As the calendar turned to 2013 and the field of potential Democratic challengers to face Governor Chris Christie began to dwindle, polls began to slowly trickle in to see how potential contests might breakdown. Christie was riding a major wave of popularity in the months following Hurricane Sandy in late October and regardless of whom was pitted against him, Christie held a slight to a major edge over the field of Democrats. A couple months into the year, it was pretty apparent that state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) would be the only major Democrat stepping up to challenge Christie.
As the two presumptive foes began the first phase of the gubernatorial election on the road to the primary elections, a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll showed a tough road ahead for Buono. Christie saw a 66% approval rating in the poll and carried 58% of voters' support compared to Buono's 22%. 20% were unsure between the two. A major advantage for Christie and something that aided him in defeating former Governor Jon Corzine four years ago is the support he draws not only from Independents but also Democrats. While it might not be too surprising that 83% of Republicans in the poll would voice support for Christie, 61% of Independents and 55% of Democrats approving of Christie were certainly telling signs of the race ahead in the early part of the spring. Christie also was drawing more than 50% of support from women and non-white voters.
As Krista Jenkins, Director of PublicMind and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, would express;
The governor’s strong numbers, both in regard to his job performance and perceptions of how the state is faring, underscore the broad base of support he continues to enjoy. This is perhaps why he fares considerably better than Senator Barbara Buono.
Shortly after, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll would not paint any better of a picture for Buono. 57% of voters said they would support Christie compared to 27% who would support Buono. While not great for Buono, the 30 point gap was down from 42 in a similar poll a couple months prior. Nonetheless, the fact that 61% of those who said they would vote for her still believed she would lose to Christie spoke volumes to again the climb in front of her.
As David Redlawsk, the director of the poll, would voice;
While Christie maintains a large lead, some tightening is all but inevitable, since we expect most Democrats to vote the party line in November. But unless Buono can make gains among independents and also get Democrats energized, she is going to have a long road ahead.
This poll like the other one showed Buono trailing Christie among minority and women voters. This poll also would show nearly three in four voters either not being unrecognize or have an opinion of Buono.
A Quinnipiac University poll would follow the growing trend for the race between Christie and Buono. Christie got 58% voter support compared to 26% for Buono.
As Maurice Carroll, Director of the Qunnipiac University Polling Institute, would exclaim;
She’s running an energetic campaign, piling up endorsements, but State Sen. Barbara Buono, who wants to be New Jersey’s next governor, hasn’t been able to introduce herself yet to New Jersey voters.
This third poll would continue to show Christie dominating every category from women (55 to 27) to Independents (64 to 18). Buono's edge among Democrats (52 to 30) is something to certainly cause some fear when it comes to ensuring party voters are filed behind the party's candidate. Christie's mid-60s approval ratings and similar numbers when it comes to if he deserves a second term were all adding to what looked like a landslide election for Christie.
With the race moving closer to Christie and Buono locking up primary wins, a Marist University/NBC poll would show Christie generating 60% voter support while Buono was at 28% among registered voters. Christie gets an extra 2% when you ask probable voters. Republicans in the poll were overwhelmingly behind him with 94% support while Buono only was seeing 51% of Democrats solidly backing her.
With the first half of the race and the primary over, the polls would continue to come in and show a similar race as the second half of the race was starting. A Qunnipiac University poll less than a week after the primary elections gave Christie a two to one edge as 59% supported him over Buono, who got 29% support.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released at the same time would show a 59-27 edge for Christie with 80% of voters stating they believed Christie would win reelection. Buono's favorability numbers were no where near Christie's and her name recognition was still not picking up. Those two factors certainly have played a role in each of the polls mentioned thus far.
While some polls can portray a race that is far from competitive months in advance, often times margins can begin to get closer. Buono, however, is still waiting on that big move in the polls. A recent Quinnipiac University poll still showed Christie up by a comfortable margin with 58% support compared to Buono's 30%. This poll even looked at typical strong areas in the state for Democrats and it was a dead heat in that regard which truly showed the type of lead Christie has and the inroads he has with in Democratic key groups like women and minority voters as well urban areas and cities.
As Carroll would outline,
The big election is still the race between Gov. Christopher Christie and State Sen. Barbara Buono and the governor’s 2-1 lead remains undented after months of polling. Sen. Buono is down 3-1 among independent voters and even loses 30 percent of Democratic voters to Christie. There’s no point even counting Republicans.
Carroll's assessment is a pretty blunt picture of the race.
A Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll in the last week would finally show some positive news for Buono in terms of at least getting the race closer to a 20 edge for Christie from the 30 or higher point edge he has carried for much of the race. The poll showed Christie with 56% support to Buono's 36%. Buono getting more than 30% voter support speaks to her garnering some slightly better name recognition and more voters expressing opinions of her. It was a ten point change from a similar poll a couple months ago. However, it does not necessarily mean a different outcome will occur.
As Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, would state;
The trend suggests that New Jersey Democrats are coming back home. But it's not quite enough for Buono to overcome Christie's sizable advantage among independents.
If the Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll is an indication of how the gubernatorial race might look over the next couple months, it might not be a 30 point win for Christie over Buono as it looked like earlier this year. While a 20 gap is still a lot to make up and most continue to point to a Christie win, it should be interesting to see if Buono can continue to close the gap in polls. A closer than expected race could impact Christie's potential future plans down the road but a win in a Democratic leaning state should still serve as a major talking point for him.
Buono as shown by each poll including the most recent one this past week will need to rally Democratic voters more strongly behind her especially as nearly each week another Democrat is endorsing Christie. Also, eroding Christie's Independent voter lead will be key as much as is getting more women and minority voters on board with her campaign. For now, though, it looks like the uphill climb for Buono remains in progress against Christie with each poll showing his commanding lead.