TOM HESTER SR.
Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine has for the first time gained the lead in the gubernatorial race among all registered voters, according to a new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll.
Among all registered voters polled, Corzine holds a one percent lead with 41 percent for the governor and 40 percent for Republican challenger Chris Christie. Christie had a 4 point lead among registered voters in the August poll and a 6 point lead in July.
When the various viewpoints of Democrats, Republicans and Independents are broken down Christie holds an 8 point advantage over Corzine, 47 percent to 39 percent, with 5 percent for Independent Chris Daggett. But Christie's lead is down from the 14 point advantage he held last month when he led Corzine 50 percent to 36 percent."A Republican holding a steady poll lead is unprecedented in recent New Jersey elections and this shouldn't be discounted, said Patrick Murray, the poll director. "But the results also indicate there is a lot of churning in this electorate. Despite the incumbent's continued unpopularity, there is still a sense that anything can happen."
The poll also found that Daggett, his running mate, and the running mates of the two major party candidates are barely registering a blip in voter awareness.
More than 8 in 10 voters say they have formed no opinion of Daggett or any of the lieutenant governor candidates, including Democrat Sen. Loretta Weinberg, 84 percent, Republican Sheriff Kim Guadagno, 90 percent, and Independent Frank Esposito, 91 percent.
Among GOP voters, Christie leads Corzine by a healthy 82 percent to 8 percent. The Republican also leads among independent voters by 45 percent to 30 percent, although this 15 point advantage is smaller than the 20 point lead he held in August and the 23 point lead in July. Also, the number of independents who say they are undecided in this race now stands at 17 percent, which is up by 5 points since August. Murray said that while this finding is within the survey's margin of error for independent voters, it could be a sign of increasing uncertainty about the challenger and bears watching.
On the incumbent's side, Corzine seems to be shoring up support among his base after a summer when Democratic voting groups showed little enthusiasm for their standard bearer. Corzine now has an 77 percent to 8 percent advantage among Democrats. This marks a 10 point gain in the governor's support among his partisan base since July.
Corzine also has increased his support among black and Hispanic voters — 68 percent, up from 50 percent in July — and urban voters — 68 percent, up from 50 percent in July. He has also regained some footing among traditionally Democratic labor groups, including unions, teachers, and state workers, and now holds 38 percent of this group's support compared to 42 percent for Christie. The governor still has a ways to go to regain the 45 percent to 34 percent advantage he had among labor groups in July, but the current poll reading is an improvement from August, when Corzine actually trailed Christie 36 percent to 45 percent among this group.
Another indication that this race is far from settled is how the race stands when the preferences of all registered voters are considered, including those both likely and unlikely to vote on Nov. 3. In other poll findings, Corzine's job approval rating now stands at 37 percent approve to 52 percent disapprove among registered voters. His personal evaluations are 39 percent favorable to 45 percent unfavorable. Both of these results are similar to the job and personal ratings he has held since July.
Christie's personal standing among registered voters is now 41 percent favorable to 29 percent unfavorable. These results are nearly identical to his personal rating a month ago. Prior to the current poll, though, Christie's unfavorable numbers had been steadily climbing. The current results indicate that last month's slew of negative media about the Republican challenger did not have much of an impact on voter opinion.
More than half, 55 percent, of the state's electorate would characterize the tone of this year's race as negative. Only 33 percent say it has been positive. Among those who see the campaign as negative, 34 percent blame Corzine more compared to 13 percent who blame Christie. However, a majority of 52 percent say both candidates are equally to blame for the negative tone of the race.
"Negative campaigning in New Jersey is nothing new, but past polling tells us that voters usually don't notice that negative tone until October,'' Murray said. "Getting the electorate to register its disapproval of the campaign's conduct immediately after Labor Day is truly an accomplishment."
Turning to issues and awareness, a majority of voters say that both Corzine, 57 percent, and Christie, 52 percent, have given them at least some idea of what they would do in their 2010-14 term as governor, although few voters say either candidate has given them a "clear idea" — 21 percent for Corzine and 14 percent for Christie. Moreover, about 4-in-10 voters say they have little or no idea what either candidate — 37 percent for Corzine and 42 percent for Christie — would do in the next four years as governor.
Despite this lack of awareness on issue positions, the challenger continues to be seen as better equipped to handle most of the important issues of the day. Registered voters see Christie, 43 percent, rather than Corzine, 24 percent, doing a better job on property taxes, an issue which continues to be voters' top concern. Nearly half, 46 percent, name property taxes as one of the most important issues they want the candidates to address.
Christie also has the decided advantage over Corzine on handling corruption, 40 percent to 25 percent, and a small edge on the state budget, 40 percent to 35 percent, and the economy and jobs, 38 percent to 34 percent. The two candidates run basically even among registered voters on improving New Jersey's cities, 35 percent Christie to 36 percent, Corzine, while the governor has a slight edge on health care, 35 percent to 31 percent. How ever, Christie gets the edge on these last two issues among likely voters.
Corzine leads his challenger when it comes to dealing with the environment, 41 percent to 24 percent, and education, 44 percent to 33 percent. The poll found some slight shifts in these issue advantages compared to a month ago. Corzine gained 8 points on handling education, while Christie lost 6 to 7 points on handling corruption and the environment.
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 752 New Jersey registered voters Tuesday and Wednesday. The sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.