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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Christie Leads Lonegan in GOP Primary

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Corruption busting image and electability key to support

With two weeks to go before New Jersey Republicans select their party's nominee for governor, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie holds a sizable 18 point lead over former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan.  However, the  Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll  of likely GOP primary voters found that only 1-in-4 of voters feel they know a great deal about either candidates' specific issue positions.  Christie's focus on his corruption-busting image and presumed greater electability in the general election appear to be winning over the state's Republicans, including many staunch conservatives.

Fully half (50%) of likely primary voters intend to vote for Christie on June 2 compared to 32% who support Lonegan.  Assemblyman Rick Merkt garners just 2% of the vote, making this effectively a two-man race.  The remaining 16% are undecided.

Christie holds a commanding 59% to 25% lead among voters age 60 and older.  Lonegan does better with voters under 60 years old, trailing Christie by just 7 points - 44% to 37% - among this group.

Christie's strongest region of the state is Central Jersey, where he holds a 63% to 26% advantage.  He also has a 49% to 33% lead in Northeast Jersey, despite Lonegan having a 10 point advantage in his home county of Bergen.  Lonegan's best region, relatively speaking, is Northwest Jersey, where he trails Christie by just 9 points, 44% to 35%.  Christie's overall lead in this region, arguably the most conservative part of the state, is due largely to a 21 point advantage in his home county of Morris.  Christie also leads Lonegan in South Jersey by 45% to 33%.

Most observers have cast this race as a battle between the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican party.  Indeed, more GOP voters see Christie as politically moderate (47%) than conservative (35%), whereas a majority say Lonegan is a conservative (56%) rather than a moderate (21%).

In fact, Lonegan is ahead among voters who describe themselves as being "very conservative" - a group which comprises one-third of New Jersey's likely GOP primary electorate.  He wins these staunch conservatives with 51% of the vote, to 36% for Christie.  However, this advantage is offset by Christie's sizable lead among voters who call themselves "somewhat conservative" (56% to 28%) or "moderate" (58% to 18%).

"Chris Christie has solidified his front-runner status in this primary by increasing his appeal to the party's core conservative base.  He may not win this group outright, but he has made enough inroads to leave Steve Lonegan with little room to maneuver before June 2," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Currently, 67% of GOP voters have a favorable opinion of Chris Christie, compared to just 12% with an unfavorable view and 21% who have no opinion.  Among staunch conservatives, Christie's favorability rating stands at 60% positive to 20% negative, only slightly lower than his ratings among other conservatives (73% to 6%) and moderates (66% to 11%).

 By comparison, 54% of likely Republican voters have a favorable opinion of Lonegan, compared to just 13% with an unfavorable opinion.  Another 33% have no opinion.  While Steve Lonegan is held in high regard by very conservative Republicans (69% positive to 8% negative), his personal ratings are somewhat lower among other conservatives (52% to 10%) and significantly lower among the party's self-described moderate electorate (39% to 22%).

By most accounts this primary race has taken a nasty turn, with one radio ad even casting the other candidate as a "loser."  However, it seems that most GOP voters have been immune to this aspect of the campaign, with 56% saying the race has been generally positive compared to 32% who say it has been negative.  Overall, only 15% of likely primary voters think that the way this campaign has been conducted will hurt their nominee's chances in November, while 33% say it will actually help and 42% feel it will have no impact on the eventual outcome.

Whatever animosity there may be in this race, it does not appear to have affected most Republican voters' intention to rally around their nominee.  Supporters of the leading candidates were asked what they would do in the general election if their preferred candidate did not get the nomination.  Among Christie supporters, 68% said they would vote for Lonegan in November, 12% would vote for another candidate and 6% would not vote at all.  The results are nearly identical for Lonegan supporters - 74% would support Christie in the general election, 10% would vote for a different candidate and 4% would not vote for governor.  These results are fairly typical of past voting and turnout patterns among GOP voters.

- The Issues -  

Most GOP voters say they know something, but not necessarily a great deal about where the two candidates stand on the issues.  Just 23% say they know a great deal about Chris Christie's issue positions and another 54% know something about them.  A similar 24% know a great deal about where Steve Lonegan stands on the issues and another 45% know something about his positions.

When asked to name the single most important issue facing New Jersey, nearly half (44%) of likely GOP primary voters say it is property taxes.  This issue far outweighs the economy, jobs and cost of living (17%), government spending (14%), other taxes (9%), and corruption (7%) as the state's most pressing problem.  However, only about 1-in-5 voters strongly  agree that either Christie (18%) or Lonegan (24%) have laid out a clear plan to deal with their top concern.  Nearly 6-in-10 - 59% for Christie and 56% for Lonegan - say that neither candidate has laid out a clear plan or that they are unaware of any such plan.

The poll results indicate that Chris Christie's lead in this race appears to be based largely on his reputation as U.S. Attorney and his perceived electability in November.  Fully 2-in-3 GOP primary voters feel that Christie can defeat incumbent Governor Jon Corzine in November (70%) and that he will reduce government corruption (67%).  Only 4-in-10 GOP voters feel the same about Steve Lonegan - 39% say he can beat Corzine and 37% feel he will reduce corruption.

Christie also holds smaller advantages over Lonegan in having the right experience for the office (62% to 52%), along with the ability to control spending (57% to 52%), reduce property taxes (49% to 44%), and reduce income taxes (45% to 40%).  Lonegan is slightly more likely than Christie to be seen as a "pro-life" candidate (42% to 33%).

