Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poor Chris Daggett

[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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Daggett’s Challenge: New Jersey voters say they want choices but still support major party candidates

Questions and Tables available at

NEW BRUNSWICK – While a large majority of New Jersey voters wants an alternative to the two-party system, independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett has yet to capitalize on this discontent, according to the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

The poll finds that only 27 percent of likely voters say the current two-party system works well. Given a choice, 37 percent would prefer more than two strong parties, while another 32 percent believe candidates should run without party labels at all. Despite nearly 70 percent support for an alternative to Democrats and Republicans, only one in five likely voters supports Daggett. Results are from a statewide Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 583 likely voters conducted October 15-20. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent.

Only 17 percent of voters who think the two-party system works well support Daggett, compared to 46 percent for Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine and 34 percent for Republican Chris Christie. But even among those who say New Jersey needs more than two strong parties, Daggett wins only 25 percent, while the major party candidates win about one-third each. Finally, voters who think candidates should not run under party labels also fail to support Daggett. He wins 20 percent of these voters, compared to Christie’s 40 percent and Corzine’s 36 percent.

“It is striking how many New Jersey voters say they want an alterative, yet how unwilling they are to vote for that alternative when available. And of course, there are widely varying views on what the alternative should be, much as in the health care debate” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Even though Daggett is running a credible campaign, he is failing to attract most disaffected voters. Much of this is because many voters still know little about Daggett, but the numbers also are driven by history: independents don’t win in New Jersey and voters know that.”

Impressions of Daggett

Fewer than half of New Jersey’s likely voters (46 percent) have formed an impression of Daggett, although among those who have, more than twice as many (31 percent) see him favorably as unfavorably (15 percent). In contrast, views of both Corzine and Christie are more negative than positive.

“Daggett’s challenge, with only a week to go, is to make inroads with those who know little about him,” said Redlawsk. “But given his lack of funding and local organization, this will be difficult at best.”

The poll shows Daggett does do well among those who view him favorably – he wins 53 percent of these likely voters. But this lags both Corzine, who wins 81 percent of those who view him favorably, and Christie, who wins 74 percent of his favorable voters.

“Interestingly, at 31 percent favorable, Daggett is viewed positively by nearly as many voters as Christie (39 percent favorable) and Corzine (40 percent favorable),” said Redlawsk. “But because he is winning only half of those who like him, he cannot compete with the two major party candidates, who have managed to nail down their supporters. Here is more evidence that many voters, while liking Daggett, just can’t bring themselves to vote for him.”

Daggett’s Tax Plan

Daggett drew media attention with his release of a detailed tax plan before the October 1 debate. But two weeks before the election, the 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. Daggett’s supporters were no more likely to have heard a lot about the plan than Corzine or Christie supporters, although they were significantly less likely to have heard nothing at all.

“Awareness of Daggett’s tax plan is another indicator of how hard it is for an independent candidate with much less money to get his message across,” said Redlawsk. “Despite a good deal of media coverage, and attacks on the plan by Christie, most voters say they have heard little or nothing about it.”

Hearing about the plan does not make a voter more likely to support Daggett, according to the poll. Voters who have heard a lot about the plan are more likely to support Christie, at 40 percent and Corzine at 32 percent, than Daggett, who gets only 22 percent of these voters. At the same time, Daggett does much worse among voters who have heard nothing about the plan, winning only 13 percent to Corzine’s 48 percent and Christie’s 32 percent.

“In the end, the tax plan probably has done Daggett some good,” said Redlawsk. “He got media attention, and voters who have heard about the plan are more likely to support him than those who have not. But Christie’s attacks on the plan seem to have had some effect as well, given that he does best among those who have heard the most.”

Daggett as the “Not Christie/Corzine” Candidate

The Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows that nearly one-quarter of likely voters rate both Christie and Corzine unfavorably. These should be voters ripe for the taking by Daggett, Redlawsk said, however, Daggett wins only 41 percent of these voters, compared to 25 percent for Christie and 22 percent for Corzine. Among the voters least likely to support the two major party candidates, Daggett does not perform especially well.

