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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.”