Wednesday, November 6, 2013

NJ Election Bullet Points

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ 

2016 Outlook
Twenty point margin in a blue state?  Check.
Win the Latino vote?  Check.
Win women, perform well among union members and young voters?  Check.
Win these same voters in a hypothetical 2016 presidential match-up?  Oops.
Takeaway:  Issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and minimum wage are not all that important to Democratic-leaning voters in New Jersey when they vote for governor.  [Something Barbara Buono never quite figured out.]  However, these issues become very relevant to these same “blue” voting blocs when they consider Christie as potential presidential timber.
There were none.  Zip. Zero. Nada.  In the first district, Assemblyman Nelson Albano was hoisted on his own petard.  It looks like there may be one GOP pick-up in the 38th that could be attributed to coattails.  That’s it.
The Democrats saw the Christie tsunami coming and realized they needed to ride that wave to survive.  They used his own “bipartisanship” mantra to tout their cooperation with the governor on key points.  Their GOTV effort worked hard to get voters to split their tickets – voting Republican for governor and Democratic for legislature.
The South Jersey incumbent legislators were particularly adept at this.  Take a look at the vote totals from the state’s five southernmost counties (Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester).  According to the unofficial results, Christie won these five counties with 143,799 votes to 76,623 for Buono.  However, the Democratic candidates for state Senate in these counties took 117,316 votes to 97,696 for the GOP slate. 
That means about 40,000 voters supported the Republican for governor and the Democrats for senate.  In other words, nearly 1-in-5 voters who went to the polls in those counties yesterday split their tickets – an amazing feat!
Just 38% of registered voters showed up yesterday.  That compares to 47% in 2009 – which set a then-record low for a governor’s race in New Jersey. Yesterday’s turnout is now the absolute lowest turnout on record of any November election where a statewide office (Governor/US Senate) topped the ballot.  The special Senate election three weeks ago – at 24% turnout – set the all-time low for any general election regardless of which office topped the ballot. 
Looked at another way, Gov. Christie won the support of 23% of registered voters to 15% for Buono, whereas 6-in-10 registered voters apparently cast their ballots for “meh!”
Bottom Line
Countervailing messages came out of yesterday’s election.  “The Governor” was a very powerful brand, but not much beyond that.  I fully expect that Team Christie will successfully highlight the positive and downplay the negative, as they have been doing for the past four years.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

2013 New Jersey Exit Poll Results

Please check back here throughout Election Night for updates on exit poll results from the 2013 New Jersey Governor election.

These polls stories were previously broadcast on NJTV.

The New Jersey exit poll was conducted for the National Election Pool (ABC, AP, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC) by Edison Research.

Updated 11:09pm


Well, the 2013 New Jersey Governor’s race is in the books.  Take a deep breath.  The 2016 race for the White House starts …  now!

How do the voters who gave Christie a landslide re-election victory view him as presidential material.  Well, not quite as much as they like him in the State House.  A bare majority of 51% say that their governor would make a good president.  Among Christie voters today, that number stands at 79%.  In fact, 16% of the voters who supported him today said that they don’t see him as a good fit for the Oval Office.

In fact, if Christie winds up facing Hillary Clinton in a 2016 all-star match-up he would lose his home state by 4 points – 48% for Clinton to 44% for Christie.  That result is from the same voters who just gave him an overwhelming victory tonight.

One of the problems facing Christie is that the popularity of his personal brand is overshadowed by negative views of the Republican party on the national stage.  Just 4-in-10 (38%) of New Jersey voters hold a favorable view of the GOP.  This is significantly less than the majority of 51% who hold a favorable view of the Democratic party.

The Tea Party proves to be a particular drag on the Republican brand in New Jersey.  Just 1-in-5 voters (18%) support the Tea Party movement, 35% are neutral, and nearly half of Garden State voters (45%) hold a negative view.

Even among New Jersey Republicans, just 3-in-10 (31%) say they support the Tea Party.  Another 52% are neutral and 15% are opposed.   The question is whether Christie has the support to appeal to Republicans in other states.  Exit polls from the 2012 caucuses and primaries showed that 64% of GOP voters in Iowa supported the Tea Party as did 51% of New Hampshire Republicans.  That’s a much different Republican Party than the one Christie leads in New Jersey.