One possible reason can be found when voters are asked which candidate would do the best job solving the state’s “most important problem.” While 69 percent of Daggett voters think he will do the best job on their most important problem, slightly more Christie (72 percent) and Corzine (73 percent) voters think their candidate will do the best job. And among those who view Daggett favorably, whether voting for him or not, only 48 percent believe he will do the best job. Corzine and Christie do much better with those who view them favorably. Of those who rate Corzine favorably, 66 percent say he will do the best job, while 63 percent of those favorable to Christie say the same about him.

Even more surprising, only 33 percent of those who view both Corzine and Christie unfavorably think Daggett will do the best job on their more important problem. Nearly 40 percent of this group simply doesn’t think any of the candidates can solve the state’s important problems.

“Most voters who dislike both major party candidates cannot bring themselves to vote for Daggett – at least not yet,” said Redlawsk. “These voters, who could be key to a Daggett surprise, seem instead to be defeatist, suggesting that New Jersey’s problems cannot be solved by any of the candidates. Thus, they seem more likely to simply default to Corzine or Christie rather than rallying to Daggett.”

Daggett and the Two-Party System

One consequence of both the lack of awareness of Daggett and the lack of confidence that he can solve the state’s problems is that he does no better among those who dislike the two party system than he does among those who like it.

Most New Jerseyans, even those who identify with one of the two major parties, say they prefer something other than the two-party system. Only 36 percent of self-identified Democrats and 27 percent of Republicans say the current system works well. But most of these voters would still vote for their own party’s candidate, with 71 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans supporting their party, while only 15 percent of partisans support Daggett.

“It is not surprising that Republicans are less supportive of the two-party monopoly in New Jersey where they are the minority party,” said Redlawsk. “But it is a bit surprising that even most Democrats – who are in control – think there should be other options on the ballot. Nevertheless, despite what they say, party members remain very unlikely to defect to Daggett.”

Even among independents, Daggett lags overall and among those who want alternatives to the two-party system. Independents who like the system – a very small group representing only 7 percent of the sample – give a very small nod to Daggett, 33% to 28% for both Christie and Corzine. Independents who say they want alternatives (28 percent of all likely voters) are actually more likely to support Christie, 36 percent to 30 percent for Daggett and 27 percent for Corzine.

“We would think that Daggett might be able to capitalize on those who see their choices limited by two major parties,” said Redlawsk. “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. But the number of people who want more choices provides possibilities for a strong third party or independent run. This could help fuel Daggett’s potential history-making showing.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Support for the New Jersey Open Space Bond Depends on How Question is Asked

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – New Jersey’s $400 million dollar open space bond issue is at risk of failing according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Among likely voters in the November 3 election, 43 percent oppose borrowing for open space while 41 percent support borrowing, a statistical dead heat. Another 16 percent are undecided.

The Rutgers-Eagleton poll results vary dramatically from another recent poll which found 55 percent of likely voters in favor, and only 32 percent opposed. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 583 likely voters has a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent.

“It is rare to see such significant differences in two polls taken at nearly the same time,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “In this case, however, the difference is in the way the question was asked. When voters are cued to the idea that a bond issue means borrowing money they are far less supportive than when simply told that bonds will be issued.”

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll asked the question: “Voters will decide whether New Jersey should borrow $400 million to preserve open space, farmland, and historic areas. Do you plan to vote for or against borrowing this money?” In comparison other polls have simply asked voters whether they support “bonding” for open space without specifying that bonding means borrowing money.

“There is no right or wrong way to ask this question,” said Redlawsk. “Voters are clearly very sensitive to the idea of borrowing money in a recession. At the same time, New Jersey voters have generally been supportive efforts to protect open space. Placed against each other, these differing results show that the outcome will depend on how voters view the question when they enter the voting booth.”

Support for the open space referendum in the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll depends greatly on where voters live. Those living in the major urban areas of the state support the referendum, 48 percent to 35 percent, while those living in the Philadelphia area and in shore counties oppose it 51 percent to 35 percent. New Jersey residents in suburban and exurban areas are evenly balanced with 42 percent favoring and 40 percent opposed.

