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Exit Poll: Negative Ads

The following analysis of the National Election Pool/Edison Research exit poll was provided for NJN News and the Gannett New Jersey Newspapers:

While the election outcome was decided by a few percentage points, Jon Corzine clearly lost the contest for Miss Congeniality. Nearly 3-in-4 (73%) New Jersey voters leaving the polls said the incumbent had unfairly attacked his main opponent during the campaign. By comparison, 62% of voters said Chris Christie launched unfair attacks against his chief rival. These results take into account the fact that 52% of voters felt that both candidates launched unfair attacks. Only 11% said that neither candidate was unfair in their attacks.

“New Jersey voters have grown accustomed to negative campaigns, but this certainly ranks among the worst,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute and exit polling analyst for NJN News and Gannett New Jersey. “It’s rare that with so much at stake for voters, the candidates avoided any real policy debate and decided to take this campaign so deep into the mud.”

Corzine voters were more likely than Christie supporters to say that their own chosen candidate was unfair in his attacks. Specifically, 78% of Corzine voters said that Christie unfairly attacked their man, but 62% also said that their candidate launched his share of unjust assaults. This is a markedly different opinion from Christie voters, nearly all of whom – 90% – said that Corzine was unfair to the Republican, but just 51% felt that their candidate also participated in the mudslinging.

Among those voters who felt that both major party candidates were unfair in their attacks, 47% eventually went for Corzine, 44% for Christie, and 8% voted for Daggett.

While tens of millions of dollars was spent on advertising – negative or otherwise – in this campaign, few voters say that such ads figured heavily into their vote. Just 23% said that the content of campaign ads was an important factor in their vote for governor, 24% said it was a minor factor, and 47% said the ads were not a factor at all in how they voted.

Among those who said campaign advertising was important to their vote choice, 50% went for Corzine, 43% chose Christie, and 5% voted for Daggett.

“While most New Jersey voters told us that they tuned out the campaign ads, there is no way of knowing exactly how much of those negative messages seeped into their consciousness and affected their votes,” said Murray.