NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - More than half of New Jersey voters most likely to turn out for November's legislative elections, say their vote will be in support or opposition to Gov. Chris Christie, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While Democrats continue to hold a double-digit lead in statewide generic ballot tests, a majority of likely voters sees the election as a referendum on Christie: 28 percent will vote to support the governor while 26 percent will vote to oppose him.
Among all likely voters including those leaning towards a party, 48 percent support Democrats for the Assembly and 33 percent support Republicans, a 15 point margin. Half say they want a Democratic controlled legislature, while 40 percent want Republicans to take over. But among just those who say their vote will express support or opposition to Christie, Assembly Democrats lead by only 10 points, 49 percent to 39 percent. Christie-motivated voters cut the desire for Democratic control in half, with 51 percent preferring Democratic control and 46 percent preferring Republicans.
"While turnout is likely to be very low, voters motivated by Christie may be more likely to show up, and if so, the statewide margin may well be tighter than our overall numbers," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. "Voters need a reason to turn out in legislative elections, and Christie is apparently giving many of them that reason."
Results are from a poll of 903 adults, including a sample of 821 registered and 603 likely voters conducted among both landline and cell phone households from Oct. 6-9. The sample of registered voters reported here has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points, while the likely voter sample has a margin of +/-4.0 percentage points.
Gov. Christie driving many voters
With legislative elections less than one month away, 54 percent of likely voters say they will vote to demonstrate support for (28 percent) or opposition to (26 percent) Gov. Christie, while 42 percent say their vote has nothing to do with the governor. Among those who hold a favorable impression of Christie, 50 percent say they are voting to support him, while 59 percent of those with a negative opinion say they are voting to demonstrate opposition to Christie.
Among Republicans, 64 percent say they will turn out to support Christie, while 27 percent say their vote will have nothing to do with him. A small number (6 percent) say they will turn out to oppose the Republican governor. Democrats are less motivated: only 48 percent say they will vote to show opposition to Christie, while 40 percent say their vote is not about him, and 6 percent say they want to support the governor.
Independents are much more split, with 27 percent saying their vote will show support for Christie, and 18 percent saying they are motivated by opposition. Half of independents, however, say turning out will have nothing to do with Christie.
Most voters continue to favor Democrats; Christie motivation could shake things up
Among registered voters in statewide generic ballot tests, Democrats hold a 43 percent to 28 percent lead over Republicans for the Assembly and a 45 percent to 29 percent lead for the Senate when leaners are included. This 15-point Assembly lead is up from 10 points in an August Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. The lead holds up among likely voters, 48 percent for Assembly Democrats to 33 percent for Republicans, and 49 percent for Senate Democrats versus 35 percent for Republicans.
The preference for Democratic control among registered voters has changed little from its 13 point margin in August. Today 50 percent of registered voters prefer Democratic control to act as a check on Gov. Christie while 38 percent hope Republicans win to support the governor's plans. Among likely voters the margin is similar, 50 percent to 40 percent.
Independent voters were evenly split in the August Eagleton Poll generic ballot tests. The new numbers show a slight move toward the Democrats among likely voters, with 38 percent now saying they will vote for Assembly Democrats and 31 percent for Republicans.
Considering only likely voters who say their vote will be to support or oppose Gov. Christie improves the outlook for Republicans. While voters are evenly split on whether their vote is about the governor, those turning out because of Christie prefer Assembly Democrats 49 percent to 39 percent, a 10-point margin. Those who say their vote has nothing to do with the governor prefer Democrats by a much wider 20-point margin, 48 percent to 28 percent. Results are similar in the State Senate ballot test.
"Legislative elections usually have low turnout, so it's hard to know who will actually vote," said Redlawsk. "If we think of Christie as a motivator and assume those voters are much more likely to turn out, Republicans may surprise with some upsets. Of course, our results are a statewide overview and can't tell us about individual races that may turn on local dynamics."
Republicans strongest in Northwest and Shore counties
Given the demographics of New Jersey, it is not surprising that Republicans get their greatest support in exurban (northwest) and shore counties. While likely urban voters favor Assembly Democrats by a 64 percent to 22 percent margin, shore county voters are split: 37 percent for Republicans and 36 percent for Democrats, while exurban voters give 41 percent to Republican candidates and 39 to Democrats. Combined, Camden and South Jersey voters plan to vote Democratic by a 57 percent to 28 percent margin, while likely suburban voters support Assembly Democrats 45 percent to 35 percent.
Anger at Trenton and state government that doesn't work
Forty-nine percent of likely voters say they agree with the statement "I get angry when thinking about the government in Trenton" while 45 percent disagree. Among those who hold a favorable impression of the Governor, 39 percent still get angry when thinking of state government, while 53 percent disagree. Among those unfavorable towards Christie, 61 percent are angered by Trenton and 34 are not. Republicans are less likely to be angry: 43 percent agree that Trenton angers them, compared to 47 percent of Independents and 56 percent of Democrats.
Anger at the government in Trenton shows similar effects for those with a favorable impression of Democrats in the legislature: 49 percent are angry, while 46 percent are not. Among those with a favorable impression of Republicans in the legislature, only 36 percent say state government angers them, while 60 percent say it does not.
Likewise, 49 percent of likely voters agree with the statement "The government in Trenton no longer works" while 40 percent disagree. Among those who like Christie, 41 percent agree with the statement and 48 percent disagree. A large majority (60 percent) unfavorable towards the governor think Trenton does not work, while only 30 percent disagree. Of those favorable toward Democrats in the legislature 46 percent say Trenton does not work, and 43 percent think it does. Republican supporters see it differently, with only 38 percent agreeing and 55 percent disagreeing.
"The evidence is that Gov. Christie drives a lot of attitudes about what's happening in Trenton," said Redlawsk. "Republicans are simply happier with how things are going there."