Independent candidate Chris Daggett is polling at 14 percent in the race for New Jersey governor. That’s according to Tuesday’s numbers from the Monmouth University/Gannett poll. It has the race in a dead heat, with incumbent Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie both pulling 39 percent among likely voters.

Most think that Daggett is over-performing in recent polls, but just how much lower his actual vote share will be on Election Day depends on who you ask. Realistically, Daggett’s “hard support” is closer to 7 percent, says Patrick Murray who heads the Monmouth/Gannett poll—those are the voters most committed to the independent candidate. The rest are much more likely to jump ship and back either Corzine or Christie on Election Day. 

But Fairleigh Dickenson University pollster Peter Woolley thinks Daggett’s real number is even lower than that. At best, he says, Daggett is actually at 4 or 5 percent. Woolley contends that much of Daggett’s support in recent polls likely stems from how pollsters are asking the ballot question.

“In most polls, Daggett’s name is read alongside Corzine and Christie, as though it’s a three-way race,” says Woolley. “That puts Daggett on a par with the two major party candidates, but in reality he’s not. When you walk into the voting booth, it’s a 12-way race, not a three-way race.” Come Election Day, voters will have to search for Daggett’s name on a crowded ballot, which includes nine other independent or minor party candidates.

Woolley says FDU’s Publicmind poll poses the ballot question as a two-way race between Corzine and Christie. A recent FDU poll, from earlier this month, puts Daggett’s support at just 4 percent, with Corzine leading Christie by just a point—44 percent to 43 percent. Woolley says the poll then split the sample and asked the ballot question a second way. Half of respondents were asked a three-way ballot question with Chris Daggett as the independent candidate. When asked that way, Daggett polled 17 percent. The other half was given a choice between Christie, Corzine and Gary Steele, another independent candidate. That question netted Steele 12 percent of the vote.

“Just reading his name gave Steele 12 percent,” says Woolley. “So our contention is that [Daggett’s] real number is not much more than 5 percent.”   

As for the conventional wisdom that says third party and independent candidates poll better than they end up performing on Election Day, Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen isn’t so sure. He’s compiled a great chart that shows the polling numbers of every third party gubernatorial contender who has gone on to win at least 5 percent of the vote in any state since 2006. Only one of the nine candidates on the list—Kinky Freidman in Texas—underperformed given their numbers three weeks out from Election Day. All the others matched or exceeded their polling performance...



“If you’re this close to the election and still polling this well, you’re likely to stay there,” says Jensen. Daggett’s biggest problem is that his supporters are much less committed than those of Corzine and Christie, but Jensen doesn’t see a large percentage of Daggett voters migrating to either of them between now and Election Day. “I actually think [Daggett] will end up somewhere around 15 percent of the vote, and he may even get closer to 20.”

Even if Daggett doesn’t pull anywhere close to that on Election Day, he stands to exert a major impact on a race this close. Right now, the numbers suggest that Daggett is hurting Christie more than Corzine, which is why the Republican Governor’s Association is going after him. Last week’s Quinnipiac poll asked Daggett voters who their second choice was—40 percent of Daggett voters said Christie, compared to 33 percent who said Corzine.  

Shane D'Aprile is senior editor at Politics magazine. He can be reached at sdaprile@politicsmagazine.com