[Tables and questions related to this post are at http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/polls/release_10_26_09.pdf]
Poor Chris Daggett. What’s a serious independent in NJ to do? He doesn’t have the cachet of Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, nor does he have the advantage of the election day voter registration that drew thousands of younger people to the polls. New Jersey isn’t Maine where anyone who lives on that frozen tundra must be a little “different” and so they regularly elect independents. And here in NJ the one group that ought to be solidly on his side is more splintered than not.
The recent Rutgers-Eagleton Poll asked New Jersey citizens to consider the two party system and to say whether they they think the current system works well, strong additional parties are needed, or candidates should run as individuals, not on a party line. The results? More than two-thirds of New Jersey voters SAY they want an alternative to the two party system. But of these voters, less than one-quarter say they will actually vote for Daggett. Ultimately Daggett does almost as well (17 percent) with those who LIKE the two-party system as with those who don’t!
So in addition to his disadvantage in get out the vote (GOTV) organization, his limited funds, and his terrible ballot position inmost counties, Chris Daggett hasn’t been able to tap into voters who claim they want alternatives. Even so, he is polling as strongly as any independent candidate ever has in a New Jersey governor’s race. If he had just been able to break through to the large number of voters who say they want alternatives, this really would be a race!
Why is this? First, it may simply be that most people STILL didn't know enough about Daggett to even rate him: Fewer than half of New Jersey’s likely voters (46 percent) had formed an impression of Daggett, although among those who have, more than twice as many (31 percent) saw him favorably as unfavorably (15 percent). In contrast, views of both Corzine and Christie were more negative than positive. Still, a basic law of politics says that if voters don’t know you they won’t vote for you.
And of course, because voters didn’t really know Daggett, they were also relatively unfamiliar with his signature tax proposal. Two weeks before the election, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll showed that only 23 percent of likely voters had heard “a lot” about Daggett’s plan, while 25 percent said they had heard “nothing at all” about the plan. Even Daggett’s supporters were no more likely to have heard a lot about the plan than Corzine or Christie supporters. Despite a lot of media coverage and attacks on the plan by Christie, Daggett has trouble getting the message out. And when he does, it doesn’t guarantee him support. In fact, 40 percent of voters who HAD heard a lot about the plan supported Christie, with Corzine at 32 percent and Daggett at 22 percent.
You would think that Daggett would be able to capitalize on those who see their choices limited by two major parties. But voters who gripe about the two-party system still have to be convinced that they really have a viable choice outside that system. Daggett does not appear to have been able to do that yet and in fact he hasn’t even registered much with many of them, either as a person or in terms of his tax plan. But the number of people who want more choices suggests it is possible for a strong third party or independent to make waves in New Jersey. This could be helping fuel Daggett’s potential history-making showing even if he doesn’t do better than he is polling now. But it may also be that he has already peaked and will drift back down in the numbers as some of the most recent polls seem to be showing. We'll know on November 3.