MADISON, NJ - Incumbent Chris Christie continues to lead his Democratic opponent, state senator Barbara Buono, in the gubernatorial race by double digits, according to the most recent statewide survey of likely New Jersey voters by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Fifty-nine percent of likely voters say they would vote for Christie if the election were held today, with 40 percent saying they would cast a vote for state senator Buono. One percent intends to support someone else.
The 19 point margin is down from the last time the question was asked, and prior to the gubernatorial debates, when a 33 point margin favored Christie. In early October, PublicMind found that 58 percent of registered voters supported the governor compared to 25 percent who endorsed Senator Buono.
“The state has not seen a gap of this magnitude in a gubernatorial race in quite some time,” said Krista Jenkins, director of PublicMind and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “The 2001 race between Republican Bret Schundler and Democrat Jim McGreevey certainly comes to mind, but that was over a decade ago. In this polarized political environment, the degree of support that Christie has in a ‘blue’ state is something that is likely to distinguish him from other Republican leaders.”
Buono and Christie do predictably well among their base, with 76 percent of Democrats supporting Buono and 94 percent of Republicans supporting Christie. However, the almost one-quarter (23%) of Democrats who intend to vote for Christie are a clear indicator of the difficulties that Buono has had in connecting with voters. Notable too is the degree of support the incumbent governor has among independent likely voters (80%) as compared to his challenger (18%).
Absent from the survey’s findings is any evidence of a sizable gender gap. Both men and women express more support for Christie relative to Buono. Although men (62%) are more supportive of Christie than women (55%), Buono has been unable to cultivate majority support among women through her references to gender and women’s health issues on the campaign trail.
“These numbers point to the fact that, at least for now, Christie’s appeal transcends both party and gender, given his seeming ability to navigate the difficulties associated with the ubiquitous gender gap in American elections,” said Jenkins.
The survey also asked likely voters whether they have favorable or unfavorable views of each candidate. The takeaway from these questions is clear: Voters are not only more acquainted with Christie as compared to Buono, but they feel more warmly toward him as well. Right now, eight percent say they remain unsure about Christie’s favorability, as compared to 23 percent for Buono. Christie garners a 62 percent favorability rating among likely voters a number that is considerably more than Buono’s (39%).
“Of course, to some extent one would expect an incumbent governor to be more widely known and capable of eliciting an opinion as compared to a lesser known challenger. However, the fact that so many voters remain uncertain about whether to favor or disfavor Senator Buono in the final days of the election is no doubt contributing to the sizable deficit she has yet to overcome,” said Jenkins. “If he wins, Christie’s favorability will make him the first governor in a generation to go into his second term with such widespread appeal.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 570 likely voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from October 24 through October 30, 2013, and has a margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points.