Menendez Leads; though doubts linger
Bolstered by increases in name recognition and favorable opinion among New Jerseyís regular Democratic voters, Senator Bob Menendez now finds himself ahead in the race for the seat to which he was appointed. According to the results of Fairleigh Dickinson Universityís latest PublicMind poll, Menendez now holds a five point lead 42% to 37% over Republican Tom Kean, Jr. among likely voters, and a seven point lead, 46% to 39%, when "leaners" are included.
Since late August and the beginning of his television ad campaign, Menendezís overall name recognition has increased to 92% from 76%, erasing Keanís advantage in this measure. More important, Democratic voters seem to have coalesced around Menendez: 81% of Democrats now say that they will cast a ballot for Menendez, up from 68% before Labor Day. Meanwhile, Keanís ballot support among Democrats has fallen by nearly half, from 19% to 10%. And only 16% of Democrats hold favorable views of Kean, down from 36% a month ago.
"Keanís advantage in this race has always been the breadth of his name recognition. Now that Menendez is finally getting Democrats behind him, Keanís support across the aisle is evaporating," said Dan Cassino, a survey analyst and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson. "The party lines have been drawn, and in New Jersey that typically helps the Democrats."
However, voters have some doubts about Menendez as shown by a series of questions designed to measure the depth of candidatesí support. Voters were asked open-ended questions, in which they could say for themselves what they liked or disliked about the candidates. In these questions, 36% of voters Ė including 23% of Democrats Ė expressed some reservations about Menendez compared to 28% who had something negative to say about Kean. Further, 15% of voters mentioned corruption or ethics as a reason for disliking Menendez, while only 7% mentioned Iraq or the president as a liability for Kean.
Voters who were first asked what they particularly like and dislike about the candidates and then were asked about their vote for Senator, broke evenly, 42% each to Menendez and Kean. But among those voters who were not asked these open-ended questions beforehand, Menendez led easily, 51% to 36%.
"While Menendez is in the lead, voters donít seem entirely comfortable with him yet," said Cassino. "He does best when voters are choosing on the basis of party. While Kean has been relying on name recognition and hoping that voters donít link him strongly to Iraq, Menendez is running on party lines and hoping that voters donít link him strongly to New Jerseyís problems."
When asked to rate candidate characteristics, votersí responses remained largely unchanged from previous polls. Respondents describe Tom Kean, Jr. as more honest and trustworthy by a 3:2 ratio, but give Menendez the edge in understanding average people (33% to 24%) and having the experience necessary to be a US senator, 33% to 26%.
Half of respondents answered questions about President Bush and the conflict in Iraq before answering questions about the Senate race, while half evaluated President Bush after they expressed their preferences for Senate. In previous polls, respondent reminded of national issues first were more likely to support Menendez by as much as 10 points. But in the most recent survey Menendez receives no benefit when voters are reminded of national issues first. "Menendez, has gotten his bump from Iraq: those voters are already in his camp," said Cassino.
The PublicMind poll of 514 randomly selected probable voters statewide was conducted by telephone from September 27 through October 2 and has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.
Contacts: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239; Dan Cassino 973.896.7072
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Copyright © 2006, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 061005]