New Jersey Watch (Monday)

On Friday I speculated, here and in my column, about what it might take for independent Chris Daggett to win in New Jersey. Several developments over the weekend appear to make that unlikely possibility even less likely.

The short version of the column is that given all the obstacles -- Daggett's weak name recognition, his apparent inability to compete with television advertising and the way all three candidates compete with home town news on New York City and Philadelphia media outlets -- the independent would need something truly extraordinary to change the nature of "free" media media coverage in order to win.

One scenario that seemed at least plausible as of late last week might be for Daggett to pick up the remaining newspaper endorsements to provide a jolt of final week "momentum" coverage. Three things slammed the door on that possibility over the weekend.

First, six newspapers endorsed on Sunday and unlike the earlier endorsement of the New Jersey Star Ledger, none went for Daggett. Republican Chris Christie won endorsements from the New York Post, Press of Atlantic City, the Asbury Park Press and the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, while incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine got the nod from the Trenton Times and the Bergen Record (links via Hotline Wake-up Call).

Second, don't laugh: The New York Yankees won last night, clinching a spot against the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, which begins on Wednesday night. Thus, baseball games will compete with political news for five of the next eight nights left before Election Day (and on the front pages the next morning). For a sense of how hard it will be for any of the New Jersey candidates to make news in this environment, consider the front pages of today's New York Post, New York Daily News, the New York Times, even the Philadelphia Inquirer, New Jersey Star Ledger and Asbury Park Press! All feature the Yankees prominently (though the Times tucks the news discretely below the fold), while none but the Asbury Park Press say one word about the New Jersey governor's race.

Third, two polls released since Friday (by Suffolk University and by Democratic aligned Democracy Corps) show Daggett running well below the 19% and 20% measured by SurveyUSA and the Rutgers Eagleton poll late last week. Whatever we might conclude about the methodology of these surveys, the bottom line is that no headlines are currently heralding an independent candidate surging into the mid 20s.

The Suffolk University poll out this morning does look like a bit of an outlier, at least for now, both in terms of the nine-point lead it fives Corzine (42% to 33%) and the very large percentage of undecided voters (15%). The uncertainty they measured, however, may result from the interesting choice the Suffolk pollsters made about their vote question: They attempted to replicate the actual New Jersey ballot by first reading the names of the two major party candidates, Corzine and Christie, and then reading the names of all 10 independent and third party candidates in random order, including Daggett.

On Friday, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray speculated that Daggett faces the challenge of being "buried on the ballot" amidst the many independent candidates, while Corzine and Christie always appear first. The Suffolk question, which shows Daggett at only 7%, provides some suggestive evidence to support that hypothesis.

P.S.: Speaking of Murray, he notes on his blog today that the Suffolk poll "appears to have weighted party ID to party registration, a common mistake by pollsters unfamiliar with the New Jersey electorate." He says that because the Suffolk party question -- "Q1. Which political party do you feel closest to - Democrat, Republican or Independent?" -- has results that match New Jersey's voter registration (34% Democrat, 21% Republican, 46% independent or unaffiliated). I'll let Murray explain:

Being "unaffiliated" in one's registration is not the same as being "independent" in one's thinking. We consistently find that at least 1-in-5 unaffiliated New Jersey voters actually see themselves as partisan.

This is a byproduct of New Jersey's semi-open primary system. Why bother registering with a party if you can wait until primary day and do it on the spot? And why bother to vote in primaries if they are rarely competitive? So, New Jersey ends up with a lot of "party-line" voters who never bother to register with their preferred party. They just see no need.

Having done my share of polling in New Jersey, I can confirm Murray's finding. Many New Jersey voters registered as unaffiliated think of themselves as Democrats or Republicans. Murray's post on understanding unaffiliated voters is worth reading in full, especially if you're a pollster hearing this for the first time.

P.P.S.: Democratic pollsters PPP are teasing partial results from a new New Jersey survey that will finish interviewing tonight.  PPP's Tom Jensen describes a big increase in Daggett's unfavorable rating among Republicans and says the independent "has the same level of support he did two weeks ago, but now he seems to be hurting Jon Corzine more than Christie."