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Gubernatorial Grudge Match Ahead

Friday, Jan. 16, 2009

Corzine-Christie a tight race in the early days Economy & property taxes top voters’ priorities


Let the games begin!  Governor Corzine gave his re-election year State of the State address on Tuesday.  It came a week after the GOP establishment’s favored candidate, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, threw his hat in the ring.  The latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll provides both good news and bad news for the two, as well as for the other potential contenders.

Governor Corzine starts 2009 with a 43% approve to 40% disapprove job rating among Garden State voters.  While these numbers are not stellar, it marks the first time his job ratings have been in net positive territory in more than a year.  His job numbers went south – 42% to 46% – after last January’s State of the State speech when he unveiled his highly unpopular toll hike plan.  They bottomed out at 34% approve to 55% disapprove in March 2008, and held steadily negative through the summer and fall.

This year, the governor’s State of the State laid out more modest plans, with the emphasis on the economy as his top priority for the coming year.  The voters agree with Corzine – about half name either the economic downturn (35%) or jobs (19%) as the issue they most want to hear the gubernatorial candidates address this year.  However, New Jersey voters are also likely to say that they want the candidates to explain what they are going to do about property taxes (38%).

“Property tax reform remains the sleeping giant in New Jersey, and it is inextricably tied to the economy.  When you ask the typical homeowner how state government can help ease their economic pain, the first response is to lower property taxes,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Education (18%) and health care (14%) are among other issues mentioned by Garden State voters as important in this year’s election.

Looking ahead to potential November match-ups, Chris Christie starts the year as the strongest likely challenger to the incumbent.  Currently, Jon Corzine holds a negligible 38% to 36% lead over Christie among the state’s registered voters.   The two-point gap between Corzine and Christie in early voter preferences is little different than how the incumbent fares against a generic challenger.  In a match-up between Corzine and “another Republican candidate,” Corzine is preferred by 36% to 32%.

“Compared to other potential GOP nominees, Chris Christie enters the race with comparatively high name recognition and generally favorable voter opinion, but he still has a way to go to break beyond the support a typical Republican would get in the state,” said Murray.

The poll found that the other announced and potential Republican candidates fare slightly worse than Christie in hypothetical match-ups with the incumbent governor.  Currently, voters prefer Jon Corzine over former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan by 45% to 29%; over Assemblyman Rick Merkt by 41% to 27%; and over Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine by 44% to 27%.

While the GOP nomination for governor is by no means a foregone conclusion, Chris Christie starts the race for the June primary as the strongest candidate among Republican voters in the state.  The former U.S. Attorney has name recognition among more than 8-in-10 Republican voters, and nearly all of those voters have a favorable opinion of him – 69% compared to only 3% who are unfavorable.  By comparison, Lonegan, who garnered 8% of the primary vote when he ran for governor in 2005 – is known to 43% of Republican voters, including 18% who have a favorable opinion and 9% with an unfavorable opinion of him.  Only 1-in-4 GOP voters say they recognize the name of Merkt (23%) or Levine (28%).

– Corzine vs. Christie on the Issues –

Although Chris Christie’s announcement-via-email last week was a bit anti-climactic, his entry into the field was certainly one of the most highly anticipated events for New Jersey’s political class.  However, aside from his tenure as a corruption-busting U.S. Attorney, his record and stance on other important issues has yet to be articulated.  The poll asked some benchmark questions to see how Christie matches up against Jon Corzine on a number of key issues prior to the official unveiling of his platform.

Not surprisingly, Christie has the clear advantage over the incumbent when it comes reducing corruption – 43% of voters say Christie would do a better job of this compared to 25% who pick Corzine on this issue.

On the other hand, the incumbent has a clear 39% to 29% advantage on the issue of education.  Corzine also has a smaller 38% to 33% advantage over Christie on the top voter concern – the economy.  However this issue advantage shrinks to a negligible 30% to 29% among independent voters.

The two are basically tied on handling the state budget – 37% prefer Corzine on this issue to 34% who say Christie would do a better job.

The New Jersey electorate is also split on who is better able to handle the property tax issue – 36% say it’s Christie to 32% who prefer Corzine.  However, among the state’s independent voter group, Christie starts the campaign with a sizeable 37% to 23% edge over Corzine on this other top issue.

“It’s very interesting that while Chris Christie has yet to articulate a property tax plan, many voters are already inclined to believe that whatever he has in mind has got to be better than the current administration,” said Murray.

– Emails, the Death Penalty, and W –

No Garden State election campaign is complete without its share of negative attacks on wedge issues.  The poll tested a number of possible messages that could be used against this year’s main contenders.

