GOP incumbent Scott Garrett holds a narrow 5 point lead over Democrat Roy Cho in the race for New Jersey’s 5th district House seat, according to a Monmouth University Poll.
Voters are divided on whether Garrett’s actions after Superstorm Sandy helped New Jersey recover, although they are more likely to feel he did a good job for residents in his own district, the poll finds.
Among voters likely to cast their ballot in next month’s congressional race, 48% say they will support Scott Garrett and 43% will vote for first-time candidate Roy Cho. Another 3% say they will vote for the third party candidate and 6% are undecided. Garrett won re-election by a 12 point margin two years ago when the presidential election topped the ticket.
Cho holds a 51% to 39% edge in the populous Bergen County portion of the district while Garrett has a larger 68% to 26% advantage in the more rural western end of the district. Male voters support Garrett by a 53% to 38% margin while women prefer Cho by 49% to 43%. Both candidates have strong support among their partisan bases. Garrett claims 89% of the Republican vote and Cho holds 84% of the Democratic vote. Independents are split – 45% support Garrett and 42% support Cho.
“This race was not even a blip on most political prognosticators’ radar screens. It should be now,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The campaign seems to hinge on a debate around Garrett’s actions after Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012. The Cho camp claims that a recent Garrett campaign flyer misrepresents the Congressman’s actions in response to the storm. District voters are divided on whether Garrett helped New Jerseyans recover – 38% say he did a good job for the state and 35% say he did a bad job, with 27% registering no opinion. They are more likely to feel he did a better job helping his own district, which was not as hard hit as other parts of the state – 47% of district voters say Garrett did a good job and 28% say he did a bad job helping his own constituents recover from the storm, while 25% are not sure about his post-storm performance for his own district.
“While the fifth district was relatively spared from Sandy’s wrath, a significant number of voters there have doubts about whether Garrett’s actions were helpful for hard-hit residents in other parts of the state,” said Murray.
The Monmouth University Poll found that Garrett has a slight advantage on the overall perception of who is in touch with the district, but not necessarily an edge on every issue. When asked which candidate understands the concerns of district residents, 38% say only Garrett does, 26% say only Cho does, and 12% say both do. Another 17% of likely voters say that neither candidate understands the district.
Garrett has an advantage on keeping taxes and spending under control – 41% say the incumbent will do a better job on this issue, 23% say Cho will do a better job, and 12% say both will perform about equally. Cho has a slight edge on the issue of abortion – 33% say the challenger will do a better job representing their views, 25% say Garrett will do a better job, and 9% say both will perform about equally. Voters are divided on the issue of healthcare – 35% give the edge to Cho, 34% prefer Garrett, and 11% say both will perform about equally on this issue.
District voters who are familiar with the candidates tend to be more positive than negative about both of them. Fewer have a negative opinion of the challenger, but they are also less likely to be familiar with him than the incumbent. Specifically, voter opinion of Garrett is 40% favorable to 29% unfavorable with 31% registering no opinion, while voter opinion of Cho is 30% favorable to 7% unfavorable with 63% having no opinion.
The Monmouth University Poll also found that 5th district voters have a negative opinion of both Pres. Barack Obama and the U.S. House of Representatives. Obama receives an upside down 39% approve to 55% disapprove job rating while the House receives an even worse 16% approve to 75% disapprove rating for its performance. Voters in the 5th district are divided on whether they would like to see the Republicans (38%) or the Democrats (36%) control Congress. Another 24% say party control would make no difference to them.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from October 10 to 14, 2014 with 432 New Jersey voters likely to vote in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District November general election. This sample has a margin of error of + 4.7 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute.