If it's the end of September it must be time for another poll in NJ's 3rd Congressional District, the only one pundits think is really competitive. And our latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll does indeed suggest the race remains close among likley voters, though incumbent Democrat John Adler holds a strong lead among all registered voters. Adler's potential problem, however, is that his supporters are less likely to be enthusiastic about voting. Thus what is a 9 point lead or so among registered voters (compared to only 6 points in August) is a within-the-margin-of-error two point lead among those we judge to be likely voters.
Still, as the release below shows, Adler is in reasonable position for an incumbent Democrat in a marginal seat given the prevailing winds of 2010. He seems to be so because most likely voters in the district actually say they prefer experience over an outsider and because he is seen somewhat more favorably than is his opponent Republican Jon Runyan. A Christie endorsement of Runyan doesn't change much, nor does an Obama endorsement of Adler. Go figure!
A quick note on "likely voters". In August we did a very simple likely voter screen, essentially asking how likely the respondent was to vote this fall, and eliminating anyone who gave a response of "50/50" or less. We know of course that people tell us they will vote, even when they won't, so this screen is kind of limited.
For this poll and for the next pre-election poll in late October, our screen is a little more detailed.
We start by asking people if they voted for president in 2008 and governor in 2009. Those who did not vote in these higher profile elections are extremely unlikely to vote this fall, so we drop them, - except if they were not old enough to vote in 2008 or 2009. We then ask a vote enthusiasm question, where respondents are asked to say how enthusiastic they are about voting on a 0-10 scale. We drop anyone who scores less than a 5 as being less than 50% likely to vote. Finally, we also give respondents a chance to say they will not vote in our vote choice questions. Those who say "not vote" are also eliminate from the likely voter pool. The result in the 3rd District is that we go from 538 registered voters to 335 likely voters in our sample, about a 63% yield. While Congressional year turnout is virtually always lower than presidential and gubernatorial, the question this year is how much lower? My guess is that 60% of registered voters (NOT of eligible voters) is still high, but probably not too bad a cut for a likely voter screen.
Following is the release.
Full Release with Questions and Tables available HERE.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: ADLER MAINTAINS LEAD IN 3RD DISTRICT
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Third Congressional District incumbent Democrat John Adler has increased his lead among registered voters to nine points over Republican challenger Jon Runyan, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. With third party candidate Peter DeStefano included, Adler leads with 40 percent (up from 31 percent in August), followed by 31 percent for Runyan (up from 25 percent) while DeStefano polls at 6 percent (up from 4 percent). Most registered voters now make a choice, with only 12 percent saying “don’t know” and another 12 percent saying they will not vote.
Adler’s lead among registered voters is at risk, however, when voter enthusiasm is considered. Only 42 percent of Democrats rate themselves as “very enthusiastic” about voting in the upcoming election, compared to 58 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of independents.
“John Adler appears so far to be bucking the tide of anti-incumbency and anti-Democratic feeling among all registered voters,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “However, there is significant risk for him in the enthusiasm gap evident between Republicans and Democrats. If more Democrats don’t vote, Adler will be in trouble.”
The telephone poll of 538 registered voters and 335 likely voters living in the 3rd District was conducted Sept. 23-26 and has a margin of error 4.2 percentage points for registered voters and 5.4 percentage points for likely voters. The survey included both landline and cell phone respondents.
Statistical tie among likely voters
Likely voters – defined as those who voted in the last two elections and are generally enthusiastic about voting this time – prefer Adler by two points, but this is within the poll’s margin of error. Adler leads Runyan, 41 percent to 39 percent, with DeStefano at 6 percent among likely voters; 14 percent remain undecided.
Independents will hold the key to this election if they vote, Redlawsk said. Among all registered independents, Adler leads Runyan, 32 percent to 26 percent, with DeStefano at 11 percent. But among likely voting independents, Runyan leads, 35 percent to 30 percent, with DeStefano at 9 percent.
“Independent voters’ normally low turnout in an off-year, coupled with the lack of enthusiasm by Democrats, puts Adler in a tougher place than he would be if turnout were higher,” said Redlawsk. “He still appears to have the edge, but it is a very thin edge. Nonetheless, given the uphill battle Democrats face overall, Adler seems in a better position six weeks out than may have been expected.”
Likely voters more favorable towards Adler
Likely voters feel positive about their incumbent congressman, by a 43 percent to 30 percent margin. In comparison, only 29 percent feel favorable towards Runyan, while 30 percent feel unfavorable. Another 28 percent say they have not heard enough to have an opinion on Runyan, compared to only 15 percent for Adler. Meanwhile, 6 percent view DeStefano favorably and 8 percent unfavorably. Among independent likely voters, Adler gets 39 percent favorable and 34 percent unfavorable, compared to 29 percent favorable and 24 percent unfavorable for Runyan.
Attitudes toward Democrats in Washington
Forty-six percent of likely 3rd Congressional District voters think Democrats should be given more time in office, 2 points higher than those thinking it is time to elect Republicans. About three-quarters of likely voters willing to give Democrats more time say they will vote for Adler; almost the same percentage who call for a Republican say they will vote for Runyan.
Experience versus the outsider
Registered voters prefer an experienced candidate to an outsider by 51 percent to 32 percent margin. In August’s Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, only 26 percent preferred an outsider, while 48 percent wanted experience. Among likely voters, 47 percent say they favor experience, while 34 percent would prefer an outsider. About six-in-10 likely voters calling for an experienced candidate prefer Adler; the same percentage favoring an outsider makes Runyan their choice.
“Voters’ preference for experience is helping Adler, even in the current anti-Washington environment,” said Redlawsk. “As an incumbent, Adler can obviously trade on his experience, while Runyan is forced to make the outsider claim that voters seem less interested in supporting.”
Endorsement by Obama and Christie
Endorsements by President Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Christie appear to have limited effect on voters who have already chosen their 3rd District candidate: only 37 percent of likely Adler voters said Obama’s endorsement would make them more likely to vote for Adler, while six percent said it would make them less likely. The majority (56 percent) said an endorsement by Obama would not matter. Among Runyan voters, 62 percent said an endorsement of Adler by Obama would make them less likely to vote for Adler; just 6 percent said it made them more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate.
An endorsement by Christie would make 42 percent of Runyan voters more likely to vote for the Republican candidate; 8 percent say it would make them less likely. But most likely Runyan voters (50 percent) say such an endorsement would not matter. For Adler voters, a Christie endorsement of Runyan would make 50 percent less likely to vote for the GOP candidate, while 42 percent say it would make no difference.
Voters are paying more attention
Compared to the August Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, 3rd District voters are paying more attention to the Adler-Runyan race as Election Day nears. In August, 45 percent of registered voters said they were not paying close attention, nine points higher than today. Two-thirds of voters say they are paying at least “somewhat close attention” to political news. “The more voters pay attention, the more likely they are to vote,” said Redlawsk. “Off-year turnout is normally substantially lower than presidential years, but there does seem to be a greater level of interest in this race than in the usual congressional vote.”