Counter-Intuitive -- Christie Trails, But Is Back in Control
By Bill Pascoe
This morning's survey release by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute is the best news Chris Christie has had in a long time. While he hasn't yet closed the deal -- he'll need five more days of hard, error-free campaigning to do that -- the greatest threat to his victory is on its way to becoming a spent force. The race for governor of New Jersey is, once again, his to lose.
That lede might upset the team running the campaign of embattled Democratic incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine. After all, they might think that Corzine's first significant lead of the year -- at 43-38 percent over Christie, with Independent candidate Chris Daggett drawing 13 percent of the vote -- would be cause for celebration.
It will be. But for Christie, not for Corzine.
Remember, the value of a poll is determined by its predictive value -- that is, how good a job does it do in predicting what is likely to happen on Election Day?
This new Quinnipiac survey makes clear that -- even though it shows him trailing Corzine for the first time in a year -- Christie is back in the driver's seat.
Because the mortal threat to the Christie campaign -- to wit, the Daggett campaign -- has crested, and is now stalled, or even receding. By Election Day on Tuesday, the likelihood is great that most of Daggett's supporters will be shedding him like a molting snake.
Daggett's campaign, as measured by his ballot test score in the Quinnipiac survey, has moved from 8 percent (on July 14) to 7 percent (August 11) to 9 percent (September 1) to 12 percent (September 30) to 14 percent (October 14), and now back to 13 percent.
As I wrote on Monday, the key for this final week was going to be Daggett's own supporters -- do they believe he can win, or not? Because in order for them to stay true to him and cast the ballots that would make a Daggett victory possible, they first must believe a Daggett victory is possible.
In the survey released this morning, 68 percent of the likely voters polled agreed with the statement that Daggett cannot win.
Among Daggett's own supporters, the number who agree he cannot win is 55 percent.
The survey also showed that voting attitudes are hardening as the election nears -- among all likely voters surveyed, 81 percent say their mind is made up, and their vote is firm.
Among Christie supporters, that number is 88 percent; among Corzine supporters, it is 80 percent; among Daggett supporters, it is just 60 percent.
So as the campaign enters its closing stretch, the majority of the supporters of the Independent candidate who is splitting the anti-incumbent vote are telling a pollster they don't believe he can win, and two in five are willing to acknowledge to the pollster they're not sure they're actually going to cast their ballot for him, which means the real number is even higher than that.
The likelihood is great that as the final weekend rolls around, a significant number of them will peel off Daggett, and move to their second choice -- or stay home.
In the October 14 Quinnipiac survey release, Christie was the second choice of 40 percent of Daggett's supporters, while Corzine was the second choice of 33 percent of them; in today's release, Christie is the second choice of 43 percent of Daggett's supporters, while Corzine's second-choice score drops to 27 percent.
As Election Day nears, Christie's second-choice score among Daggett supporters will continue to increase, as Corzine's second-choice score continues to decrease.
Two things are likely to happen over the coming six days:
First, the number of Daggett supporters will recede further, as more and more of them conclude that he cannot win and move to their second choice -- and more of them will go to Christie than to Corzine.
Second, when the (fewer) remaining Daggett supporters enter the voting booth next Tuesday, the bet here is that a majority of them will do one final gut check, decide that their highest priority in casting their ballot is to remove Corzine from office, rather than send a message about the intellectual vacuity of either the Republican or Democratic campaign, and they will act accordingly -- and pull the lever for Christie.
Oh, there's one other thing that encourages me on this front -- a nagging irritation in the back of my mind, as I read the crosstabs on the survey, has now been answered.
The nagging irritation was simple -- in a survey where both Christie and Corzine are doing a good job of holding their base vote (both Christie and Corzine are drawing the support of 79 percent of their partisans, respectively), and Christie is leading Corzine by 45-30 percent among Independents, how is it possible that Corzine is leading Christie by 5 points on the ballot test? In order for the math to work, the difference between the number of Democrats and Republicans in the sample must be huge.
So I asked.
And I was told that in this particular survey sample, 40 percent of the respondents called themselves Democrats, 29 percent called themselves Independents or unaffiliated, and just 25 percent called themselves Republican.
Now, there should be more Democrats than Republicans in a good poll of New Jersey likely voters. Based on elections going back to 2000, it's a safe bet that next Tuesday, the single largest group of voters at the polls will be Democrats.
According to the good people who run the Quinnipiac survey, exit polls from 1997 to 2004 showed a pro-Democratic tilt of 4 to 10 points in the party ID question on Election Day.
But in 2006 and 2007, that shifted to a 13-point and 16-point lead, respectively. And in 2008, the CNN exit poll had the breakdown at 44 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican, and 28 percent Independent -- again, a 16-point Democrat turnout advantage.
So Barack Obama, running the "hope and change" campaign of 2008, all sweetness and light, was able to create a gap of 16 points between Garden State Democrats and Republicans on Election Day.
Does it make sense, after this ugly, ugly race, to believe that Jon Corzine is going to create a 15-point gap?
I think not.
I think Corzine has been stuck at 40 percent for a year.
I think six in ten New Jersey voters cannot wait to get to the polls on Tuesday so they can cast their ballots to fire him.
I think his own partisans are far less enthused about the prospects of another four years of Jon Corzine.
And that's why I'm even happier to place my bet on Christie to win next Tuesday.