Entering 2013, Governor Chris Christie was seeing higher than average poll numbers largely due to his response to Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012. The high 60/low 70 percent approval numbers made it seem like a tough task for the strongest of Democratic challengers against Christie as he was looking to become a two term governor. As top potential candidates like Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) chose to sit out challenging Christie, it began to look like only one person would step up. That person being state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18). As the two looked like they were on a path to face off in November, polls showed what would be a true uphill fight for the challenger.
Much of the race has shown Buono trailing Christie characteristically by roughly 30 to 40 points in most polls. As the election moved to the final two months when races typically can become tighter, Buono still has remained in a tough spot regarding polls.
One poll from Rutgers-Eagleton a little more than a month ago would show some favorable news for Buono as she was only trailing Christie by 20 points as Christie received 55% support to Buono's 35% support among likely voters.
As David Redlawsk, Rutgers Eagleton poll director, would state;
As expected, the race tightened over the summer, with some Democrats coming back to their party’s candidate. As long as Christie continues to have independent voters all but sewn up, Buono is fighting an uphill battle. Improvement with her core constituency is not enough.
In addition to strong approval ratings, Buono is battling a low name recognition against a governor with a national image and someone who has had his name mentioned among potential Republican presidential candidates in 2012 and already seeing his name mentioned for 2016. The fact that more than 40% had yet to gather a strong opinion of her based according to this poll allowed her some room for improvement as the election continued to draw closer and more began to recognize and know her name.
Another poll would show a similar 20+ point edge for Christie over Buono. This one was a Stockton Polling Institute poll that had Christie generating 58% support compared to 30% for Buono.
While a Quinnipiac University would show a slightly larger lead for Christie as 64% of likely voters favored him with Buono being favored by 30%. Christie has been able to garner support from 6 in 10 women and about a third of Democrats behind him. That has certainly played a major factor in the gap between the two's poll numbers.
As Maurice Carroll, Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, would outline;
There’s no silver lining for State Sen. Barbara Buono in the cloudy outlook for her campaign. Even a third of Democrats prefer Gov. Christopher Christie. And, although the Buono campaign and Buono’s political background are big on women's issues, even women favor Christie. So do men. There’s not even a very big gender gap.
A Monmouth University poll would give a similar picture with Christie leading Buono by a 56-37 margin. Unlike the previous ones mentioned, this showed the two candidates separated by less than 20 points. One of the biggest takeaways from this poll was the fact that more than 8 in 10 voters had commented having made up their minds on whom they will vote for on November 5th. Thus, while Buono might be closing a wide gap to a slightly less wide gap; there seems to be little room for improvement if swing voters are limited.
Echoing all of those polls would be Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll that showed Christie up by a 58 to 25 margin over Buono with less than a month to go. This poll also showed Democrats being fairly evenly split in their support; something that Buono has had to work hard to overcome as Republicans have been much more loyal to Christie.
Just as it was looking like Buono was going to get the race down to 20 points or less between herself and Christie, a new trend would occur led by that FDU-PublicMind poll that show Christie expanding his lead again.
Polls from Qunnipiac University and Stockton University would show a 2 to 1 edge for the governor over his challenger. The Qunnipiac University poll would show a 62 to 33 edge for Christie. Something seen in pretty much every poll mentioned and seen in the Qunnipiac poll was the lack of a gender gap for Christie. Normally, Democrats in the state have utilized women to put them on the road to victory. However, Buono has not been as lucky as women favor Christie by a 59-36 edge in this poll with men backing the governor by a 64-30 margin. Those paired with some other aspects like the fact that Democratic voters are not strongly behind Buono has positioned for Christie for the type of lead he has in this race.
As Carroll would describe,
Sen. Barbara Buono has been out front on women’s issues long before she was a candidate, but Gov. Christopher Christie has a huge 23-point lead among women voters, part of his 2-1 dominance overall.
The Stockton poll would show a slightly wider gap for Christie as he was preferred over Buono by a 61 to 28 margin. The 29 point and 33 point gaps with less than a month to go were not what Buono was hoping to see at this point in the race. This poll spoke to something that Buono has been working to erode this whole year: her low name recognition. 41% of likely voters said they were not familiar with Buono. That is a high number and likely is playing a role in the type of gap in the polls. The same can be said for 29-28 split in her unfavorabilty/favorability ratings according to this poll. While Christie is known by 97% of likely voters and has a 64% approval rating.
For Daniel J. Douglas, Director of the Hughes Center that conducted the poll,
Senator Buono is up against the formidable hurdles of Governor Christie’s advantages in fund-raising, name recognition and general support from the public.
Another pair of polls from Monmouth University and Rutgers-Eagleton would show not as big a gap for Buono but not much better. The Monmouth University poll of likely voters would give a Christie a 24 point edge with a 59-35 margin. Like other polls from the month before, it was a slight increase in Christie's favor. This poll broke down multiple demographics and the only one that Buono had an edge with was among African-American voters. Male, female, white, and Hispanic voters all favor Christie.
A similar edge was seen for Christie in the Rutgers-Eagleton poll as he was favored by a 59-33 margin over Buono.
Barbara Buono is not making any new gains, even among those who should gravitate to her. Chris Christie simply seems to be a force of nature all but unstoppable in this particular election. Ultimately, voters like Chris Christie personally, and they are not convinced Buono will do better on the issues they care about.
Just when it looked like Christie was about to essentially stop any in roads Buono was trying to make in the polls, the gap began to suddenly shrink in Buono's favor with about a week to go.
A Stockton University poll last week would show a 33 point gap from a few weeks earlier closed to a 26 point gap as Christie's lead was now a 56 to 32 margin. While a seven point jump would normally be something to celebrate down the stretch, being down by 26 points almost seems impossible to come back from despite any potential late surge.
Douglas would frame that point by stating,
Even if all of the undecideds break for Senator Buono, Governor Christie still leads by landslide proportions.
A Fairleigh Dicknson University PublicMind poll would follow and show only a 19 point gap for Buono as Christie was preferred by a 59 to 40 margin. That too was down from a 33 point edge Christie had earlier in the month.
As Krista Jenkins, the poll's director, would voice;
The state has not seen a gap of this magnitude in a gubernatorial race in quite some time. The 2001 race between Republican Bret Schundler and Democrat Jim McGreevey certainly comes to mind, but that was over a decade ago. In this polarized political environment, the degree of support that Christie has in a ‘blue’ state is something that is likely to distinguish him from other Republican leaders.
While she was closing the gap in these polls, there was still a sizable portion of Democrats favoring Christie.
Finally, a Kean University poll would show Christie up by 18 points with a 54 to 36 edge.
Throughout the race and all these polls, Buono has had one strong stance:
I don't look at the polls. Polls aren't going to win an election.
While polls aren't 100% of a race and it's outcome, they do paint a picture and it has been one of a major uphill climb for Buono from Day 1.
Thus, as the race enters the final hours; it looks like it might not be a 30 point romp for Christie; but it is hard to say it won't be anything better than a 18-20 point loss for Buono if polls are to be used as a guide for Tuesday's election. The last month has been up and down for Buono as she tried to close the gap before Christie widened it again which was followed by a late small surge for Buono. The demographics that Buono has needed like more Democrats, more women, and more Independents have all broken either towards Christie or not enough for Buono when it comes to her own party's voters. There might be a late poll or two in the final day of the race but it is hard to see anything positive enough for Buono to think she can pull the upset as each poll throughout the year has shown a very strong path for victory for Christie.