Thursday, October 15, 2009

As the Voter Churns

The conventional wisdom in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race is the better that Chris Daggett does, the worse Chris Christie does. Certainly, Daggett’s rise in the polls over the past four weeks is a nearly point for point match with Christie’s drop in support.

That certainly is true at the aggregate level, as I have noted elsewhere. Specifically, if you compare this week’s Quinnipiac Poll to the one they released September 1, you will find that Christie’s support dropped by 6 points, Corzine’s increased by 3, Daggett’s increased by 5 and Undecided decreased by 1. While Corzine made some gains, it seems the big switch was from Christie to Daggett, with Undecided remaining stable.

I stand by this analysis, but there may be more to this phenomenon than the naked eye can see. Research conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute with a panel of New Jersey voters indicates that this “net” effect may actually be masking a lot more individual-level churning in the electorate.

The first round of our online panel was interviewed September 23-28 (Wave 1). A total of 340 of these respondents then participated in a second round of interviews on October 9-14 (Wave 2). [Note: the intention of this panel study is to track individual level change over time. As such, it is not necessarily designed to be representative of candidate choice for the full electorate. That is why I refrain from reporting “horse race” percentages here. We’ll leave that for our standard telephone polling.]

The survey analysis divided the vote choice question into 14 separate categories. Those who make a candidate choice (Christie, Corzine, Daggett, Other) were asked if they are either “very sure” about their choice or “might change” their mind before election day – leading to a total of 8 categories. Those who initially indicate they are Undecided were then asked if they “lean” toward a candidate – producing 5 categories (Lean to Christie, Corzine, Daggett, Other or do not lean to any candidate). The final category is for those who say they will not cast a vote for governor on the ballot.

In the Wave 2 interviews, fully 66% of participating voters stayed in exactly the same place in the 14 vote choice categories where they started in Wave 1. Another 16% stayed with the same candidate, but shifted their strength of support (e.g. from lean to sure, etc.).

In the first wave of interviews, a total of 7-in-10 respondents said they were “very sure” about their vote choice. Two weeks later, though, 15% of these “firm” voters had changed their minds – including 9% who softened the level of support for their chosen candidate and another 6% who actually switched their preference to another candidate.

Grouping all levels of support (sure, might change, and lean) together, both Jon Corzine and Chris Christie held onto about 9-in-10 of their voters from Wave 1 to Wave 2. Chris Daggett held onto about 8-in-10 of his Wave 1 voters. [Make no mistake – the sample sizes are relatively small, especially for Daggett. Grains of salt should be large and copious.]

So how did Daggett increase his overall margin? Apparently, by pinching voters from both major party candidates and other independents as well as picking up a bigger share of the undecided vote.

It seems that part of Chris Christie’s previous support is also leaching into the Undecided column. Thus, the aggregate Undecided vote share remains stable, while Daggett’s net support grows and Christie’s drops. The inference here is that the 5% of voters who are Undecided in this week’s Quinnipiac poll (or any poll for that matter), are not the same individual voters who were Undecided a month or so ago.

Another preliminary finding from this study is that all candidates saw some of their voters stay with them, but shift the strength of their support. Both Corzine and Daggett saw more of their supporters shift to a stronger rather than weaker position. Christie, on the other hand, had more supporters weaken their level of support than strengthen it.

One implication is that many of the Undecided and “leaning” voters today have flirted with being a Christie supporter in the past. Can the Republican win them back or has he lost them for good? That’s a question will be looking at over the next few weeks.

On a final note, please view these findings with caution. This analysis represents the results of a relatively small, self-selected panel study. However, the results suggest that there is a lot more individual-level churning involved in the recent Christie to Daggett swing than the top-line poll numbers indicate.


  1. The Star Ledger's endorsement of Chris Daggett is great news. I wish the republicans would stop the Bush/Rove Fear mongering. There is obviously a consensus that a vote for Daggett is not a vote for Corzine, except among those who use mass psychological terror to promote their own agendas.

    Daggett is the only viable candidate and there are many of us who are voting for him because we know he can win and is the only candidate who can change this state. The Star Ledger's endorsement echoes and re-affirms that Daggett is a viable candidate and can win.

    Furthermore, Daggett is now polling at 18%.

    There even rumors on that NYC Mayor Micheal Bloomberg will endorse Daggett. If Still think Daggett Can't win then read this to find out why your wrong. 11 Years ago Jesse Ventura was polling in the low teens, much lower than Daggett just three weeks before the election and he won.

    We need people to get involved and spread the word about Chris Daggettbecause to vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.

    Learn 15 ways to help and get started now.

    Even if your not from NJ you can still cyber volunteer. Go here to get Html and Text code to post on the web or in an email to help support Daggett

    Only voter's have the power to change the government. We must refuse to be held captive to the broken two-party system that has brought a plaque of scandal and corruption into our government by fear of voting for a third party. Its time to send a message to politicians in NJ and all across the country Its time to end politics as usual.

  2. I was at the first debate and found Daggett to be centered and prepared and eventually composed and aggressive. He has made a good name for himself in this election. Chris Christie is going to lose because of Corzine's GOTV effort which will, as always, transpire. Daggett will find himself the next Republican candidate for governor and he won't be running against an incumbent and stands a much better chance to win.