Two New Jersey U.S. Senate polls conducted four years apart in entirely different national political climates are remarkably similar.
An October 3, 2018 Quinnipiac University poll has Democrat Bob Menendez leading Republican Bob Hugin among likely voters by a 53%-42% margin.
Another Quinnipiac poll of likely voters, this one released on October 2, 2014, shows Democrat Cory Booker with a 51%-40% lead over Republican Jeff Bell.
So despite an indictment and being severely admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee, Menendez is actually polling two points better than Booker.
Hugin, a self-funder who has been spending about $1 million a week on TV ads since the spring, is polling just two points better than Bell.
Some context: Republicans chose not to seriously contest Booker, who had won a special election to the U.S. Senate after Frank Lautenberg died the previous year. The narrow winner of a third-tier Republican primary was Bell, a 71-year-old ex-Reagan speechwriter who was a conservative icon 36 years earlier when he ousted four-term incumbent Clifford Case in the Republican primary. He had not lived in New Jersey since lost a 1982 Senate primary.
Booker spent $16.9 million, while Bell had a warchest of $599,000 His approvals were significantly higher than Menendez’s, and Bell was virtually unknown.
Why is Menendez doing about the same as Booker despite his negatives, and why is Hugin keeping pace with Bell even though what he spends on a week of TV could could have doubled Bell’s total budget?
There’s probably a lot of reasons, but here are three:
- New Jersey is substantially more Democratic now than it was four years ago: the state has 403,000 more Democrats today than it did in 2014. That makes Unaffiliated (aka Independent) voters less critical than past years.
- Donald Trump has upside-down 35%-62% approval ratings in New Jersey, with 63% of likely voters saying they want Congress to be more of a check on the president and 59% oppose the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2014, 54% said Barack Obama would not be a factor in their mid-term election vote.
- New Jersey voters decide federal elections using a different issue matrix than they do for state elections. The state has not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972 — only Hawaii has gone longer — but Democrats have not re-elected a governor since 1977; Republicans have re-elected three governors since then.