GOP ISSUE ADVANTAGE  

Christie will handle…  

   

Lonegan will handle…  

All GOP  voters  

Christie voters  

Lonegan voters  

Unde- cided  

   

All GOP  voters  

Christie voters  

Lonegan voters  

Unde- cided  

70%

87  

61  

58  

Defeating Corzine

39%

18  

76  

36  

67%

87  

56  

49  

Corruption

37%

17  

69  

34  

62%

85  

36  

52  

Experience

52%

34  

88  

42  

57%

82  

38  

40  

Control spending

52%

35  

91  

38  

49%

70  

28  

36  

Property taxes

44%

26  

82  

31  

45%

65  

27  

33  

Income taxes

40%

26  

74  

27  

33%

45  

21  

25  

Pro-life

42%

31  

71  

24  

"Winning in November trumps any specific issue positions for Republican primary voters.  For example, Mayor Lonegan's flat tax proposal has a good deal of support within the GOP electorate, but it doesn't seem to be enough to propel him to victory," said Murray.

Six-in-10 voters have heard of a flat tax being proposed during this campaign and 43% can credit that proposal to Steve Lonegan.  In general, GOP primary voters favor a flat rate income tax system by a more than 2-to-1 margin (47% to 19%), while 34% do not have an opinion on the idea.  Among flat tax supporters, Lonegan leads Christie in primary vote preference by 46% to 40%.  However, among those who oppose or have no opinion on the flat tax, Christie leads the primary race by 59% to 19%.

Chris Christie's proposal to require a two-thirds legislative super-majority for any future tax increase is seen by most GOP primary voters as a good idea, if not a great one.  Just 28% say this proposal would go a long way to fixing New Jersey's tax problems, while another 46% say it's a good idea but won't really fix the problem.  Only 9% say it's a bad idea that will make matters worse and 17% offer no opinion.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll  was conducted by telephone from May 13-18, 2009 with 706 registered Republicans who have voted in New Jersey primaries in the past and say they are very likely to vote in this year's June primary.  This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.7 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).

The questions referred to in this release are as follows:

1.      If the Republican primary for governor was held today, would you vote for Chris Christie, Steve Lonegan, or Rick Merkt to be the Republican nominee?  [If Undecided:  At this moment do you lean more towards Christie, Lonegan, or Merkt?]   [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Composite Table: Strength of Vote Choice

If the Republican primary for governor was held today, would you vote for [ROTATE]: Chris Christie, Steve Lonegan, or Rick Merkt to be the Republican nominee?  [If Undecided: At this moment do you lean more towards Christie, Lonegan, or Merkt?]  Are you very sure about voting for [Name]; or might you change your mind before primary day?

[The following question was asked of Christie and Lonegan supporters only:]

2.      If [NAME OF OTHER CANDIDATE] won the primary, what would you do in the general election in November – vote for [NAME OF OTHER CANDIDATE], vote for Jon Corzine, vote for an independent candidate, or not vote for governor at all?

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

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

5.      Is your general impression of Rick Merkt favorable or unfavorable, or don’t you really have an opinion?

6.      In your opinion, what is the single most important issue facing New Jersey?   [OPEN-ENDED QUESTION – LIST WAS NOT READ]

7.      Do you feel that [CANDIDATE NAME] has laid out a clear plan to deal with this issue, or not?  [If YES, ASK:  Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?]

8.      Overall, how much do you feel you know about where Chris Christie stands on the issues – a great deal, some, not much, or nothing at all?

9.      Overall, how much do you feel you know about where Steve Lonegan stands on the issues – a great deal, some, not much, or nothing at all?

10.    Focusing on just Chris Christie and Steve Lonegan, please tell me if the following statements describe Christie, Lonegan, both, or neither one.  [READ EACH ITEM] – does that describe Christie, Lonegan, both, or neither one?.

        A.  Will reduce property taxes

        B.  Will reduce income taxes

        C.  Will control state spending

        D.  Will reduce government corruption

        E.  Has the right experience to be governor

        F.  Holds pro-life beliefs

        G.  Is able to beat Jon Corzine in November

11.    In general, would you describe Chris Christie’s political views as conservative, moderate, or liberal?

12.    In general, would you describe Steve Lonegan’s political views as conservative, moderate, or liberal?

13.    Have you heard anything in this campaign about a proposal to create a flat tax, that is a single income tax rate, in New Jersey, or not?  [If YES, ASK:  Which candidate proposed this?]

14.    In general, do you favor or oppose a flat tax system for income taxes in New Jersey, or don’t you have an opinion on this?

15.    The current system taxes upper income people at higher rates and lower income people at lower rates. A flat tax system would tax all income levels at the same rate or percentage.  If New Jersey switched to a flat tax with a rate between 2 and 3 percent, do you think the amount you personally pay in state income taxes would go up, go down, or remain about the same?

16.    Chris Christie has proposed that any future tax increases must be approved by a two-thirds “super-majority” vote in the state legislature.  If approved, do you think this would go a long way to fixing New Jersey’s tax problems, is a good idea but really won’t fix the problem, or is a bad idea that will make matters worse?

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

[The following question was asked only of those who said “Negative” or “Both” to Q17]

18.    Who has been more negative – Christie, Lonegan, or both equally?

19.    And do you think the way this primary campaign has been conducted will help or hurt the Republican nominee’s chances in November, or will it have no impact?

 

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 May 13-18, 2009 with a statewide random sample of 706 Republican voters, drawn from registered voter lists, who have voted in at least once primary in the past two years, and also report they are “very likely” to vote in the June 2, 2009 primary.  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 3.7 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 ideology, 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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