In the past month, Democratic incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine has cut Republican gubernatorial challenger Christopher Christie's lead in half and now trails the former federal prosecutor 43 - 39 percent among likely New Jersey voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.
Independent candidate Christopher Daggett gained 3 percentage points to 12 points, with 6 percent undecided, a finding that means he remains a factor as the race enters its final month.
In a poll released Sept. 1, Christie let 47 - 37 percent, with 9 percent for Daggett.
Corzine leads 71 - 10 percent among Democratic likely voters, with 11 percent for Daggett. Christie leads 83 - 6 percent among Republicans, with 9 percent for Daggett.Christie also lost some support among independent voters, the poll found. Independent voters shift from 46 - 30 percent for Christie, with 16 percent for Daggett on Sept. 1, to 45 - 32 percent for Christie, with 16 percent for Daggett Wednesday.
New Jersey voters disapprove 58 - 36 percent of the job Corzine is doing, little changed from deep disapproval scores in July, August and September. Independent voters disapprove 63 - 31 percent, continuing the double-digit disapproval by this key voting bloc.
"Christopher Christie is still ahead in the Garden State, but when he looks in the rear-view mirror, he sees the bearded visage of Gov. Jon Corzine getting closer," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "This race looks as if it will go down to the wire. Does Christopher Daggett's impressive climb measure a swing to him or simply a distaste for the two guys hollering at each other? Will Daggett fade on Election Day? At this stage, his numbers matter."
State Democratic chairman, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), said Corzine is narrowing the lead because New Jerseyans are learning more about Christie.
"With each passing day, Christie's unfavorables continue to skyrocket and have now hit their lowest point yet,'' Cryan said. "It is increasingly clear that the more people hear about his long-standing pattern of having one set of rules for himself and another for everyone else they openly question his hypocrisy, honesty and trustworthiness. New Jerseyans are also seeing that Christie is wrong on the issues that matter most.''
Cryan added, "As we saw this past weekend at our state conference, Democrats are unified in our enthusiasm for re-electing Jon Corzine and electing Senator Loretta Weinberg as our first lieutenant governor and Democrats across the state.
Tom Johnson, a spokesman for Daggett, said the poll results show, "Once voters get to know Chris Daggett, they are inclined to support him.''
New Jersey voters split 38 - 38 percent on whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Christie, his worst measure of favorability so far. By a 56 - 34 percent margin, voters have a negative opinion of Corzine, little changed from earlier surveys. For Daggett, 84 percent still don't know enough about him to form an opinion.
Reacting to the poll's findings, Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager, said, "Jon Corzine has spent millions of dollars on negative, nasty attack ads, yet 61% of New Jerseyans still believe Jon Corzine will raise their property taxes. Jon Corzine continues to reach into his deep pockets to scare voters and distract from his failed record, but over half of New Jerseyans don't approve of his job as governor and believe his policies have driven the state's economy into the ground. Jon Corzine can spend as much of his Wall Street millions as he wants on negative attack ads, but Chris is the only candidate with an independent approach to bring real change to struggling New Jersey families."
In an open-ended question, where respondents can give any answer, 41 percent of New Jersey likely voters list taxes as the most important campaign issue, followed by 17 percent who list the economy or unemployment. Only 4 percent list political corruption, while another 4 percent cite honesty or morality.
Voters split 44 - 45 percent on whether Corzine is honest and trustworthy, better than Sept. 1 when voters said 51 - 40 percent that he is not honest and trustworthy. Christie gets a 37 - 36 percent split on the honest and trustworthy question, down from Sept. 1 when voters said 44 - 31 percent that he is honest and trustworthy.
If Corzine is elected, property taxes will go up, 61 percent of voters say, while 32 percent say they will stay the same. Property taxes would go up under Christie, 34 percent say, as 46 percent say they would stay the same.
The attack-attack-attack style of this rugged campaign is taking a toll on Christie, whose favorability and honesty measures are dropping," Carroll said. "But the Republican is the big winner when voters turn their attention to the biggest campaign issue - taxes."
New Jersey voters say 85 - 11 percent that there should be a cap on how much property taxes can be raised. Support for the cap is over 80 percent in every group measured. But voters oppose 54 - 39 percent raising the state income tax or sales tax in order to provide property tax relief.
Apparently neither Quinnipiac pollsters nor most property tax payers realize that last year, Corzine and the Legislature, in an effort to hold down property tax increases, passed a law that places a 4 percent cap on municipal, county and school budget increases. The last year, property tax hikes averaged 3.7 percent, the lowest increase in a decade.
"New Jersey's property taxes are high and voters want to cap the increase, but they don't want to raise other taxes to do it," Carroll said.
Between Thursday and Monday, Quinnipiac surveyed 1,188 likely New Jersey voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
The Quinnipiac Poll, conducts public opinion surveys in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio and nationally as a public service and for research.