By Jim Ellis
Since presumed Republican nominee Bob Hugin, the former chairman and CEO of the Celgene pharmaceutical corporation, has already spent $3.7 million on his campaign in conjunction with the June 5 primary, it is not particularly surprising that the margin between he and Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is getting tighter.
What appears unusual are the raw numbers from the recent Fairleigh Dickinson University survey, however. The poll (May 16-21; 856 registered New Jersey voters) looks to be sound methodologically, and the numbers reported for various approval ratings and other data points seem consistent with previously released research. The ballot test, however, raises questions because the incumbent’s support figure is so low and the undecideds high (46 percent). According to the F-D study, Sen. Menendez leads Hugin only 28-24 percent.
Despite the veteran senator seeing the federal bribery case against him fall apart and charges dismissed, his reputation has still suffered. The F-D report finds the senator’s favorability index at 33:39 percent favorable to unfavorable with only 51 percent of Democrats answering with a positive response. In comparison, the state’s junior senator, Cory Booker (D), posts a 55:27 percent ratio and a positive rating among Democratic respondents of 79 percent.
Demographically, the senator’s numbers are weak across the board. Even while leading Hugin in every category, his margins are tight and overall support figures poor. Sen. Menendez gets 27 percent among men, 29 percent from women, 27 percent with white voters, and just 30 percent from non-white voters. Even the college-educated voters, usually a strength segment for Democratic candidates, favor him only 32-24 percent.
This May poll is drastically different from published university polls in April and March. But Hugin’s strong early campaign provides at least a partial explanation. The former corporate leader is so far self-funding to the tune of $7.5 million and had raised almost $700,000 from individuals as listed in the May 16 pre-primary disclosure report.
In April, Monmouth University (April 6-10; 632 registered New Jersey voters) found Sen. Menendez holding a 53-32 percent advantage. In the previous month, Quinnipiac University (March 8-12; 1,052 registered New Jersey voters) calculated a very similar 49-32 percent spread. Therefore, it is curious that the F-D poll finds such a small support base for both candidates. Not only has Sen. Menendez lost support in comparison to the other public polls, but so has Hugin. Obviously, this cuts against the idea that the drastic change is mostly due to the Hugin Campaign. Rather, it suggests that the Fairleigh pollsters are using a well-defined question for determining hard support, thus yielding a much higher undecided response.
Fairleigh Dickinson’s polling unit is consistently rated as being one of the better polling institutions, particularly among universities. According to the Five-Thirty-Eight organization, which tracks politics, statistics, polling, and sports, Fairleigh Dickinson rates an A- grade on their pollster comparison scale.
This latest poll is likely an anomaly because of the low support totals, and more data will have to be analyzed before we obtain a clearer picture of this developing race. Furthermore, Republicans historically over-poll by a significant amount in New Jersey when comparing the pre-election data with the actual end results.
Still, considering the resources the Hugin Campaign can expend for the race, it appears this New Jersey Senate campaign will see a higher level of competition than in the immediate past election years. It is likely the NJ Senate campaign will draw some significant national attention once the 2018 election cycle fully hits its stride.