Bob Menendez maintains a narrow five point lead, 51%-46%, over Republican Bob Hugin in the race for U.S. Senate, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll of likely voters.
This poll shows a tighter race than two other surveys released last week that offered Menendez a little more wiggle room. A Monmouth University poll had the two-term Democratic incumbent up by nine, 49%-40%, and Quinnipiac University showed Menendez leading Hugin 51%-44%, a seven-point spread.
Menendez has not overcome the reputation damage of his 2017 trial on federal corruption charges, with 38% of New Jerseyans saying that the trial factors “a lot” into their vote and 16% says it factors “some.”
There is some very good news in the poll for Menendez: he has a double-digit lead among women, non-white New Jerseyans , and likely voters under age 50; and outpaces Hugin in households making less than $100,000-a-year by eight points.
Hugin leads among independents 50%-43%. Among those not affiliated with a political party, 39% say the charges factors into their decision “a lot” and another 20% says “some.”
Menendez is at 90%-10% among Democrats, while Hugin is at 94%-5% among Republicans.
New Jersey has more than 920,000 more Democrats than Republicans.
Hugin’s rock-solid Republican base appears to be bad news for independent candidates Murray Sabrin and conservative Tricia Flanagan, who had hoped for some leakage from the already shrinking GOP base. Hugin appears to have locked up New Jersey Republicans despite keeping his distance from President Donald Trump. None of the independents were included in the poll.
“After his recent onslaught of attack ads against Menendez, Hugin is making this race much closer than it should be for an incumbent in a blue state,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “But what’s most responsible for the narrow margin here is the corruption charges against Menendez that have haunted his entire re-election campaign. Mistrial or not, the charges have dampened support where Menendez needs it most – with independents and even a handful of his own base.”
Menendez favorables are upside-down, 23%-48%. He’s at 18%-65% among Independents and 53%-24% among Democrats.
Millions of dollars of attack ads aimed at Menendez have done some damage. A May 2018 Rutgers-Eagleton poll had Menendez’s favorables at 30%-24%; they were at 15%-38 among Independents.
Hugin has favorables of 32%-25% and is at 42%-31% among Independents. He’s solid among Republicans, 81%-4%.
Among likely Menendez voters, just 56% are very or somewhat enthusiastic about supporting him for a third term. Three out of ten Menendez voters are either “not very” enthusiastic, or not enthusiastic at all.
Hugin does much better in the passion category, with 94% saying they are very or somewhat enthusiastic and just 5% indicating they are not.
“A larger turnout does not automatically work in Menendez’s favor,” said Koning. “Election Day may come down to not just how many ballots are cast but, more importantly, who turns out to vote.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 1,006 adults contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from Oct. 12-19. The poll contains a subsample of 896 registered voters and 496 likely voters. The entire sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6%; the registered voter subsample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points, and the likely voter subsample has a margin of error of +/-5.1 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Menendez Hugin Senate Race Oct 22 2018 - FINAL - EMBARGOED PDF (002)