On Monday, a state appeals court ruled that Governor Corzine does not have to release his email correspondence with Carla Katz, his former girlfriend and state union local president.  Two-thirds (67%) of New Jersey voters are aware of this issue – up from the 55% who heard about it when the story first broke in summer 2007.  While the court declared that the emails are protected by the governor’s executive privilege, fully 6-in-10 voters (61%) say Corzine should release the emails “in order to clear the air.”  Only 29% say he should keep them private to preserve executive privilege.  Those who say the emails should be released include majorities of Democrats (53%), independents (60%), and Republicans (73%) alike.

There is some potential for this to become a campaign issue.  At the current time, 31% of voters say they would be less likely to vote for Corzine if he chooses not to release these emails.

Considering the probable focus on crime and safety in this year’s race if Christie is the GOP nominee, the governor’s support and signing of the state’s death penalty ban in December 2007 could also become a wedge issue.  About one-third of voters (34%) say this issue would make them less likely to vote for Corzine compared to 15% who say it makes them more likely to re-elect the incumbent.

On the other hand, Chris Christie may be hampered by his association with an unpopular, albeit soon to be out of office, president.  George W. Bush appointed Chris Christie to the U.S. Attorney position early in his first term.  Christie was also a fundraiser for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.  One-third of voters (35%) say knowing this information makes them less likely to vote for Christie, compared to 14% who say it makes them more likely.

“A number of potential wedge issues in the gubernatorial race are already in play.  The question is whether any of them will be relevant eight or nine months from now,” said Murray.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 413 New Jersey registered voters from January 12-14, 2009.  This sample has a margin of error of  ± 4.8 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Gannett New Jersey newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).

DATA TABLES

The questions referred to in this release are as follows:

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

  1. As you may know, there will be an election for governor of New Jersey this November. If the election for governor was held today between Jon Corzine the Democrat and Chris Christie the Republican, for whom would you vote?  [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine 38% 62% 32% 10% 42% 28% 38%
Christie 36% 14% 32% 78% 34% 40% 35%
(VOL) Other candidate 2% 3% 1% 0% 3% 0% 1%
(VOL) Neither, won’t vote 4% 3% 7% 1% 2% 8% 3%
(VOL) Don’t know 21% 18% 28% 12% 20% 23% 22%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. And if the election was between Jon Corzine the Democrat and another Republican candidate, would you vote for Corzine or the Republican?

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine 36% 63% 29% 4% 41% 27% 34%
Republican 32% 12% 24% 74% 29% 32% 35%
(VOL) Neither, won’t vote 2% 2% 4% 0% 1% 6% 1%
(VOL) DEPENDS on who the Republican candidate is 12% 9% 19% 9% 13% 18% 6%
(VOL) Don’t know 18% 13% 24% 14% 16% 18% 24%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. I’m going to read you the names of some potential candidates for governor. Please tell me if your general impression of each is favorable or unfavorable, or if you don’t really have an opinion.  If you don’t recognize a name, just let me know.  [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

 

Jon Corzine

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Favorable 49% 70% 51% 19% 51% 47% 48%
Unfavorable 38% 21% 35% 69% 33% 43% 44%
No opinion 12% 9% 15% 13% 15% 10% 9%
Do not recognize name 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

TREND:

Jan
2009

July
2008

Sept
2006

Favorable 49% 43% 46%
Unfavorable 38% 44% 30%
No opinion 12% 10% 24%
Do not recognize 0% 2%

n/a

  Unwtd N  

413

889

630

Chris Christie

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Favorable 42% 18% 51% 69% 42% 49% 36%
Unfavorable 12% 21% 8% 3% 12% 12% 12%
No opinion 25% 30% 25% 17% 27% 25% 24%
Do not recognize name 21% 30% 17% 11% 19% 14% 29%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

TREND:

Jan
2009

July
2008

Favorable 42% 30%
Unfavorable 12% 9%
No opinion 25% 25%
Do not recognize 21% 37%
  Unwtd N  

413

889

Steve Lonegan

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Favorable 12% 7% 14% 18% 9% 18% 9%
Unfavorable 11% 11% 14% 9% 14% 8% 8%
No opinion 20% 21% 19% 16% 22% 12% 20%
Do not recognize name 58% 62% 53% 58% 54% 62% 63%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

Rick Merkt

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Favorable 5% 4% 5% 7% 5% 5% 4%
Unfavorable 6% 10% 5% 2% 5% 5% 8%
No opinion 13% 10% 15% 14% 13% 9% 17%
Do not recognize name 76% 76% 75% 76% 78% 81% 71%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

 

