Sunday, November 2, 2008

New Jersey Electoral Margins

The final Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll before Tuesday’s election puts Barack Obama ahead of John McCain by 55% to 34% in the Garden State (here). If this margin holds, it will be the first time in more than two decades that a presidential candidate won New Jersey by more than 20 points.

The last instance was 1984, when Ronald Reagan bested Walter Mondale 60% to 39%. The last 30+ point win was Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964. However, both of these races were won by incumbent presidents. You have to go all the way back to 1928 for the last time a non-incumbent candidate carried the state by 20 points.

That is not to say that large presidential victory margins are uncommon in New Jersey. Fifteen of the past 25 presidential elections were won by double digits, including 8 that were won by 20 points or more. Since 1908, the average margin of victory in New Jersey has been 14 points. [See the table at the end of this post for historical data.]

In New Jersey’s Senate race, Frank Lautenberg leads Dick Zimmer in our poll by 19 points going into the final days. This margin may come as a bit of a shock to those who keep track of the incumbent’s career. While he won his current term with a 10 point victory (after coming out of retirement to replace Robert Torricelli just weeks before the 2002 election), his prior margins were slimmer - including a 3 point win in 1994, 8 points in 1988, and 2 points in 1982.

The poll indicates that the size of Lautenberg’s margin in this race is due almost entirely to enthusiasm for the top of the ticket. (Quick fact: 72% of Jersey voters have been paying close attention to the presidential race, but only 9% have been closely following the senate campaign). It is possible that Barack Obama’s coattails can also swing two Republican-held Congressional seats in the 3rd and 7th districts into the Democratic column and lead to a potential upset of a GOP incumbent in New Jersey’s 5th.

And New Jersey simply reflects what’s going on nationally. Here are some other interesting stats to keep in mind as you watch election returns on Tuesday night:

--In the 1980 Reagan victory, the GOP picked up 34 House seats and 12 Senate seats (gaining control of the Senate).

--When Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in 1968, the GOP picked up 5 House seats and 6 Senate seats.

--Four years earlier, the Johnson landslide helped Democrats pick up 36 new House seats, but there were no gains in the Senate.

--When Truman defeated Dewey in 1948, the Democrats picked up 75 House seats and 9 Senate seats (which marked a return to majority status after both chambers temporarily went Republican in 1946).

--And the seminal 1932 Franklin Roosevelt election saw the Democrats pick up 97 House seats (they had gained bare control the year earlier with a couple of special elections) and gain control of the Senate with 12 new seats.

Will this year look more like 1980 or 1968? Or perhaps 1932? (Well, probably not that last one.)


New Jersey Presidential Vote Margins

1988R-G.H.W. Bush13
* incumbent

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