Updated 11:01pm


What were New Jersey voters thinking about as they went to the polls today?  Of the four issues asked about in the exit poll, the economy was considered the most pressing concern.  Nearly half (49%) of Garden State voters say the economy is the most important issue in their vote for governor today.  Taxes come in second at 22% and education in third at 15%.  Only 6% of New Jersey voters said that same-sex marriage was the main issue driving their vote decision.

So let’s take a look at the issues on the top and bottom of that list.  First, the economy.  New Jersey voters gave Gov. Christie a big vote of confidence on that issue despite Sen. Buono’s charge that the state’s recovery lags behind the rest of the region.  Nearly 2-in-3 voters (64%) approve of Christie’s handling of the economy.  Only 35% disapprove.

The governor’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation is another issue highlighted by Buono in the hope of gaining traction on the incumbent.  Public opinion seemed to be on her side.  Fully 6-in-10 New Jersey voters (60%) support legalizing same-sex marriage.  Only 36% oppose it.

Buono performs well among same sex marriage supporters, pulling in 49% of this group’s vote today.  However, 49% still voted for Christie despite his veto of the legislation.

The recent New Jersey court decision to permit same sex marriage may have undercut the challenger’s ability to make this more of an issue, but pre-election polls suggested it was never going to be an issue that would motivate large swaths of voters.

The exit poll confirms that it was the economy rather than same sex marriage that ruled the day.

Updated 11:00pm


This campaign was certainly a study in contrasts.

So what did voters think of the two candidates?  Fully 64% of voters who went to the polls today have a favorable opinion of Gov. Chris Christie.  Just 42% have a favorable opinion of Sen. Barbara Buono.  It’s worth noting that the pre-election polls found 4-in-10 voters said they never learned enough about the challenger to form an opinion of her.

The big question tonight is how the Republican was able to claim such a resounding victory in a Democratic leaning state.  Obviously, he was going to do well among more conservative voters.  He won 93% of his fellow Republicans, 70% of the white vote and 66% of seniors. He also won the all-important independent vote by a significant 66% to 32% margin.

Christie also performed well among traditionally Democratic groups.  He won a majority of women (57%) and Latino voters (51%).  He won nearly half of voter in union households (46%) and among young voters under the age of 30 (49%). He even got 21% of the African-American vote, which is a good showing for a Republican.  Support for Christie among these groups improved by 8 to 19 points over his showing in 2009.
This broad swath of support might have been unthinkable a year ago.  All that changed over a year ago when Superstorm Sandy reshaped the entire political landscape. More than 8 in 10 voters approve of how the governor handled the storm’s aftermath.  That number includes nearly half of all voters (48%) who strongly approve of his post-Sandy efforts and another 37% who approve somewhat.

One-in-four voters (23%) today told us that Sandy created a severe hardship for them.  There have been some rumblings that these hardest-hit New Jerseyans have not been happy with the pace of recovery.  This group supported Christie by a 57% to 41% margin.  This is a decisive win, but smaller than the margin he earned among New Jersey voters who were not significantly impacted by the storm.

Updated 10:48pm


The actual polls are still open, but the exit polls are already giving us a clue to what New Jersey voters are thinking.

Of the four issues asked about in the exit poll, the economy was considered the most pressing concern.  Nearly half (49%) of Garden State voters say the economy is the most important issue in their vote for governor today.  Taxes come in second at 22% and education in third at 15%.  Only 6% of New Jersey voters said that same-sex marriage was the main issue driving their vote decision. 

With the economy being the top concern, there has been some debate in this race on the pace of New Jersey’s recovery.  But the economy is as much of a national issue as it is a state issue.  The national climate always looms large over New Jersey gubernatorial elections since they occur the year after presidential contests.  Many pundits try to read the tea leaves of New Jersey’s results as an indicator of the national political mood.

President Barack Obama won New Jersey last year by 17 points in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.  He remains more popular in the Garden State than he is nationally, but not as popular as he was just one year ago. Voters are split – 51% approve of his job performance compared to 49% who disapprove.

The president’s hallmark policy, the Affordable Care Act, has received a great deal of criticism with its roll-out last month.  New Jersey voters are also divided on their opinion of the new health care law - 48% support to 50% oppose.

However, Obama comes out on top when New Jerseyans look at the political struggles in Washington.  More voters blame the Republicans in Congress (56%) than the president (39%) for the recent federal government shutdown.