“Perhaps not surprisingly, those who live in the most densely populated parts of the state are generally in favor of this referendum, while those in the least populated areas are clearly opposed, at least when they are reminded that bond issues require borrowing money,” said Redlawsk.

The fate of the bond could rest at least in part on whether Jon Corzine or Chris Christie voters are more likely to get to the polls. A majority of 51 percent of Corzine voters support borrowing for open space, while only 30 percent of Christie voters do. Daggett voters are somewhat negative with 40 percent supporting the referendum and 47 percent in opposition.

“The take home message is that over the last week and a half of the campaign, the messages voters get about the open space referendum may make a big difference,” said Redlawsk. “So far the debate over the referendum has been muted. If those who support the bond issue focus on its benefits they may convince people to look beyond the borrowing and the bond will pass. Those who want to defeat the referendum may have a chance if they can focus voters on the fact that bond issues are about borrowing money. If so, this will be a close vote.”

(Tables can be found at http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/polls/release_10-23-09.pdf)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The obvious answer based on recent polling is that if the election were held today, it would be a tie. At least that’s what it appears to be, when all polls are now showing the leader (whether Chris Christie or Jon Corzine) within the margin of error. Even our new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, while showing one of the largest leads for Corzine (+3), is still within its +/- 4.1 percent margin of error. (see the poll press release at http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/polls/release_10-22-09.pdf).

But the real answer is that it depends greatly on the assumptions being made. Most importantly it depends on the assumptions made about who will turn out. All horserace polls have to model “likely voters” and this is hard.

As the New York Times reminds us recently, turnout in the last two NJ Governor elections has been about 49% of registered voters. Random digit dialing (RDD) as most public polls do reaches a lot of people who are just not going to vote. But it is really hard to figure out who they are. Consider, for example, that those who are actually willing to stay on the line and talk to pollsters are already different from other people. They are more interested in politics and thus more likely to show up on Election Day.

But how much more interested are they? Instead of 49% of registered voters, should we find that 60% of those polled will vote? 70%? 55%? Who knows?

Well internal campaign polls often have the edge on this because they use voter lists to do their polling. Thos lists come with vote history information – they know if you have voted in past elections and in what kind of elections. Are you a consistent primary voter – you’ll almost certainly be a general election voter even in a gubernatorial year. Do you show up only when there is a presidential election – then they won’t count on you for 2009, even if you claim that you are likely to vote when asked. Simply put, one of the best predictors of voting this year is having done it in the past, in elections large and small.

Since RDD pollsters – including Rutgers-Eagleton – don’t have your voting history at hand, they have to ask questions. We base our likely voter modeling on several things. First, you have to be a registered voter. Second, we do ask if you expect to turn out. But people lie about this – a lot. So we ask how likely you are to turn out and generally only count those who claim to be very likely or almost certain to vote. We also ask if you voted last year. If you didn’t vote in 2008, you almost certainly won’t vote this year – unless you were too young in 2008. But this still isn’t enough to convince us you are a likely voter. So we ask some questions about interest in and attention to the campaign. Those who show significant interest and are paying some attention – in addition to registered voter, self identified likely turnout and 2008 voting – become our likely voters. Others may approach this process differently and have different screens. Your mileage may vary – and so may the reported horserace!

One interesting result of differing screens for likely voters is that various New Jersey polls – such as Rutgers-Eagleton, Monmouth, and Fairleigh Dickinson often end up with slightly different mixes of partisans in their likely voter samples. Monmouth recently reported the race tied at 39% for Christie, 39% for Corzine and 14% for Chris Daggett. Their weighted sample shows turnout at 40% Democratic, 26% Republican, and 34% Independent. Democrats are much more likely to vote for Corzine, Republicans for Christie, and Independents in the poll are split, but favoring Christie. Obviously the more Democrats who are assumed to be showing up the better Corzine will poll all else equal; the more Republicans, the better for Christie.

We reported Corzine 39%, Christie 36%, Daggett 20%. Our breakdown by party is 39% Democrat, 35% Independent, and 26% Republican, very close to Monmouth. But what if we reported 40% of the voters would be Democrats and 34% would be Independents, leaving Republicans at 26%? This one point different in turnout assumptions would increase Corzine’s lead from 39%-36% to 41%-36% (rounding), putting Corzine up 5 points and outside the margin of error.

