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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Tight Race in New Jersey’s Third District

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The election for New Jersey's 3 rd  Congressional District is tight, according to the Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll .  More voters approve than disapprove of the job freshman Congressman John Adler is doing, but enough voters are looking for change in Washington that challenger Jon Runyan is within striking distance.

With five weeks to go before Election Day, the poll of likely voters found the incumbent with a narrow lead within the poll's margin of error - 42% for Democrat Adler to 39% for Republican Runyan, with 13% undecided.  Adler leads by 48% to 35% in the Burlington and Camden Counties portion of the district, while Runyan has a 44% to 34% advantage among Ocean County voters.

Another 4% of likely voters in New Jersey's 3 rd District indicate that they will vote for self-styled "NJ Tea Party" candidate Pete DeStefano and 2% say they will vote for one of the other candidates on the ballot.

"We specifically identified DeStefano as the Tea Party candidate in our poll, but it looks like word is out that Runyan is the preferred choice among recognized Tea Party groups.   DeStefano will be a factor only if the margin of victory comes down to a few thousand votes.  And that could very well happen if these numbers hold up on November 2," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Despite the closeness of the race, Adler actually earns positive job performance ratings from likely voters in his district - 49% approve to 34% disapprove.  But voters are split on whether they want a candidate who can bring about needed change (42%) or a candidate who has the experience to get things done (41%).  When asked which party they would like to see in control of Congress next year, though, 42% pick the Republicans compared to 33% who would stick with the Democrats.  Another 21% say it wouldn't make a difference which party controls Congress.

Only 42% of likely voters have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party in general compared to 50% who have an unfavorable view.  The Republican Party fares slightly better - 45% favorable to 45% unfavorable.

"Our statewide polling of all registered voters has found little partisan preference when it comes to Congressional leadership.  However, those who are most likely to turn out in this district demonstrate a decided, although not particularly enthusiastic, Republican tilt," said Murray.

Both candidates garner more positive than negative personal ratings - 45% favorable to 26% unfavorable for Adler and 35% favorable to 23% unfavorable for Runyan.  It's important to note that a good chunk (43%) of the likely electorate in this district have no opinion of the GOP challenger, which suggests there is room for that opinion to move.

Moving this opinion is precisely what the Adler campaign has been trying to do with ads that paint his opponent as an out-of-touch tax dodger.  The Runyan camp has responded by tying the incumbent to unpopular House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Overall, more voters characterize the tone of this race as being negative (45%) rather than positive (36%).  Among those who feel the campaign has gotten nasty, 50% say both candidates have been equally negative, while 29% blame Adler more and 14% point the finger at Runyan.

The issues that preoccupy 3 rd  District voters most include the economy and jobs (46%), health care including the Obama health care plan (31%) and state (22%) and federal taxes (19%).  Voters are split on who would do a better job on creating jobs - 38% for Adler to 35% for Runyan - and health care - 38% for Adler to 37% for Runyan.  But when it comes to taxes and spending, Runyan (42%) has a clear advantage over Adler (32%).

"It's hardly a coincidence that Adler is leading the charge of dissident Democrats to extend the Bush tax cuts," said Murray.

Neither candidate has an edge on national security (34% Runyan to 33% Adler), while Adler holds a 43% to 30% advantage on the generic "help New Jersey families" metric.

New Jersey's 3 rd  Congressional District includes a number of military bases, making veterans' issues a major part of this race - nearly 4-in-10 likely voters in this district live in a veteran household.  Among this group of voters, Adler (43%) is seen as a better choice than Runyan (24%) when it comes specifically to handling veterans' issues.  Despite this, the Republican holds statistically insignificant edge when it comes to the actual vote intention of these veteran household voters - 41% for Runyan to 39% for Adler.

Undecided Voters

There are a number of crosscurrents in this race in determining which way undecided voters will eventually go.  On one hand, they seem to have opinions that favor Jon Runyan.  For example, they value change (53%) over experience (34%), are more likely to prefer GOP rather than Democrat control of Congress (41% to 18%), and have a negative view of the Democratic Party in general (32% favorable to 55% unfavorable).  On the other hand, they tend to give John Adler good marks for his job performance (42% approve to 28% disapprove) and know little about the GOP challenger (71% have no opinion).

