The race for governor has turned ugly. And New Jersey voters have taken notice. More voters say the two candidates are doing a bad job talking about the issues than the number who felt that way just three weeks ago. Most voters see the campaign ads to date as predominately negative and report learning little or nothing of substance from them.
In late September, right before the onslaught of campaign advertising kicked into high gear, more Garden State voters thought the candidates were doing a good job (45%) as opposed to a bad job (30%) addressing the issues important to them. Today the voters are split, with 40 percent giving the campaigns positive marks for talking about voter concerns to 37 percent who say the campaigns have done a poor job of this.
The biggest change in this sentiment has come from independent voters. Last month, this group was more likely to feel the candidates were doing a good (43%) rather than bad job (33%) talking about the issues. Now, more than half of independent voters say the candidates are doing a bad job (53%) compared to only 3-in-10 who say they are doing a good job (30%) addressing the issues that concern voters.
The media portion of campaign has taken center stage over the past few weeks. More than 8-in-10 voters have seen or heard an ad from either of the candidates. Three-in-four (76%) have seen an ad on TV. More than one-third (36%) have also heard a radio commercial for either of the gubernatorial candidates.
Despite the flood of advertising, voters feel they have not learned much from these spots. Only 10 percent say they have learned a lot about what each candidate would do as governor from their commercials. Another 44 percent have learned just a little and an almost equal number - 42 percent - say they have learned absolutely nothing about these two candidates' plans for the state from their media advertising.
What voters take away from these ads is largely negative. When asked to recall the most memorable campaign ad or image from an ad, more voters remember a negative (36%) rather than positive (25%) message. And interestingly, for 39 percent of these voters, the ads tend to blend together and they can't recall a single image. Some of the positive ads, seen as key message builders early in the campaign, have not had a lasting impact. For example, only 6 percent of voters report that the widely acclaimed commercial featuring Andrea Forrester, the Republican candidate's wife, is the ad that stands out most in their mind.
"The mega-million ad buys are driving the race for governor. The candidates have been blanketing the airwaves and voters give both sides poor marks on the tone of this campaign," remarked Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
On the whole, voters say that both candidates' commercials have been more negative than positive by about a 2 to 1 margin. For Forrester's ads, 53 percent say these have tended to focus on negative aspects of his opponent compared to only 23 percent who say they have focused more on positive things the Republican will do as governor. For Corzine's ads, 52 percent say these have tended to focus on negative aspects of his opponent compared to only 28 percent who say they have focused more on positive things the Democrat will do as governor.
While voters may not like the content of these ads, the negative messages appear to be sticking. More voters recall the Corzine campaign ad linking Doug Forrester to the views of President George Bush than recall the ad featuring former Governor Tom Kean speaking on the G.O.P. candidate's behalf. When voters are asked to describe the kind of Republican Doug Forrester is, more tend to see him as a George Bush Republican (45%) than as a Tom Kean Republican (28%).
The Forrester campaign's attempts to link Jon Corzine to Democratic cronyism have also met with some success. While 41 percent of voters tend to see Jon Corzine as "his own man" a similar 38 percent say he is beholden to the bosses in his own party.
Murray commented, "There are still a large number of undecided voters as well as many who are flirting with an independent candidate in this race. The negative tone of these campaign ads is a large part of the reason for that."
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 602 New Jersey registered voters from October 14 to 19, 2005. This sample has a margin of error of ± 4 percent. Results in this release are also based on a subgroup of 371 likely voters, with a ± 5 percent margin of error.
The questions referred to in this release are as follows:
Q8. Have the candidates so far done a good job or bad job of addressing the issues that are important to you?
Q12. Would you describe Doug Forrester more as a Tom Kean Republican or more as a George Bush Republican?
Q13. Would you describe Jon Corzine more as his own man or more as someone beholden to the Democratic bosses?
Q14. Have you seen or heard any television or radio ads from the two candidates? [IF "YES" ASK: Was this on TV, radio or both?]
Q15. Just off the top of your head, what one campaign ad for governor sticks out in your mind the most? [SINGLE RESPONSE - DO NOT READ LIST - PROBE FOR IMAGE OR MESSAGE]
Q16. How much have you learned from these ads about what each candidate would do as governor- have you learned a lot, a little or nothing at all about what they would do as governor?
Q17. Would you say that Doug Forrester's ads focus more on the positive things he will do as governor or more on negative things about his opponent?
Q18. Would you say that Jon Corzine's ads focus more on the positive things he will do as governor or more on negative things about his opponent?
Results for this Monmouth University/Gannett NJ Poll are based on telephone interviews conducted October 14-19, 2005 with a statewide random sample of 602 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 4.0 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.
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