But that’s NOT what we reported because our data suggests the 39-26-35 turnout breakdown. I just want to point out that even small changes in assumptions lead to interesting changes in interpretations. For what it is worth, the actual voter registration as of October 5, 2009 in New Jersey is 34% Democrat, 20% Republican and 46% Independent. Notice we all assume Independents are much less likely than partisans to show up in 2009.

So while it is trite to say it, this election IS all about turnout.

And who will win? Well, remember polls ask “if the election were today” so they are not predictive of the future. And who they say is winning heavily depends on turnout assumptions. 40% Democrat turnout share and Corzine may win it. 35% Democratic share and he loses it. At least if the election was today!


Contact: David Redlawsk, PhD
Email: redlawsk@rutgers.edu
Phone: (732) 932-9384 ext. 285

(Note - this is a corrected version. We had an error in reading the numbers in the most important problem section where we said of the small number who say corruption is the most important problem, 50 percent support Daggett. It should have been 50 percent support Christie. Sorry for the error. The paragraph has been removed.)


The Horse Race

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine may be benefiting from increasing interest in independent Chris Daggett at the expense of Republican Chris Christie, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, conducted Oct 15 through 20. The poll of 583 likely voters finds that 39 percent support Corzine, 36 percent Christie, and 20 percent Daggett when leaners are included. This is the first poll to find Daggett at or above 20 percent support. The margin of error on the poll is +/- 4.1 percent.

Both major party candidates have now solidified most of their party supporters, with 71 percent of Democrats supporting Corzine and 75 percent of Republicans supporting Christie. Daggett draws from both parties, with 16 percent support from Democrats and 14 percent from Republicans. Independents split 35 percent for Christie, 31 percent for Daggett, and 27 percent for Corzine. These results suggest some softening in Corzine’s and Christie’s bases, compared to other recent polls, while Daggett’s independent support has come more at Christie’s expense.

“While Jon Corzine has made up a lot of ground in all the polls since last summer, he has not done it by increasing his support. Instead, Chris Christie has lost support as some voters who are opposed to Corzine have become attracted to Chris Daggett,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Even so, it is important to note that Corzine’s lead in this poll is within the margin of error and if the election were today, the winner would be the candidate who can best rally his troops. We don’t know now who that will be.”

The Daggett Effect

According to the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, independent candidate Chris Daggett has continued to make gains, reaching 20 percent support overall. Other polls have shown a steady increase in support for Daggett as fewer New Jerseyans report that they know nothing about him. Daggett’s support appears to come from both potential Corzine and Christie voters, but the effect is slightly stronger on Christie. When asked how they would vote if Daggett were not on the ballot, 37 percent of Daggett supporters say they don’t know or they would simply not vote. Another 34 percent say they would vote for Christie, while 28 percent would vote for Corzine.

“Daggett continues to draw fairly evenly from both major party candidates,” said Redlawsk. “However, in a close race, it may make a difference that Daggett voters are people who would have been slightly more on Christie’s side than on Corzine’s in a two-way race. The underlying question is whether current Daggett supporters really will vote for him on Election Day, or whether they will opt for their second choice, one of the major party candidates.”

In recent weeks Christie has been working to tie Daggett to Corzine, suggesting that a vote for Daggett is the equivalent of a vote for the governor. This strategy makes sense in light of opinions of those who see Daggett unfavorably. Among this relatively small group of respondents 52 percent say they would vote for Christie and 38 percent for Corzine. This suggests that if Christie can create a negative impression of Daggett among those who learn about him in the next two weeks, Christie can make up much of the ground needed to win.

Also driving Daggett’s support: voters see both major party candidates more unfavorably than favorably. Likely voters were asked, “Is your opinion of [Candidate name,] favorable, unfavorable, or haven’t you heard enough about him?” Corzine was rated 40 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable, Christie was rated 39 percent favorable, 42 percent unfavorable. Only Daggett had a positive rating, with 31 percent favorable and 15 percent unfavorable. However, more than half of respondents said they could not form an impression of Daggett. Of those who could, 53 percent with a favorable impression of Daggett say they would vote for him. But only 6 percent of those who could not form an impression said they would vote for Daggett.

