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.