The bottom line is that New Jersey remains friendlier to Obama than it is toward the Republican brand.  We will see how that translates into support for the president’s bipartisan post-Sandy B.F.F. when the votes start rolling in at 8:00 tonight.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Candidate Buono’s Legacy

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ 
Sometimes you can win by losing.  The 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election is not one of those times.
By all accounts, Barbara Buono will suffer a significant defeat on Tuesday.  The writing was on the cards from the very beginning.  For a whole host of reasons – the post-Sandy inevitability of Chris Christie’s re-election, Buono’s standing as an outsider in the state party, etc. – the Democratic establishment was never going to throw resources into this race.
With this in mind, Buono should have realized that her best shot was to run an “agenda” campaign.  This is not to be confused with what Buono actually did – try to tackle every issue under the sun. 
Her approach to an agenda was encapsulated by her debate performances.  She spoke in shorthand and tried to cram multiple issues into each of her responses.  This left viewers – and voters – confused about what she would do as governor.
Her responses also gave Chris Christie a range of options on how to “rebut” her.  He invariably chose the fattest pitch offered up by Buono and slammed it out of the park.
In its endorsement of Christie’s reelection, the Star-Ledger editorial board summed up their decision by saying, “Buono simply did not make the case.”
Buono spent the past years highlighting at issues which independent swing voters – consider second or third tier priorities.  Or issues which are really non-issues (e.g. same-sex marriage has been decided by the courts and the minimum wage will be decided by the voters).
Knowing that she would lose, Buono could have done more in terms of leaving a legacy by putting an item that has been ignored onto the state’s political agenda.
Political leaders rarely, if ever, change the public’s mind on an issue.  But they can incite the public to demand action from their elected officials on important issues that have been percolating below the surface.
Other losing candidates have done this with varying degrees of success.  Jim McGreevey’s bid to unseat Christie Whitman in 1997 is one such example.  Regardless of the question he was asked by a reporter or voter during that campaign, McGreevey turned every answer into an unwavering call for auto insurance reform.  Suddenly, auto insurance was the top issue on voters’ minds.
Property tax reform is another issue put on the state agenda by a candidate in a losing effort.  Contrary to popular belief, “property taxes” has not always been at the top of voters’ minds as the state’s most pressing problem (as the chart here illustrates).
That didn’t happen until 2005.  During that year’s gubernatorial race, Republican Doug Forrester made “40 in 4” the centerpiece of his campaign.  In other words, he promised to cut property taxes by 40 percent in four years.  Democrat Jon Corzine was forced to respond with his own “30 in 3” plan.
Property taxes then jumped to the top of the list of issues that New Jerseyans said concerned them most.  And it stayed there.  Forrester put an important issue on the public agenda.
Once elected, Gov. Corzine called a special session of the legislature specifically to come up with bold ideas to bring down property taxes.  Unfortunately, he pulled the rug out from under the legislature and decided to put all his eggs into a toll road monetization basket instead.  And the rest, as MF Global investors know all too well, is history.
In 2009, independent candidate Chris Daggett tried to take the “win while losing” approach.  The unveiling of his bold property tax plan led to a momentary spike in the polls for Daggett.  However, his message got lost in the anti-Corzine sentiment that brought a new governor into office.  This allowed candidate Christie to avoid addressing the issue in his campaign, and the most we got in policy reform from Gov. Christie is a cap on annual growth.
Concerns about property taxes have not gone away though.  Even in the depths of the recent economic recession, it remained in the top spot or tied for number one among issues the public wanted to see addressed.  Even Superstorm Sandy couldn’t knock property taxes as the issue that most concerns New Jersey.
Polls have shown that Gov. Christie has been able to escape most of the blame for the ongoing property tax problem, but that it remains a potential Achilles’ heel for him.  The governor realizes this as well, as his ferocious reaction to a recent NJ League of Municipalities proposal demonstrates.
The right message and the right messenger could have put this issue – or indeed any other single priority issue – on the campaign’s front-burner.  This “agenda setting” approach could have changed the entire dynamic of this race and indeed the governing priorities of the next few years. 
Unfortunately for New Jersey, 2013 lacked both the message and the messenger.
Unfortunately for Barbara Buono, who has served admirably as a public servant, this will be her campaign’s legacy.