"There's no question that this race is far from over right now.  But some strategically placed advertising can change this dynamic considerably," said Murray.

The Tea Party

The poll results indicate that Pete DeStefano, labeled as the "NJ Tea Party" candidate on the ballot, is not having a sizable impact in this race.  When his supporters are asked which of the two main party candidates they lean toward, Runyan picks up 2 points and Alder picks up 1 on the vote choice question - which is not large enough to be statistically meaningful in this poll.

Voters in this district are divided on the Tea Party movement as a whole - 37% have a favorable opinion, 42% have an unfavorable one, and 21% have no opinion.  Looking at this opinion by vote intention, 68% of Runyan voters have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party, whereas 76% of Adler voters have an unfavorable one.  Undecided voters are split 34% favorable to 33% unfavorable.

The New Jersey Tea Party will be sponsoring a rally with Fox News host Glenn Beck this weekend at the Great Adventure theme park, which is located just over the border of this district. Likely voters in New Jersey's 3 rd are more likely to say that these types of rallies improve the state of politics and government in this country (38%) than say they make things worse (27%).  Another 25% feel these events have no impact on the state of our political discourse.

Other Political Figures

President Barack Obama has an upside down 44% approve to 48% disapprove job performance rating among likely voters in New Jersey's 3 rd Congressional District.  Governor Chris Christie, on the other hand, has a very strong 61% approve to 30% disapprove rating with this specific electorate.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll  was conducted by telephone with 400 likely voters from September 24 to 28, 2010.  This sample has a margin of error of ±  4.9 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the New Jersey Press Media newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).

The questions referred to in this release are as follows:

1.      If the election for U.S. Congress in your district was held today, would you vote for Jon Runyan the Republican, John Adler the Democrat, Pete DeStefano the Tea Party candidate, or some other candidate?  [At this moment do you lean more towards Runyan or more towards Adler?]   [RUNYAN & ADLER NAMES WERE ROTATED]

2.      Do you approve or disapprove of the job John Adler is doing as your congressman?

[QUESTIONS 3 AND 4 WERE ROTATED]

3.      Is your general impression of Jon Runyan favorable or unfavorable, or don’t you really have an opinion?

4.      Is your general impression of John Adler favorable or unfavorable, or don’t you really have an opinion?

5.      What are the two or three most important issues in determining how you will vote for Congress? [Note: List was not read.  Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted] 

6.      Regardless of which congressional candidate you support, please tell me tell me if you think Jon Runyan or John Adler would better handle each of the following issues.  [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]

         - Helping New Jersey families

         - Keeping taxes and spending under control

         - Protecting national security

         - Doing the right thing on health care

         - Creating jobs

         - Helping veterans

7.      What quality is more important: a candidate who is able to bring about change – OR – a candidate who has the experience to get things done? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]

8.      So far, would you characterize this race as being generally positive or negative?

[Question 9 was asked of those that said “Negative” or “Both”:  moe=+/-6.8%]

9.      Who has been more negative – Runyan, Adler, or both equally?

10.    Would you rather see the Democrats or Republicans in control of Congress next year, or doesn’t it make a difference?

[QUESTIONS 11, 12 AND 13 WERE ROTATED]

11.    Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the Democratic Party?

12.    Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the Republican Party?

13.    Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the Tea Party movement?

[QUESTIONS 14 AND 15 WERE ROTATED]

14.    Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president?

15.    Do you approve or disapprove of the job Chris Christie is doing as governor of New Jersey?

16.    The New Jersey Tea Party will be sponsoring a rally with Glenn Beck at Great Adventure next Saturday.  Have your heard about this event, or not?

17.    Do these types of rallies improve the state of politics and government in this country, do they make things worse, or do they have no impact?

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute on September 24-28, 2010 with a random sample of 400 likely voters in New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district.  The sample was drawn from a list of registered voters who cast ballots in at least two of the last four general elections and further screened for those who say they are either “certain” or “very likely” to vote on November 2.  Sampling and live telephone interviewing services were provided by Braun Research, Inc. 

For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.  Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups, such as separate figures reported by gender or party identification, are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample.  In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.  

Download this Poll Report with all tables

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