun owners’ beliefs in their rights have increased by 13 points since February, while non-gun owners’ preference for gun control has dropped by eight points.

Christie vetoes sway some residents

While large majorities support the three bills Christie at least conditionally turned aside, his decisions do sway some voters to his side. As an experiment, half the respondents were informed of the vetoes. The other was only told the bills had been passed by the Legislature. Support for two bills – the federal reporting requirement for lost guns, and the mandate for driver’s license notations, background checks, and training – drops significantly when people learn Christie vetoed them. Support for banning .50-caliber guns remains unchanged, however.

When information about the governor’s veto was omitted, 73 percent of New Jerseyans want to see background checks and training. But Christie’s actions influence some: 67 percent offer strong support when they know about the veto. Women are not affected by knowledge of the veto, but strong support by men drops 13 points when told Christie refused to sign the bill. Among Republicans, support for the bill drops seven points to 57 percent when Christie’s veto is mentioned. Democrats show a larger decline: 80 percent strongly support the bill when they don’t know about the veto. Seventy-one percent offer strong support when they know the governor vetoed the bill.

Similar patterns occur when respondents are told about Christie’s veto of the federal database bill. Seventy-seven percent of those who don’t know about the veto strongly support the bill, but the number drops to 69 percent when told Christie opposed it. Democrats are eight points less likely, and Republicans 12 points less likely to offer strong support for this law when they learn of Christie’s vetoes.  Support among men and women drops when they are told of the governor’s veto.

Attitudes are much more stable in respect to the proposed .50-caliber rifle ban. Just over half of respondents in both versions of the question strongly support the ban, whether or not they are told about the veto.

These results suggest two things, according to Redlawsk. “First, people are more certain of their position on banning the .50-caliber gun, so their opinion does not change whether they know Christie opposes it,” he said. “But for the other, more complicated measures, support is not as crystallized. As a result, the governor’s decision directly influences opinion, moving some people more in his direction. Still, most New Jerseyans want to see all three bills become law.”

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CHRISTIE LEADS BUONO BY 20 POINTS; LIKELY VOTERS SAY CHRISTIE BETTER REPRESENTS STATE ON MOST ISSUES

Click here for a PDF of the full text of this release, with questions and tables. Note: An earlier version of the PDF had an incorrect “issues” graph on page 10. The names of the candidates were accidentally reversed. This version, posted at 2:05 on 9/16/13, corrects the error. There were no errors in the text.

RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: CHRISTIE LEADS BUONO BY 20 POINTS; LIKELY VOTERS SAY CHRISTIE BETTER REPRESENTS STATE ON MOST ISSUES

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – As New Jersey’s election season heats up, Gov. Chris Christie commands a 20-point lead over Democrat state Sen. Barbara Buono among likely voters, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While previous Rutgers-Eagleton Polls had Christie leading by 30 points or more, this is the first poll to focus on November’s most likely voters. Christie now leads Buono, 55 percent to 35 percent, among this group.

“Christie continues to hold a huge lead, although it’s not quite as large among likely voters as it is with registered voters, where he is up 22 points,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “As expected, the race tightened over the summer, with some Democrats coming back to their party’s candidate.”

Regardless of their candidate, most voters say they are unlikely to change their choice between now and Election Day, suggesting relatively little volatility in the race. More than 80 percent of voters, including 68 percent of Buono backers, expect the incumbent to win.

While Christie’s supporters are loyal, Buono’s are focused more on beating the governor. Ninety percent of Christie voters are motivated by support for the governor rather than by opposition to Buono. Sixty percent of Buono voters favor their candidate because they oppose Christie; 39 percent are voting mostly in support of the challenger.

Although likely voters disapprove how Christie has done on such key issues as the state’s economy and taxes, they think he better represents the views of most New Jerseyans on these and other issues. Only on the issue of same-sex marriage do voters think Buono is more representative of the state.

“Christie gains support despite disapproval of his performance on taxes and the economy,” said Redlawsk. “Voters may view him as more in the mainstream than Buono, but more than half of voters don’t know her, which may help to explain these apparent contradictions.”

