Category Archives: Sheila Oliver

On to the NJ Special Senate General Election!

OK, so let me start by admitting I was wrong. About what, you ask? Well, along with virtually every other pundit in the state, we here at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll expected turnout in the special Senate primary to be abysmal, if even that. The primary was being held with little lead time, in the middle of August, when everyone it seems is down the shore. Moreover, both Republicans and Democrats appeared to have essentially uncompetitive races. And of course, turnout in primaries is generally low anyway. All of this combined to assure us that we’d see record low turnout.

Well, mea culpa. Though I suppose we were half right. Republican turnout looks to have been about 130,000 voters out of around 1.085 million registered Republicans, or about 12%. That’s pretty bad, by any standard. Democrats, though, nearly doubled this, with more than 350,000 showing up to vote, out of just under 1.8 million, or right around 20%. Now 20% might not seem like much, but it is a far cry from the anticipated “no one will vote” story.

The winners were Steve Lonegan, with 79% of the vote (with 98% of precincts reporting,) and Cory Booker with 59%. In both cases, the winners out performed the few polls that were out, but to be fair, Quinnipiac’s last poll was pretty close on both sides. For the Democrats, whether it’s that the 9% “undecideds” in that poll went more for Booker than any other candidate or that (more likely in my mind) undecideds didn’t actually show up and Booker had a better turnout operation than the others, Quinnipiac did a good job of what we thought would be a very difficult task: identifying likely voters. Also, the Monmouth poll done earlier suggested in their likely voter screen that turnout could range between 200,000 and 400,000 Democrats – with that high end seeming pretty unlikely. Yet, in fact, Democratic turnout was closer to the high than the low end.

We had decided not to poll because we were very uncertain about our likely voter model in this context; apparently the primary voters who turned out looked a lot like any likely primary voters, despite the oddity of an August primary. Most likely this is due as much to Cory Booker’s ground operation as the support for Frank Pallone and Rush Holt within their own Congressional Districts (both appear to have basically won their district.) [correction: the Star Ledger reported on Aug. 15 that Booker appears to have narrowly won in Holt’s district while Pallone did indeed win his.]

This morning, I did a quick and dirty look at Democratic turnout by county. Some interesting results:  (All Senate election and turnout numbers from Registered voter numbers come from the state Board of Elections.)

Top 5 counties:  Mercer, 26%; Monmouth, 25%; Essex, 23%; Hunterdon, 23; Somerset, 23%.

Of these, Holt won 2 (Mercer and Hunterdon) and Pallone won one (Monmouth). Booker handily won Essex with 67% and got 53% in Somerset. The problem for both Pallone and Holt is that they won (or did best in) counties with many fewer Democrats than Booker, who, not surprisingly won overwhelmingly in the Democrat-rich counties of Essex, Bergen, and Hudson, even though turnout in the latter two was at or below the state average. Booker didn’t need a massive turnout percentage there to win, just lots of votes. Essex itself, for example, has more Democrats than Mercer and Monmouth combined.

Some other interesting things that reinforce the local aspect of politics. First, Middlesex, with about the same number of Democrats as Bergen (both about 50,000 Democrats behind Essex) had 22% turnout, but a true three-way race, with Booker at 38%, Pallone at 33% and Holt at 25%. Of course both Pallone and Holt both represent parts of Middlesex, accounting for their much stronger showing than in most of the rest of the state.

Booker got less than 50% in only 6 counties: Warren, Ocean, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Hunterdon. Of these Pallone represents parts of Monmouth and Middlesex, and Holt has parts of Mercer, Middlesex and Hunterdon. Where they knew them, voters preferred Pallone or Holt, otherwise Booker’s wider recognition and celebrity status no doubt played a role in burying both Congressmen.

