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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Menendez Gains Advantage

Sunday, October 22, 2006

2-in-3 voters say campaign is negative

What goes around comes around.  The latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll  now shows Democrat Bob Menendez ahead in New Jersey's U.S. Senate contest.  He leads by 48% to 39% among likely voters, wiping out the 6 point lead enjoyed by Republican Tom Kean, Jr. just four weeks ago.  Another 10% of voters are undecided and 3% say they will vote for another candidate.  Among all registered voters, Menendez leads Kean by 43% to 36%.

Both candidates have solidified their partisan support - Menendez enjoys 81% to 8% support among Democratic voters (up from 71%-16% in September) and Kean takes the Republican vote by 85% to 3% (up from 81%-8%).  However, Kean's 14 point lead among independent voters last month has vanished.  Menendez now has a slim 37% to 32% advantage among this group.  While Menendez is doing better among independents, the poll indicates that this is due more to voter perception on how the campaigns have been conducting themselves rather than on any particular policy issues.

Specifically, 43% of likely voters in the Garden State say the two candidates have done a bad job of addressing the issues important to voters.  This compares to 41% who feel the two men have done a good job talking about the issues.

Moreover, 38% of the likely electorate believe that neither candidate has done a good job explaining why he wants to be Senator, with the remainder split between Menendez (30%) and Kean (23%).  Interestingly, even their own partisan backers have a hard time identifying what the two candidates stand for.  Among both Republican and Democratic supporters, just half - 50% for each - feel their party's candidate has done a good job articulating his vision.

The poll results indicate that while the allegations of ethical lapses against the incumbent senator Bob Menendez had previously gained traction among the electorate, challenger Tom Kean appears to be suffering a voter backlash for the tone of the campaign.

In a sweeping reversal of opinion, 65% of likely voters now characterize New Jersey's senate race as decidedly negative.  Just four weeks ago - when few voters were paying attention - a majority (55%) felt the race was generally positive.

Most voters (55%) lay the blame for the race's tone equally at both candidates' feet.  Among those who say one candidate has been more negative, Kean (28%) is named somewhat more often than Menendez (16%).

"Voters have finally started paying attention to the senate race, and boy do they wish they hadn't," remarked Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.  "At this stage, the negative tone of the race seems to be causing more of a problem for Kean."

The poll found that Menendez now has a 39% to 33% favorable to unfavorable rating among likely voters.  In September, voters' views of the Democratic nominee were divided 33% to 30%.  Turning to the challenger, voters in the current poll are now divided in their views of candidate Kean - 36% favorable to 33% unfavorable.  However, four weeks ago, the Republican enjoyed a 42% to 17% favorability rating.

ISSUES (?) IN THE RACE  

Voters were asked to choose which candidate has more of an advantage in six issue areas.  The poll found that even when voters prefer a candidate on any one issue, the differences are not stark.

The key message of the Kean campaign has been ethics.  The Republican enjoys an advantage in this area, but only a small one.  Just 26% of likely voters say that Tom Kean is the candidate with high ethical standards compared to fewer (16%) who say the same for Menendez.  Another 21% of voters say that both have high ethical standards, but 25% feel that neither candidate can make a claim to being the paragon of ethical behavior.

Menendez's camp has been trying to paint their opponent as an unquestioning supporter of President Bush's policy in Iraq.  While the Democrat enjoys an advantage on the war issue, again it is a small one.  Whereas 38% of likely voters say that Menendez shares their views on the war in Iraq, 30% say the same about Kean and 17% say that neither is in line with their thinking on this issue.

Murray noted, "While Menendez's advantage on Iraq is not particularly large, it is important to note that this is the only issue where more than 2-in-3 voters actually choose sides.  This can be an important leverage point among the state's historically Democratic electorate."

Menendez also enjoys issue advantages on immigration policy (31%-18%) and understanding the problems of average New Jerseyans (37-19%). 

The remaining two issues included in the poll produced no clear winner. As to which candidate is more likely to get New Jersey its fair share of homeland security funding, 26% choose Kean and 26% pick Menendez.  Another 15% say both would do equally as well and 12% feel neither can have any influence in this area.

While both candidates have tried to position themselves as political mavericks fighting on behalf of the Garden State, the voters aren't buying it - 54% say that neither candidate can cast himself as a political outsider.  Only 18% give that nod to Kean and 11% to Menendez.

"Barring any new revelations or actual charges against Menendez, the Kean campaign's strategy may have peaked in late September," commented Murray.  "Without a strong issue advantage for either candidate, it appears that the New Jersey electorate may be reverting to its blue state tendencies."

The poll also included a question about which political party is better able to clean up corruption in the U.S. Congress.  In the wake of numerous scandals affecting the Republican party in Washington, a recent national Gallup Poll showed that a majority of likely voters believe that the Democrats in Congress would do a better job than their GOP counterparts in dealing with corruption by a 51% to 28% margin.  And while New Jersey voters are also more likely to prefer congressional Democrats on this issue, it appears that in-state scandals surrounding this party do not give the Dems the same edge as in other states.  Among likely Garden State voters, 38% say the Democrats in Congress can better deal with corruption, compared to 25% who choose the Republicans and 29% who say there is no difference between the two.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll  was conducted by telephone with 647 New Jersey registered voters October 16-19, 2006.  This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.9 percent.  The analysis in this report is based mainly on a smaller group of 396 "likely voters" with a ±  4.9 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, Home News Tribune, and Ocean County Observer).

The questions referred to in this release are as follows:

2.        As you may know, there will be an election for United States Senator from New Jersey this November.  How much interest do you have in the upcoming election – a lot, some, a little, or none at all?

4.        If the election for Senator was held today, would you vote for [ROTATE] Tom Kean, Junior the Republican, Robert Menendez the Democrat, or some other candidate?

Composite Table: Strength of Vote Choice

          4.  If the election for Senator was held today, would you vote for [ROTATE] Tom Kean Junior the Republican Robert Menendez the Democrat, or some other candidate?

          5.  At this moment do you lean more towards Kean or more towards Menendez?

          6.  Are you very sure about voting for [Name]; or might you change your mind before election?

7A.  Is your general impression of Tom Kean Junior favorable or unfavorable, or don't you really have an opinion about him?

7B.  Is your general impression of Robert Menendez favorable or unfavorable, or don't you really have an opinion about him?

8.     Have the candidates so far done a good job or addressing the issues that are important to you?

9.     Who do you think is doing a better job explaining his vision for why he wants to be Senator—Kean, Menendez, or neither one?

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

[IF RACE HAS BEEN NEGATIVE, ASK:]  10A.  Who has been more negative – Kean, Menendez or both equally?

11.   Which candidate [READ ITEM]—Kean, Menendez, both, or neither one?

          a.    Is a political outsider

          b.    Understands the problems of average New Jerseyans

          c.    Has high ethical standards

          d.    Will make sure New Jersey gets its fair share of homeland security funding

          e.    Shares your views on immigration policy

          f.     Shares your views on the war in Iraq

12.   In general, do you think the Republicans in Congress or the Democrats in Congress would do a better job dealing with corruption in government?

13.   The election is still a couple of months away.  How closely have you personally been following the campaign for U.S. Senate so far—very closely, somewhat closely, or not very closely so far?

 

Results for this Monmouth University/Gannett NJ Poll are based on telephone interviews conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute on October 16-19, 2006 with a statewide random sample of 647 registered voters.  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 3.9 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.

It is the Monmouth University Polling Institute’s policy to conduct surveys of all adult New Jersey residents, including voters and non-voters, on issues which affect the state.  Specific voter surveys are conducted when appropriate during election cycles.

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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