Results come from a sample of 568 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points. A total of 925 adult New Jerseyans were polled statewide from Sept. 3-9, including both landline and cell phone households. Within this sample are 814 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points, from which the likely voter sample is taken.

Buono solidifies parts of Democratic base, but that’s all

Buono finally has pulled ahead with many of the groups comprising the Democratic base. She now holds significant lead among likely Democratic voters (60 percent to 28 percent) and voters in public union households (53 percent to 34 percent). She holds 43 percent to 41 percent) leads among minority voters and urbanites. Not surprisingly, 83 percent of voters with an unfavorable impression of Christie support her, but Buono wins only 67 percent of those with a favorable impression of her.

Significantly, the challenger is trailing by 12 percentage points among likely women voters, who often vote Democratic. She does much worse among men (down 29 points).

“Senator Buono has definitely made gains where she must, among those who would normally support the Democratic nominee,” said Redlawsk, “but she has still not completely solidified the party base and must still erase her deficit among women to have any chance of closing the gap.”

By contrast, Christie is backed by 92 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of independents Buono gets support from only 24 percent of the latter group. Christie also leads across all age groups, income brackets and education levels, though he is all but tied with Buono among the most educated voters, leading 47 to 46 percent. Voters in households earning less than $50,000 per year are more split than most, favoring Christie by 48 to 41 percent.

“As long as Christie continues to have independent voters all but sewn up, Buono is fighting an uphill battle,” noted Redlawsk. “Improvement with her core constituency is not enough.”

Regardless of their personal choice, large majorities of voters of every stripe say Christie will win again – including Buono supporters and those with a favorable opinion of her (68 percent and 73 percent, respectively), those unfavorable toward Christie (67 percent) and Democrats (78 percent).

Christie better represents New Jersey on most issues

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents said a candidate’s stance on issues was more important than leadership style (25 percent) in determining their vote. Thirteen percent said they are equally important. Fifty-four percent of Christie supporters said issues are most important compared with 72 percent of Buono backers.

Likely voters say Christie’s views are more representative than Buono’s on a range of issues, including New Jersey’s economy and jobs (called by 36 percent the state’s most pressing problem), where he leads 54 percent to 31 percent even though only 42 percent actually approve of Christie’s performance on the economy.

Christie is also viewed as more in line with voters on taxes, the second most important issue, 55 percent to 28 percent. Yet only 36 percent approve Christie’s performance on taxes.

“The results of these questions seem counterintuitive,” said Redlawsk. “Voters disapprove of the job Christie is doing, but they think his position on these issues is more like most of New Jersey.  For Buono, this means that Christie may be largely impervious to issue-based attacks.”

To be expected, Democrats are more likely to say Buono better represents the state on the economy and jobs, but only by 14 points; 35 percent say Christie better reflects what voters want. Republicans are more unified: 84 percent say Christie is more in line with the state, while only 8 percent choose Buono. Similarly on taxes, 46 percent of Democrats pick Buono, while 35 percent pick Christie. Among Republicans, the margin is 85 percent Christie to 7 percent Buono.

Christie also is seen more representative of New Jersey on other issues including gun control by a margin of 13 points, and health care and education, both by 3 points.

Voters do recognize that Buono as more in line with the state on same-sex marriage, where previous Rutgers-Eagleton Polls have shown majority support for allowing gay couples to marry. A majority of likely voters (51 percent) sees Buono as representative of New Jerseyans on this issue, while only 23 percent pick Christie.

Gubernatorial election is more interesting than senatorial

While just 24 percent of registered voters are following the special U.S. Senate election between Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan “very closely,” 34 percent are paying very close attention the gubernatorial race. Another 34 percent are following it “fairly closely.” Interest in the election has climbed over the past few months; a June Rutgers-Eagleton Poll showed only 20 percent of registered voters were following the race very closely.

