Home>Campaigns>How early N.J. gubernatorial polls turned out

Gov. Jon Corzine, right, prepares to debate Republican Chris Christie, left and independent Chris Daggett, in 2009. (Photo: Corzine for Governor).

How early N.J. gubernatorial polls turned out

Early leader tends to win, but not always

By David Wildstein, June 21 2021 12:17 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s 15-point lead over Republican Jack Ciattarelli in today’s Fairleigh Dickinson University poll shows a closer race than he had during his first campaign for governor four years ago.

Murphy is ahead, 48%-33%, according to the FDU poll.

A July 2017 Monmouth University poll put Murphy ahead of Guadagno, 53%-26%, with leaners included.

A Quinnipiac University poll released eight days after the 2017 primary election put Murphy 29-points in front of Republican Kim Guadagno, then the state’s Lt. Governor, 55%-26%.

Murphy won the election by 14-points, 56%-42%.

Eight years ago, Gov. Chris Christie began his re-election bid for a second term with a 30-point lead, 57%-37% lead over Democrat Barbara Buono, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll.   He won by 22 points, 60%-38%.

In 2009, Christie emerged from the GOP primary ten points ahead of Gov. Jon Corzine, 50%-40%, in a Quinnipiac poll.  A July 2009 Fairleigh Dickinson poll showed Christie up by six points, 45%-39%.

The race narrowed and Christie won by a 49%-45% margin.

One week after the 2005 primary election, Corzine had a 47%-37% lead over Republican Doug Forrester in a Quinnipiac poll.  Corzine on the race by a little more than ten points, 53.5%-43%.

McGreevey started out with a 48%-35% lead over Republican Bret Schundler in a July 2001 Quinnipiac poll.  He won the general election by nearly 15 points, 56%-42%.

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman had a 16-point lead, 48%-32%, against State Sen. James E. McGreevey (D-Woodbridge) in June 1997.  She wound up winning by 25,426 votes, 46.9% to 45.8%.

Whitman started out her 1993 bid to unseat Gov. Jim Florio in a statistical dead heat.  A Rutgers-Eagleton poll had Whitman ahead by one point, 44%-43%.  Whitman won the race by one point, 49%-48%, a margin of 26,093 votes.

Florio began his 1989 campaign with a 17-point lead, 49%-32%, against Rep. Jim Courter (R-Allamuchy) in a June Rutgers-Eagleton poll.   He won by a 61%-37% margin.

Gov. Thomas Kean had a 68%-19% lead in his 1985 re-election campaign against Democrat Peter Shapiro, the Essex County Executive, according to an August Rutgers-Eagleton- poll.  Kean won by a 70%-30% margin.

After a contentious gubernatorial primary with 21 candidates seeking the Democratic and Republican nominations for governor in 1981, Rutgers-Eagleton didn’t poll the general election race until September.  Florio led Kean in that head-to-head matchup by nine points, 44%-35%.  The race narrowed and Kean won by 1,797 votes, 49.46% to 49.38%.

In 1977, the last time a Democratic governor of New Jersey won re-election, a July Eagleton-Rutgers poll gave Republican State Sen. Raymond Bateman (R-Branchburg) a seven-point, 46%-39%, lead over incumbent Gov. Brendan Byrne.   Byrne won the race in landslide: 56%-42%.

The race the polls got wrong

The biggest comeback in modern New Jersey history came in 1990, when two-term incumbent Bill Bradley had a 47-point lead, 64%-17%, against Whitman, then the former president of the state Board of Public Utilities, in a July 29 Star-Ledger/Eagleton poll of the U.S. Senate race.

The former New York Knicks star had 96% name identification and had job approvals of 61%-9% after twelve years in the U.S. Senate.  Whitman’s name ID was 24%, and he favorables were at 5%-1%.

What happened over the next three months was nothing short of incredible.

New Jersey voters became so enraged by Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase that they took it out on the first person they saw in the next election.

Despite being outspent 12-1, Whitman adeptly linked the Democratic governor with the Democratic U.S. Senator.  When she asked Bradley over and over where he stood on Florio’s tax increases, the senator insisted that he was not a candidate for state office and refused to answer.

Bradley won the election, but by just three percentage points, 50%-47%, defeating Whitman by a mere 58,936 votes.

He got another six years in the U.S. Senate, but after blowing a 47-point lead, he was no longer viewed as a leading candidate to challenge President George Bush in 1992. That mantle when to a Democrat from across the Hudson, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the nomination went to another centrist Democrat, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

Whitman’s near upset in the U.S. Senate race catapulted her into the governorship three years later.


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