Also, for all the early news reports of “vote by mail” efforts in Camden county supposedly orchestrated by the Booker campaign, Camden turnout was the lowest in the state, at 11.3% with just over 15,000 reported Democratic votes. However, as of this writing, voters are reported from only 82% of precincts (compared to 98% of the state) so the numbers in Camden are no doubt higher, but will still most likely put it in the bottom 5 of turnout. But what Camden really has in common with other southern counties is that all of the candidates came from central or north Jersey. And for the most part, the turnout percentages reflect that.

Bottom 5 counties:  Camden, 11%; Gloucester, 12%; Salem, 13%; Cumberland, 13%; Warren, 14%/

Where the candidates live, and are better known, voters were simply much more likely to show up. No great surprise, perhaps, but interesting none the less.

So on to the special Senate general election on Wednesday October 16. Given the primary turnout, perhaps we should be more upbeat about turnout for that election. On the other hand, if the initial polling is right (and we suspect it is) then this will be a snoozer of a race, with Booker handily beating Lonegan. Doesn’t mean the campaign won’t be interesting; with Lonegan in it, it is likely to have at least some fireworks. But turnout for October? Who knows. But regardless, Rutgers-Eagleton will be polling this one, with out first poll on the race due out in early September. Watch for it!


Filed under 2013 NJ Election, Cory Booker, Frank Pallone, NJ Senate 2013 Special Election, NJ Voters, Rush Holt, Sheila Oliver

(Not) Polling the NJ Special Senate Primaries

We noticed some recent polls by our friends at Monmouth and Quinnipiac on the upcoming August 13 special US Senate Primary here in NJ. These polls show overwhelming leads for Newark Mayor Cory Booker and (in Quinnipiac’s poll only) Republican Steve Lonegan. It would appear both will coast to easy primary victories, and face off in the October 16 special election.

Or will they? Our take here at Eagleton is we simply don’t know. Monmouth’s poll is probably as good as it gets right now, in that they polled using a “listed” sample, rather than the typical random digit dial sample. They used the list of registered NJ Democratic voters, and looked at turnout history (which many people are surprised to find is public information.) Given the unprecedented nature of this primary – being held in the middle of August when half the state is probably down the shore – about the only way to really get a sense of who might vote is to look at who regularly votes in primaries and talk only to those people. These are unusual people – turning out in primaries on a regular basis – who are clearly committed to the process. So if anyone will turn out in August, they will.

But will they? In the end we just don’t know. Unless there is a significant effort by the campaigns to get people to vote absentee – by mail – if they will be out of town, it’s clearly a crapshoot guessing who will vote. Monmouth says they “screened for likelihood of voting in the upcoming August special primary.” But they don’t seem to say how they did this screening, unless it was the one question about awareness of the primary that they released. Frankly, awareness matters, but it is probably not an adequate screening tool. Monmouth notes that their screening suggests a relatively high level of turnout, towards 400,000 Democrats, about 22% of all Democrats. Consider that in 2008 just over 340,000 Democrats voted in the contested regular Senate primary. Much lower turnout seems likely in August 2013.

Here at Rutgers-Eagleton we have made the decision not to poll the primary. The reality is that it is expensive to do polls, and we need to conserve resources for the two fall elections – the October special Senate general and the regular November general. But we are also guided by the simple fact that we could not come up with a way to identify “likely” August voters, no matter how hard we thought about it.  It may be that the likely screen is not that critical; that Booker has such an overwhelming lead that any polling will more or less get the winner right. But it could also be that his opponents will be much more effective at turning out their supporters at this odd time of year, than seems likely right now. In any case, from our perspective, polling this race may well result in misleading information on its status, and probably will not add any real useful information that would be worth dedicating some of our limited resources, when there will be so many other things to look at this fall.

So we wish Monmouth and Quinnipiac well on their efforts, and we’re glad someone is about to be out there doing it.


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Filed under 2013 NJ Election, Cory Booker, Frank Pallone, NJ Senate 2013 Special Election, NJ Voters, Rush Holt, Sheila Oliver