Reflecting Christie’s status as incumbent and clear leader, likely Republican voters are paying far closer attention to this race than they are to the Senate race, where Democrat Booker holds a large lead. Among likely Republicans, 45 percent are following Christie’s re-election campaign very closely, while only 31 percent of likely Senate Republican voters say the same about that race. But Democrats are following both elections equally, with about 47 percent following both races very closely.

“This difference in attention may well explain why the gap between Lonegan and Booker has grown larger than the Buono-Christie difference,” said Redlawsk. “Republicans are just not that focused on the Senate, while Democrats claim they are focused on both.”

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CHRISTIE MAINTAINS HIGH RATINGS, BUT VOTERS STILL DISAPPROVE OF HIS PERFORMANCE ON TOP PROBLEMS

Today we look at how Gov. Chris Christie’s doing in the eyes of NJ registered voters on the heels of his first TV ad of the campaign. Yes, we know. You want to know what the Governor’s race looks like; who’s winning, and by how much. Well, that will come Monday. First we like to set the stage with contextual information, which we get from asking a series of questions about Christie and about his Democratic challenger state Sen. Barbara Buono.

For both candidates, we ask whether voters have a “favorable” or “unfavorable” impression. This question gives us a sense of name recognition, and the overall feelings people have about politicians. We actually ask this question for many political figures, but today we focus on the governor, the challenger, and their two running mates.

Since Gov. Christie is the incumbent, we also ask voters to rate his job performance. We have taken to doing this several ways. First, we ask an overall “job approval” question. Then we ask about approval of Christie’s performance on a set of key issues. Finally, we also ask voters to give him an overall grade on a scale from A to F. This gives us lots of different ways to think about how voters view the governor.

The short story today: Christie’s ratings remain very strong overall, even though some of what we expected to be inevitable slippage is occurring. And as for Buono, well, half of NJ voters still have no impression of her, favorable or unfavorable. More interesting perhaps, is that the trend we found several months ago for Christie approval is still holding, that is, voters give him high overall ratings, but disapprove of his performance on what they say are the most important problems facing the state: the economy and taxes.

Today’s release reports on registered voters. On Monday, when we release our head-to-head numbers on the governor’s race, we will again look at “likely voters.” More on this then.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.

CHRISTIE MAINTAINS HIGH RATINGS, BUT VOTERS STILL DISAPPROVE OF HIS PERFORMANCE ON TOP PROBLEMS

 More than half of voters continue to express no opinion on Buono

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – A year after his response to Hurricane Sandy sent Gov. Chris Christie’s ratings into record territory, a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds New Jersey registered voters continue to embrace him, if not quite as strongly. Christie’s 66 percent positive job rating remains the envy of most politicians, even though it has dropped four points since June. During the same period, disapproval of Christie has increased six points to 31 percent, still well below its pre-Sandy highs.

“It was inevitable that the governor’s ratings would drop from their high point during the run-up to an election, but Christie continues to bask in broad support,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University.

Even as voters continue to report strong general approval of Christie’s performance, they also pan his specific efforts on the economy and taxes, seen as the two most important issues facing the state. Only 42 percent approve of Christie’s handling of the economy and jobs, unchanged since June, but the 34 percent approval of his performance on taxes is a seven-point decline over that period. Regardless, disapproval of specific issues is not significantly affecting overall voter support for Christie.

While 60 percent feel favorable toward the governor and only 32 percent hold an unfavorable impression, favorability has dipped four points since June. “Voters continue to like him,” noted Redlawsk. “He’s seen in such a positive light and is able to overcome disapproval on individual issues.”

Democratic challenger state Sen. Barbara Buono does not benefit much from any Christie ratings slippage. More than half of voters still do not know or have an impression of her, even after a summer of campaigning. However, among those with an impression, her favorability has improved five points

to 27 percent; her unfavorability has dropped two points since June to 22 percent.

Neither candidate’s running mate is well known. Among respondents, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is viewed favorably by a 2 to 1 margin, but 71 percent have no opinion. Milly Silva, Buono’s running mate, fares even worse: 79 percent of voters have no opinion of her, 13 percent feel unfavorable and only 9 percent are favorable.