“While it might seem odd that Daggett only wins 53 percent of those who view him favorably, independents are often viewed somewhat favorably, even by those who will not vote for them,” noted Redlawsk. “Daggett is doing well to get a majority of these voters to support him in a three-way race.

Most voters say they have heard at least a little about Daggett’s tax plan, with 23 percent saying they have heard a lot, 52 percent a little, and 25 percent none at all. Daggett gets support from about 23 percent of those who have heard something about his plan, but only 13 percent from those who have heard nothing.

“Overall,” added Redlawsk, “those voters who do know Daggett tend to like him, and those who like him support him at unprecedented levels for a New Jersey independent candidate. The question remains whether he can hold on to those voters without the kind of organized turnout operation that the two major parties have in place.”

“While Daggett is clearly having an impact on this race, it seems that on the current trajectory, the vote would have to be very close for his candidacy to make the deciding difference,” said Redlawsk. “If Daggett’s name was suddenly to disappear from the ballot, Christie would pick up a few more Daggett supporters than would Corzine. It’s important to remember, however, that in two recent New Jersey Governor’s races (in 1993 and 1997), the victor’s margin was only about 1 percent of the vote.”

Most Important Problem

A majority of New Jersey likely voters say taxes in general are the most important problem facing the state. Not surprisingly, specific mentions of property taxes lead the list.

When respondents were asked to report their single most important problem in “just a word or two,” property taxes were named by 35 percent of likely voters. Other taxes followed at 17 percent. Following far behind is unemployment at 11 percent, corruption at 9 percent, and the state budget and economy generally, both at 5 percent. No other problem was mentioned by more than 5 percent.

The large group of likely voters who name property taxes are evenly split between Corzine (36 percent) and Christie (34 percent), while Daggett wins only 24 percent of these voters, despite having proposed the first detailed plan to address taxes. However, voters concerned with other (non-property) taxes strongly support Christie, 43 percent to 24 percent for Corzine and 24 percent for Daggett.

Corzine is strongest on the economy. Among likely voters who consider the economy or unemployment the most important problem, Corzine wins 57 percent, compared to 24 percent for Christie and 14 percent for Daggett.

“New Jerseyans care deeply about the problem of taxes, especially property taxes,” said Redlawsk. “However, the issue does not greatly advantage Chris Christie, and despite Chris Daggett’s tax plan proposal, he does only marginally better among these voters than he does in general. Still, for Christie the issue of taxes remains his strongest; fortunately for Corzine voters who care most about the economy do not seem to be interested in changing horses in midstream.”

Likely voters were also asked which candidate would do the best job on their most important problem. Nearly 21 percent do not know who would handle their problem best or volunteered that none of the candidates would.

Across all problems, 30 percent of likely voters think Christie would do the best job, 30 percent say Corzine, and 19 percent say Daggett.

For specific issues, among those who said property taxes were most important, 30 percent say Christie would do the best job, while 27 percent said Corzine, 24 percent picked Daggett and 19 percent could not choose a candidate. Among those concerned about other taxes, 32 percent pick Christie, 17 percent Daggett, and 13 percent Corzine, while 38 percent cannot choose. Voters caring about corruption also think Christie would do the best job, 39 percent to 29 percent for Daggett, 16 percent for Corzine and 16 percent none of the candidates. On the economy, Corzine again leads, with 51 percent saying he would handle the issue best, 21 percent Christie and 15 percent Daggett, with 13 percent none of the candidates.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Welcome to the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll

Welcome! I am the new Director of the Center for Public Interest Polling at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University - that's a mouthful! So it's easier to say I am the Director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. The Poll has a long and storied history dating back to 1971. More recently it has been less active and one of my jobs is to see what we need to do to revitalize it.

I will write more about this, more about myself, and more about my thinking about polls and what we will do at Eagleton as time goes on. For the moment this is completely bare bones, mainly to allow us to get our our first poll of the new regime!

Dave Redlawsk