She trails by a staggering 37 points. In a post on this blog in December, I argued that Cory Booker, as the Democrats strongest candidate, should still consider running for Governor, under the belief that Christie's post-Sandy job approval would inevitably fade. But as of today, his numbers have shown no recent signs of fading: Consider the below chart on Christie's job approval rating since he took office in 2010:
As you can see, his post-Sandy job approval average is stratospheric, with 72% of New Jerseyans approving of the job he is doing, and just 1 in 5 voters disapproving. That's difficult for anyone to overcome, no matter how much the Democratic base loves Booker. Even Christie's pre-Sandy job approval average was strong (49/38%), though failing in comparison to where it stands today. And if Buono was struggling against Christie before Sandy, she's barely on the radar as of now. What makes a Republican like Christie have such a commanding lead over his Democratic foe, especially in a state that voted for Obama by 15 and 18 points in 2008 and 2012 respectively? Ironically, a one word answer is: Democrats.
Democrats are a big part of what is driving Christie's 62-25% lead against Buono. He attracts 31% of New Jersey Democrats, while Buono barely manages to scrape by with a majority of them (51%). The built in Democratic lead in partisan identification in New Jersey doesn't help that much when your Republican opponent attracts one-third of them. To understand how significant this is, consider the fact that Christie only managed to get 8% of the Democratic vote in his successful election in 2009. The sitting Governor at the time, Jon Corzine (D), won 86%. To illustrate the effect of Christie's numbers among Democrats, the table below depicts the results of the Quinnipiac poll had they found Buono doing at least as well with Democrats as Jon Corzine in 2009:
Christie would still lead Buono by double digits, 50-36%, but his lead is cut by more than half. Though in a state with a built-in advantage for the Democratic party, why is Buono still down double digits, despite winning 86% of Democrats? You see, Buono has more electoral issues than just under-performing with her own party. Independent voters are backing Christie by an overwhelming margin, 68-18%. Christie did well w/ Independents against Jon Corzine in 2009, but not that well (he carried them 60-30%). Just for fun, the below table illustrates how the Quinnipiac poll would have looked if Buono had managed to do as well as Jon Corzine in 2009 with Independents AND Democrats:
Finally, Buono puts up a respectable showing, trailing 47-40%. But she's still behind. And Christie '09 is no Christie '13. He's a popular man, both nationally and in his home-state, and the post-Sandy polling boost has remained strong for four full months after the storm made landfall. Christie has eight months to blow it, but when you start with 3 quarters of the state loving you, you have an awful long way to fall before you are electorally vulnerable. Do I think it's likely Barbara Buono will win just 51% of Democrats in the end? No. But I do think she's fighting a losing battle.