PublicMind Poll Director Says Turnout Will be Key to Senate Primary

The primary race for U.S. Senate is unusual for New Jersey because it’s happening in August. Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind Poll Executive Director Krista Jenkins told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the interesting story tomorrow will be the turnout.

Jenkins said it’s been difficult to poll this race because it’s uncertain how many people will cast their ballots. She said she’s heard that between 200,000 and 300,000 registered Democrats may actually turn out, which she said is “significantly less” than a normal election.

Typically, analysts look toward the candidate who has the best field operations because they benefit, especially if the turnout is low. In the Democratic race, Jenkins said, “Cory Booker’s operation seems to be the best, largely because I think he anticipated this opportunity coming and I think he was able to hit the ground running more readily than his opponents. And so in that case, I would expect his field operation to be better at actually turning out his supporters tomorrow. But we’ll have to see.”

Twitter has become increasingly common in political races and Jenkins said she believes it has been an effective way to get votes for certain demographics. “We know that it certainly works I think for younger people, which is a notoriously difficult demographic to mobilize. So that may very well help people from that demographic. But it’s also a moving target. As I think the electorate changes and resonates more to these electronic technologies, it very well could be that it could be beneficial to other age groups as well tomorrow so we’ll have to see,” she explained.

On the Republican side, Steve Lonegan is leading his opponent Alieta Eck by 64 points, according to the latest poll. After what many have deemed a racially inappropriate tweet from the Lonegan campaign, Eck has said he is no longer a viable candidate. Jenkins isn’t sure the controversy will have much bearing on the primary. “This is an election that very few people are paying attention to. And so political junkies are certainly attuned to what has been going on with the tweet and the map of Newark. But at the same time, whether or not that resonates with people I think is entirely dependent on whether they know about it,” she said.

Eck has gotten endorsements from a major Tea Party group and major conservative party organization with national stature. Jenkins said in some circumstances endorsements matter, but with such a sizable gap, it doesn’t appear that the endorsements have done much to establish her as a stronger opponent to Lonegan. “I think the thing that you really keep in mind is the context of this election. It’s very difficult to understand this in comparison to others. You really have to understand it in the unique position that it occupies today,” Jenkins said.

On the Democratic side, candidates Rush Holt, Sheila Oliver and Frank Pallone tried to close the gap between them and Booker during debates. Jenkins said she believes the three did that a bit during the debates. “I would expect that the polling gap that we’re observing in his lead over his opponents will not be what we see on election day. And that could very well be the difficulty of polling selection, but I think it could also be the fact that as we are getting closer to the election, the core constituents out there are starting to pay more attention and are now starting to hone their preferences a bit. And the debates certainly helped that I’m sure,” she said.