As New Jersey's gubernatorial campaign season kicks into high gear, Republican challenger Chris Christie maintains his months-long lead over Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine. However, the gap has narrowed somewhat since the last Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll . Among likely voters, Christie now holds an 8 point advantage over Corzine - 47% to 39% - with 5% for independent Chris Daggett. While this is similar to the Republican's lead in July, it is down from the 14 point advantage he held in August, when Christie led Corzine by 50% to 36%.
"A Republican holding a steady poll lead is unprecedented in recent New Jersey elections and this shouldn't be discounted. But the results also indicate there is a lot of churning in this electorate. Despite the incumbent's continued unpopularity, there is still a sense that anything can happen," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Among GOP voters, Christie leads Corzine by a healthy 82% to 8%. The Republican also leads among independent voters by 45% to 30%, although this 15 point advantage is smaller than the 20 point lead he held in August and the 23 point lead in July. Also, the number of independents who say they are undecided in this race now stands at 17%, which is up by 5 points since August. While this finding is within the survey's margin of error for independent voters, it could be a sign of increasing uncertainty about the challenger and bears watching.
On the incumbent's side, Jon Corzine seems to be shoring up support among his base after a summer when Democratic voting groups showed little enthusiasm for their standard bearer. Corzine now has an 77% to 8% advantage among his fellow Democrats. This marks a 10 point gain in the governor's support among his partisan base since July.
Corzine has increased his support among black and Hispanic voters (68%, up from 50% in July) and urban voters (68%, up from 50% in July). He has also regained some footing among traditionally Democratic labor groups (unions, teachers, and state workers) - now holding 38% of this group's support compared to 42% for Christie. The incumbent still has a ways to go to regain the 45% to 34% advantage he had among labor groups in July, but the current poll reading is an improvement from August, when Corzine actually trailed Christie (36% to 45%) among this group.
Another indication that this race is far from settled is how the race stands when the preferences of all registered voters are considered, including those both likely and unlikely to vote on November 3 rd . Among all registered voters, the "horse race" narrows to basically a tie, 41% for Corzine and 40% for Christie. The Republican had a 4 point lead among registered voters in the August poll and a 6 point lead in July.
In other poll findings, Governor Corzine's job approval rating now stands at 37% approve to 52% disapprove among registered voters. His personal evaluations are 39% favorable to 45% unfavorable. Both of these results are similar to the job and personal ratings he has held since July.
Chris Christie's personal standing among registered voters is now 41% favorable to 29% unfavorable. These results are nearly identical to his personal rating a month ago. Prior to the current poll, though, Christie's unfavorable numbers had been steadily climbing. The current results indicate that last month's slew of negative media about the Republican challenger did not have much of an impact on voter opinion.
More than half (55%) of the state's electorate would characterize the tone of this year's race as negative. Only 33% say it has been positive. Among those who see the campaign as negative, 34% blame Corzine more compared to 13% who blame Christie. However, a majority of 52% say both candidates are equally to blame for the negative tone of the race.
"Negative campaigning in New Jersey is nothing new, but past polling tells us that voters usually don't notice that negative tone until October. Getting the electorate to register its disapproval of the campaign's conduct immediately after Labor Day is truly an accomplishment," said Murray.
Turning to issues and awareness, a majority of voters say that both Corzine (57%) and Christie (52%) have given them at least some idea of what they would do in their 2010-2014 term as governor, although few voters say either candidate has given them a "clear idea" - 21% for Corzine and 14% for Christie. Moreover, about 4-in-10 voters say they have little or no idea what either candidate - 37% for Corzine and 42% for Christie - would do in the next four years as governor.
Despite this lack of awareness on issue positions, the challenger continues to be seen as better equipped to handle most of the important issues of the day. Registered voters see Christie (43%) rather than Corzine (24%) doing a better job on property taxes, an issue which continues to be Garden State voters' top concern. Nearly half (46%) name property taxes as one of the most important issues they want the candidates to address.
Christie also has the decided advantage over Corzine on handling corruption (40% to 25%) and a small edge on the state budget (40% to 35%) and the economy and jobs (38% to 34%). The two candidates run basically even among registered voters on improving New Jersey's cities (35% Christie to 36% Corzine), while Corzine has a slight edge on health care (35% to 31%). However, Christie gets the edge on these last two issues among likely voters.
The governor leads his challenger when it comes to dealing with the environment (41% to 24%) and education (44% to 33%). The poll found some slight shifts in these issue advantages compared to a month ago. Corzine gained 8 points on handling education, while Christie lost 6 to 7 points on handling corruption and the environment.
The poll also found that independent Chris Daggett, his running mate, and the running mates of the two major party candidates are barely registering a blip in voter awareness. More than 8-in-10 voters say they have formed no opinion of Daggett (82%) or any of the lieutenant governor candidates, including Democrat Loretta Weinberg (84%), Republican Kim Guadagno (90%), and independent Frank Esposito (91%).
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 752 New Jersey registered voters from September 8 to 10, 2009. This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.6 percent. This report also includes analysis on a smaller group of 531 "likely voters" with a ± 4.3 percent margin of error. 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 election for governor was held today, would you vote for Jon Corzine the Democrat, Chris Christie the Republican, Chris Daggett the independent, or some other candidate? [If undecided: At this moment do you lean more towards Corzine or more towards Christie?] [NAMES WERE ROTATED]
2. Please tell me if your general impression of the following candidates is favorable or unfavorable, or if you don’t have an opinion. [NAMES WERE ROTATED]
3. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Jon Corzine is doing as governor?
[QUESTIONS 4 AND 5 WERE ROTATED]
4. Has Jon Corzine given you a clear idea, some idea, not much of an idea, or no idea at all about what he would do in his second term as governor?
5. Has Chris Christie given you a clear idea, some idea, not much of an idea, or no idea at all about what he would as governor?
6. 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]
7. Regardless of who you may support for governor… Who would do a better job on [READ ITEM] – Jon Corzine or Chris Christie? [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]
The economy and jobs
The state budget
Improving our cities
8. So far, would you characterize the governor’s race as being generally positive or negative?
[The following question was asked only of those who said “Negative” or “Both” to Q8 moe= ± 4.5%]
9. Who has been more negative – Corzine or Christie, or both equally?
10. I’m going to name the lieutenant governor candidates. Please tell me if your general impression of each is favorable or unfavorable, or if you don’t really have an opinion. [NAMES WERE ROTATED]
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted and analyzed by the Monmouth University Polling Institute research staff. The telephone interviews were collected on September 8-10, 2009 with a statewide random sample of 752 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 3.6 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