Results are from a poll of 925 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Sept 3-9. The subsample of 814 registered voters reported on here has a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Governor’s popularity dips on specific issues

Christie’s overall 60 percent favorability is driven by 64 percent of independents and 87 percent of Republicans. Democrats are slightly negative now: 43 percent favorable to 47 percent unfavorable.

On job performance, half of Democrats approve of the governor, down six points from June, while 89 percent of Republicans approve, up two points. Independents are slightly more negative: their approval has dropped seven points to 70 percent. Overall, Christie’s job grade also has declined five points since June. Now, 53 percent award him a grade of A or B.

“These ratings are very good, and most would be happy to have them, despite some slippage.  As we pass the Sandy one-year mark and enter the final two months of the campaign, other issues are becoming more visible. But so far Christie’s support is holding up exceedingly well,” said Redlawsk.

Christie’s post-Sandy efforts continue to drive his overall approval, with 79 percent approving the job he is doing on Sandy recovery. Approval cuts across party lines. Those personally affected by the storm also approve overwhelmingly.

Christie’s performance on other issues, however, fails to top 50 percent. This is especially true on voters’ most important issues, the economy and taxes, where partisanship runs deep. Just over one-third call the economy and jobs important, while another 26 percent name taxes, followed by education at 13 percent.

Only 35 percent of those who chose the economy and jobs as most important approve of Christie’s performance on the issue. While 60 percent of Republicans approve of the governor’s performance on the economy, 58 percent of Democrats disapprove.

Attitudes towards taxes are similar. Among those whose main concern is taxes, only 33 percent approve of Christie’s handling of the issue, and 68 percent of Democrats disapprove. A bare majority of Republicans approve of his performance on taxes and independents are slightly more likely to disapprove than approve of Christie’s job performance on both issues: 54 percent disapprove on the economy and jobs, and 57 percent on taxes.

Support of Christie’s performance on education has remained steady since June: 44 percent of all voters approve and 49 percent disapprove. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to back the governor. Independents are slightly more likely to disapprove than approve. Among the 13 percent of voters who call education the state’s most pressing problem, 88 percent disapprove of Christie’s performance and only 8 percent are positive.

Christie does slightly better with voters on crime and drugs: 49 percent approve and 33 percent disapprove of his approach and 18 percent are unsure.  Democrats are more split, 41 percent approving and 40 percent disapproving. Sixty percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents approve.

Christie also does fairly well on the state budget. Almost half (47 percent) approve of his performance, compared to 42 percent who disapprove and 11 percent who are unsure. Republicans, by nearly 2 to 1 (70 percent to 37 percent), are much more likely to back Christie’s work.

“Now, as in June, Christie’s ratings on these ‘most important problems’ are nowhere near as positive as his overall ratings,” said Redlawsk. “The force of Christie’s personality and his Sandy performance appear to override significant disapproval on key issues.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, despite serving at Christie’s side the past four years, remains virtually unknown by the general public. Fully 71 percent of registered voters have no impression of her. Of those who do, favorable views prevail by a 2 to 1 margin. Not surprisingly, Republicans are the most favorable (26 percent versus 8 percent unfavorable), but even Democrats are more favorable than unfavorable, 16 percent to 9 percent.

Lack of name recognition plagues Buono

Despite increased media coverage and earning more attention in the spring, Buono gained little name recognition over the summer. As the campaign enters its final months, 51 percent of voters have no impression of the Democrat, a three-point improvement since June. More important, half of all Democrats don’t know or have no opinion of the candidate. Among those with an impression, 40 percent are favorable and 10 percent are unfavorable.

Even more independent voters (53 percent) have no impression of the challenger, and among those who do, 26 are unfavorable and 20 percent favorable. Among the half of Republicans with an opinion, most (38 percent) are unfavorable.

“This lack of name recognition greatly hampers Buono’s chances,” said Redlawsk, “and given the cost of buying media in New Jersey and her relative lack of funding so far, improving her standing will be difficult. Even with improved favorability, it’s simply not yet enough to overcome Christie’s built-in advantages.”