Brian Levine

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Favorable 7% 8% 5% 7% 8% 5% 6%
Unfavorable 8% 9% 8% 8% 7% 11% 6%
No opinion 16% 19% 18% 13% 17% 10% 22%
Do not recognize name 68% 64% 68% 73% 68% 74% 66%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. If the election for governor was between Jon Corzine the Democrat and Steve Lonegan the Republican, for whom would you vote? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine 45% 72% 41% 8% 51% 39% 41%
Lonegan 29% 11% 22% 67% 24% 34% 34%
(VOL) Other candidate 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
(VOL) Neither, won’t vote 5% 4% 7% 4% 4% 11% 3%
(VOL) Don’t know 20% 12% 30% 20% 22% 16% 21%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

[Question 5 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 7.0%]

  1. If the election was between Jon Corzine the Democrat and Rick Merkt the Republican, for whom would you vote? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine 41% 66% 32% 8% 51% 27% 38%
Merkt 27% 11% 25% 69% 24% 33% 29%
(VOL) Other candidate 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
(VOL) Neither, won’t vote 6% 5% 11% 2% 4% 12% 5%
(VOL) Don’t know 25% 19% 31% 21% 22% 28% 27%
Unwtd N

219

95 76 39 103 56

60

 [Question 6 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 7.0%]

  1. If the election was between Jon Corzine the Democrat and Brian Levine the Republican, for whom would you vote? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine 44% 78% 38% 11% 46% 48% 32%
Levine 27% 7% 16% 62% 22% 22% 39%
(VOL) Other candidate 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
(VOL) Neither, won’t vote 4% 0% 7% 7% 3% 12% 0%
(VOL) Don’t know 25% 15% 39% 21% 29% 19% 29%
Unwtd N

194

76 61 50 94 43

49

  1. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Jon Corzine is doing as governor?

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Approve 43% 58% 44% 19% 48% 34% 41%
Disapprove 40% 23% 37% 72% 33% 47% 48%
(VOL) Don’t know 17% 20% 18% 9% 19% 20% 11%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

 

TREND:

Jan
2009

Oct
2008
Sept
2008
July
2008
April
2008
March
2008
Jan
2008
Oct
2007
July
2007
April
2007
Feb
2007
Sept
2006
July
2006

April
2006

Approve 43% 38% 40% 39% 36% 34% 42% 47% 46% 52% 44% 44% 40% 33%
Disapprove 40% 45% 49% 47% 53% 55% 46% 34% 36% 30% 36% 41% 41% 38%
(VOL) Don’t know 17% 18% 11% 14% 11% 11% 12% 19% 17% 17% 20% 16% 19% 29%
Unwtd N

413

900 709 889 720 719 698 688 678 668 681 663 670

652

 

  1. In your opinion, what are the most important one or two issues that the candidates for governor should talk about? [Note: Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted]

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

 

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Property taxes 38% 33% 37% 52% 40% 33% 41%
Income tax 6% 5% 4% 9% 7% 6% 4%
Sales tax 4% 5% 1% 6% 3% 5% 4%
Other tax 2% 3% 2% 1% 2% 2% 3%
Jobs 19% 25% 13% 19% 19% 22% 16%
Cost of living/affordability 3% 3% 3% 4% 2% 5% 2%
The economy/downturn in general 35% 30% 45% 31% 31% 41% 33%
Development/building boom 1% 1% 1% 0% 0% 0% 2%
Roads/traffic/congestion 2% 3% 2% 3% 4% 1% 2%
Health care/prescription drug costs 14% 17% 9% 13% 15% 9% 15%
Environment 2% 4% 1% 1% 1% 3% 3%
Same-sex/Gay marriage 1% 1% 1% 0% 1% 0% 1%
Immigration 3% 4% 2% 1% 2% 1% 3%
Corruption/government ethics 6% 5% 6% 6% 3% 12% 6%
Education/schools 18% 23% 20% 8% 24% 11% 13%
State Budget 6% 4% 8% 7% 5% 7% 7%
Crime 2% 1% 4% 0% 3% 3% 0%
Abortion 1% 0% 1% 1% 1% 1% 1%
Other 5% 5% 6% 7% 5% 3% 7%
(VOL) Don’t know 5% 5% 4% 4% 4% 7% 5%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. Focusing now on just Jon Corzine and Chris Christie. Regardless of who you may support for governor… Who would do a better job on [READ ITEMS] – Jon Corzine or Chris Christie?  [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]

The economy

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

 

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine better 38% 60% 30% 12% 46% 30% 30%
Christie better 33% 16% 29% 67% 29% 40% 34%
(VOL) Both equally 1% 1% 2% 1% 1% 2% 1%
(VOL) Neither 4% 4% 7% 1% 5% 4% 2%
(VOL) Don’t know 23% 19% 31% 19% 19% 23% 32%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

Property taxes

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

 

