The New Jersey special Senate election set by Governor Chris Chrstie last spring for a random weekday in October is finally upon us. And if you're the Booker campaign, you're probably thanking your lucky stars it's over. If you're the Lonegan campaign, you're wishing there was more time.
That's because the trajectory in the special Senate race is clear: Republican Steve Lonegan has cut his initial deficit against Cory Booker in half.
Fortunately for Booker, his initial lead was substantial enough (about 20-22 points, according to Huffington Post Pollster) to sustain a fall. With the race coming to a close, he now leads an average 52-41%.
Today alone, with 48 hours remaining before polls close in New Jersey, two new surveys have been released, with Monmouth giving Steve Lonegan his best result to date (52-42%), while Rutgers-Eagleton finds Cory Booker winning by a landslide 58-36%.
Monmouth University has released four surveys on the special New Jersey Senate race since June, with Lonegan making steady progress in each (from Booker +16, to +16, to +13, to +10 now). Rutgers-Eagleton's two surveys on the race agree with Monmouth in finding Lonegan making gains since September, though Booker's lead over Lonegan was always much more formidable according to their numbers (from +35 to +22 now). For the record, recent polls from Stockton University, Rasmussen, and Quinnipiac tend to line-up more with Monthouth's latest overall finding.
So how can two surveys that were in the field at roughly the same time produce such dramatically different results? By disagreeing entirely on the candidate's strengths among various political and demographic groups:
For example, while the Rutgers-Eageleton poll conducted Oct. 7-13 finds Cory Booker winning political Independents by an 8 point margin (49-41%), Monmouth, which was conducted Oct. 10-12, finds Lonegan edging Booker 48-43%. Not only that, but Rutgers-Eagleton finds Cory Booker performing stronger with his base against Lonegan than Monmouth (96-2 vs. 90-6%), while at the same time finding Lonegan doing worse with Republicans than Monmouth finds (74-16 vs. 86-11%).
Meanwhile, both pollsters find Booker and Lonegan performing equally well with men, while Rutgers-Eagleton finds a much more significant lead for Booker among women (+37 points) than Monmouth (+14 points).
In terms of racial breakdown, Lonegan actually wins white voters, barely, in the Monmouth survey, 49-46%, while losing them to the Democrat, 50-44%, in the Rutgers-Eagleton poll. At the same time, Booker is much less strong with non-white voters in the Monmouth poll (70-21%), than in the Rutgers-Eagelton poll (87-10%).
Combine all of these factors, and you understand how Booker's leading 22 points in one survey, but by 10 in the other. It isn't due to a difference in assumptions or findings regarding the make-up of the electorate. It results from disparate findings regarding the candidates' strengths with traditional voting blocks. Lonegan is fending off NJ Democrat's typical encroachment into Republican territory (white voters, Independents, men) just enough to keep the race ever-so-slightly competitive in one poll, while it's a full-scale Booker-style takeover in the other. We'll see which pollster is vindicated in a couple days.