Voters in public employee union households are most likely to know Buono, but even among this key Democratic constituency, 40 percent profess to have no opinion about her. Among those who do, 39 percent are favorable, but 21 percent are unfavorable

Buono’s running mate, Milly Silva, is even less known to voters and to her own party as well.  Eighty-one percent of Democrats have no impression of her, while 14 percent view her favorably and 5 percent unfavorably. Only 6 percent of independents have a favorable impression of Silva; 16 percent are unfavorable, and the rest report no impression at all. More Republicans have an impression of Silva, but they are overwhelmingly negative: 5 percent favorable versus 22 percent unfavorable.

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LIKELY VOTERS GIVE BOOKER LARGE LEAD, MOST EXPECT HIM TO WIN; LONEGAN WIDELY UNKNOWN

We start this next round of polling results with the upcoming special U.S. Senate election, to be held on October 16. The candidates are Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan. It has been less than a month since the primary election that made both their party’s nominee, though neither had much trouble winning their respective primaries. Turnout in the Democratic primary surprised most observers, with more than 20% of Democrats going to the polls, much higher than expected. Republican turnout was quite low, however. Perhaps this reflected a less competitive Republican primary, or maybe a lack of enthusiasm for Lonegan. Hard to tell. But in our first post-primary head-to-head test of the two candidates, less than strong Republican numbers suggest it might have been the latter.

Booker holds on to 93% of Democrats, with only 3% of Democrats crossing over to support Lonegan. But nearly one in five Republicans says they will vote for Booker. Given this, along with strong registered voter advantage Democrats hold and a solid showing among independents, Booker now holds a large 64% – 29% lead among the likely Senate voters in our sample. Is the race really that lopsided? Or are we reflecting a couple bad media weeks for Lonegan including the Tweet by one of his staff of a racially insensitive map of Newark and Lonegan’s recent questions about Booker’s masculinity. Neither has created a positive image for the Republican. In fact, his core problem could be he has no image at all among a majority of likely voters, and among those with an impression, half are positive and half are negative. Meanwhile, ratings of Booker are overwhelmingly positive among likely voters.

One thing of note in this likely voter sample – it is very Democratic, in fact 23 points more Democrat than Republican. We don’t weight likely voter samples to party registration, so this is what we actually found in our polling. This matters, given that nearly all Democrats say they will vote for Booker. Obviously the more Democrats who make it through the likely voter screen the better the result for Booker. So we took a look to see what would happen if the sample were less Democratic, say 40% Democrat and 22% Republican, that is, 18 points more Democratic than Republican instead of 23 points. Assuming nothing else changed, we’d find a 30 point lead for Booker. No matter how we slice the sample Booker is doing very well. It would take a massive Republican turnout assumption to change this right now.

A note about likely voters in this poll. It is difficult to figure out who will show up for a special election on a Wednesday in mid-October. In the end we decided on three simple screens: when the respondent last voted (this year, last year, somewhere in the past before that), how closely they are following the senate election, and self-stated likelihood of voting in the senate election. These three questions result in a 0-10 scale; we have somewhat arbitrarily decided that those scoring 7 or higher are likely voters. This gives us 462 LVs in a sample of 814 registered voters. As it turns out it doesn’t make a lot of difference where we set the cutoff, so this seems reasonable.

The text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release text with questions and tables.

LIKELY VOTERS GIVE BOOKER LARGE LEAD, MOST EXPECT HIM TO WIN; LONEGAN WIDELY UNKNOWN

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – With just over five weeks until the Oct. 16 special U.S. Senate election, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has opened a large lead over former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of likely voters support Booker, 29 percent plan to vote for Lonegan and 6 percent are undecided.

Most likely voters think Booker, a Democrat, will win – including Republicans and Lonegan voters. And in a campaign where the candidates disagree on almost everything, solid majorities in both camps say candidate’s issue positions are more important than leadership style.