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine better 32% 54% 23% 11% 38% 28% 24%
Christie better 36% 15% 37% 67% 32% 45% 34%
(VOL) Both equally 1% 1% 0% 0% 0% 2% 0%
(VOL) Neither 4% 3% 7% 3% 4% 4% 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 27% 27% 33% 19% 26% 21% 37%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

The state budget

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

 

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine better 37% 57% 32% 14% 42% 32% 32%
Christie better 34% 18% 31% 64% 30% 39% 36%
(VOL) Both equally 1% 1% 1% 0% 0% 2% 1%
(VOL) Neither 4% 3% 5% 3% 5% 3% 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 24% 21% 31% 19% 22% 24% 27%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

Education

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

 

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine better 39% 56% 39% 13% 44% 34% 32%
Christie better 29% 15% 24% 56% 26% 30% 31%
(VOL) Both equally 1% 2% 0% 2% 1% 1% 1%
(VOL) Neither 3% 2% 3% 7% 3% 6% 2%
(VOL) Don’t know 28% 25% 35% 21% 25% 28% 34%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

Reducing corruption

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

 

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Corzine better 25% 44% 15% 10% 31% 18% 19%
Christie better 43% 21% 51% 69% 38% 50% 43%
(VOL) Both equally 1% 2% 0% 1% 1% 1% 1%
(VOL) Neither 5% 6% 5% 4% 4% 6% 7%
(VOL) Don’t know 26% 28% 29% 15% 25% 25% 30%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

[QUESTIONS 10 AND 11 WERE ROTATED]

  1. Chris Christie is a former U.S. Attorney who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Christie was also an active fundraiser for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000.  Does knowing this information make you more likely or less likely to vote for Christie for governor, or does it make no difference in your vote?

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

More likely to vote for Christie 14% 6% 13% 29% 16% 8% 13%
Less likely to vote for Christie 35% 58% 31% 4% 37% 24% 41%
No difference 47% 31% 53% 65% 42% 61% 44%
(VOL) Don’t know 4% 5% 3% 2% 5% 6% 1%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. Just over a year ago, Governor Corzine signed a law banning the death penalty in New Jersey. He actively supported this effort, which eliminated the death penalty for even the most serious murders.  Does knowing this information make you more likely or less likely to vote for Corzine for governor, or does it make no difference in your vote?

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

More likely to vote for Corzine 15% 24% 14% 2% 18% 13% 8%
Less likely to vote for Corzine 34% 14% 36% 64% 29% 36% 41%
No difference 48% 56% 49% 33% 47% 49% 51%
(VOL) Don’t know 3% 5% 1% 1% 5% 3% 0%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. Have you read or heard about the court case surrounding emails Governor Corzine exchanged with Carla Katz, a former girlfriend and head of a state worker’s union, or not?

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Yes, have heard about 67% 58% 74% 76% 61% 77% 72%
No, have not heard about 30% 36% 24% 24% 34% 22% 28%
(VOL) Don’t know 3% 6% 1% 0% 5% 2% 0%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. This week, a state appeals court said the governor does NOT have to release these emails to the public because they are protected by executive privilege. Some people still have questions about whether those emails include improper discussions about union contract negotiations.  Do you think the governor should release the emails in order to clear the air –OR– Do you think the governor should keep the emails private to preserve executive privilege?  [RESPONSE OPTIONS WERE ROTATED]

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

Release the emails 61% 53% 60% 73% 58% 61% 68%
Keep the emails private 29% 35% 28% 24% 29% 32% 26%
(VOL) Don’t care/No opinion 6% 9% 7% 2% 9% 4% 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 3% 2% 5% 2% 4% 3% 3%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

  1. If the governor does NOT release these emails, would it make you more likely or less likely to vote to re-elect Corzine in November, or would it make no difference in your vote?

Registered
Voters

PARTY ID

REGION

Dem

Ind Rep North Central

South

More likely to vote for Corzine 5% 9% 4% 1% 4% 8% 1%
Less likely to vote for Corzine 31% 23% 33% 45% 29% 30% 38%
No difference 58% 63% 56% 52% 63% 52% 55%
(VOL) Don’t know 5% 5% 7% 2% 4% 9% 5%
Unwtd N

413

171 137 89 197 99

109

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted and analyzed by the Monmouth University Polling Institute research staff.  The telephone interviews were collected by Braun Research on January 12-14, 2009 with a statewide random sample of 413 registered voters. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.8 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.

POLL DEMOGRAPHICS

Registered Voter Sample (weighted)

42% Dem 49% Male 24% 18-34

71% White

33% Ind 51% Female 43% 35-54

12% Black

25% Rep   33% 55+

12% Hispanic

     

  5% Asian/Other

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

Download this Poll Report with all tables