As in the primary, Booker benefits from name recognition supported by his positive impression on most voters; 63 percent (versus 19 percent unfavorable), have a favorable impression of Booker, while 17 percent are neutral or simply do not know him. Lonegan, however, leaves no impression with more than half of likely voters. Among those with an impression, 22 percent are favorable and 22 percent are unfavorable.

The special election is drawing modest attention among registered voters: just over half claim they are following the election at least fairly closely with about a quarter giving it close attention. Just under 60 percent of registered voters say they are very likely to vote in the October election.

“Booker appears to be building an insurmountable lead,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “While special elections are notoriously hard to predict, given uncertainties about turnout, Booker’s name recognition, celebrity-type status and stances on issues that align more with New Jersey’s ‘blue’ political climate seem to be driving momentum toward him and away from Lonegan. On top of that the Republican’s most recent news highlights attacking Booker’s masculinity have been quite unflattering.”

Results come from a sample of 462 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points. All totaled, 925 New Jersey adults were polled statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Sept. 3-9. Within this adult sample are 814 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points, from which the likely voter sample is taken.

Booker’s lead wide across the board

Booker’s double-digit advantage over Lonegan is driven by overwhelming support from his own party base and independents. More than 90 percent of likely Democratic voters back Booker, compared to only three-quarters of likely Republican voters who support Lonegan. Among independents, Booker holds a 52 percent to 38 percent lead. Booker even captures 19 percent of the Republican vote while Lonegan peels off only 3 percent of Democrats.

“The nearly unanimous party support is a key for Booker,” said Redlawsk. “Democrats seem motivated in this election, and may even be more likely to turn out than Republicans, who are much more split on their candidate.”

Booker handily leads across virtually all demographic groups. He especially wins over likely women voters by a huge margin, 73 percent to 21 percent. Likely male voters show a tighter race – 55 percent for Booker to 37 percent for Lonegan. Booker takes a commanding lead with minority voters, as well as younger voters and urbanites.

Booker also gets favorable ratings from some who do not plan to vote for him, but most with a favorable impression support him. Lonegan also gets majority support from those with a favorable impression of him. The problem is there are many fewer of these voters. Moreover, a quarter of those who like Lonegan still plan to vote for Booker, and Booker overwhelmingly wins the large number who have no opinion of Lonegan.

Voters paying some attention

A majority of all registered voters are paying some attention to the Senate race; 24 percent are watching it very closely and 32 percent fairly closely. But 44 percent are paying little attention and are not likely to vote. Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to be following the campaign very closely. Booker wins two-thirds of registered voters paying very close attention but only leads 52 to 27 percent among those paying just some attention. Lonegan’s battle will be uphill even if most registered voters show up. Among those with any chance of voting, Booker still holds an almost insurmountable 59 percent to 26 percent lead. Increasing turnout does not seem likely to pay off for Lonegan, at least right now, noted Redlawsk.

Most voters say issues are key

More than 60 percent of all likely voters say that a candidate’s stance on issues is more important than leadership style. Men are nine points more likely than women to prefer issues over style, though a solid majority of both genders call issues more important. Regardless, Booker wins among both groups: those who favor issues and those who vote for style.

About 80% percent of likely voters expect Booker to win, no matter their personal preference.  Sixty-four percent of Republicans, 60 percent of conservatives, and 69 percent of those favoring Lonegan believe Booker will win the special Senate election. Every demographic group believes the odds are against Lonegan.

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Filed under 2013 NJ Election, Cory Booker, NJ Senate 2013 Special Election, NJ Voters, Steve Lonegan

Welcome to a New Academic Year

As an academic survey research center, we tend to operate on a September to June schedule, with fewer things going on in July and August.  But now that September is well underway, we are also. Later this week we will release our first polling of the post-Labor Day election environment, both for the U.S. Senate special election in October and the Nov. Governor’s race. As always, we not only ask the “usual” head-to-head questions, but we try to drill down further to understand what New Jerseyans are thinking about the elections and other important issues facing the state. It should be an interesting fall, so stay tuned!

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