Can The #GunVote Help Pull Off An Upset In New Jersey?

Chris Pedota/The Record via AP, Pool

We’ve been writing quite a bit about the Virginia governor’s race here, in part because of its bellweather status for next year’s midterms, partly because I’m a resident of the state, and partly because of how Second Amendment issues have played a role in the campaigns of Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. I confess, however, that I haven’t written a single word about the other governor’s race on the ballot on November 3rd; the New Jersey gubernatorial contest between incumbent Democrat and anti-gun zealot Phil Murphy and Republican Jack Ciattarelli. As much as I loathe Murphy and his hoplophobic politics, this is New Jersey we’re talking about. Murphy’s going to cruise to victory, right?

Maybe not. My friend and colleague Ed Morrissey from HotAir alerted me to a new poll from Emerson College/PIX 11 that shows a shockingly close race in the Garden State, with Murphy leading Ciattarelli by just six points, 50-44. Another 7% of voters are still undecided, but when asked to choose between one or the other, they’re picking the Republican 59-41. And when you include those votes, Murphy’s lead drops to 52-48.

How’s Ciattarelli keeping it so close? According to Emerson, he’s winning independents by a more than 30 points; 56-32. As Ed notes, Joe Biden’s plunging approval rating may be playing a role in that.

Here’s a demo that Emerson leaves out of its polling memo. They don’t directly ask about Joe Biden’s job approval or favorability, but they do ask respondents about their 2020 presidential vote. The sample has Biden +16, 56.5/40.5, which tells us that a significant number of Biden voters have grown disaffected already — and will vote for some change in New Jersey as a result.

When we get into the crosstabs (download link only at the Emerson site), we can see precise quantification of that trend. Murphy is only holding onto 81% of the Biden vote; 12% are voting for Ciattarelli. Only 8% of Trump voters are going to Murphy, while Ciattarelli holds onto 86.5% of them. Ciattarelli also gets 68% of voters who went third party in 2020, and 80% of votes who didn’t vote at all in the presidential election.

Those are shocking numbers for an incumbent who up to now seemed popular enough to consider this an easy ride to another term. After all, Murphy’s got an overall positive favorability rating in this survey, 49/47, while Ciattarelli’s is just 40/40. The difference here is clearly Biden. Democrats might be running against Trump in this cycle, but that looks like a bad strategy. It may be forcing voters to deal with the disastrous alternative they chose to Trump last year in ways that don’t benefit Democrats. At all.

I wish Emerson had polled on voter enthusiasm as well, because my guess is that Ciattarelli voters are much more excited about casting a ballot for their guy than Democrats are about voting for Murphy. I don’t think Murphy is quite as panicked as Terry McAuliffe is in Virginia, but he should still be worried about how much of his base is going to turn out. Democrats in a reliably blue state like New Jersey might not feel as motivated to show up on Election Day, figuring that Murphy has it in the bag. Gun owners and Second Amendment supporters, on the other hand, should be feeling particularly motivated after looking at this poll.

As my 2A friends in the state have repeatedly reminded me over the years, there are over 1-million gun owners in New Jersey. Not all of them are Second Amendment activists, obviously. But even some of those who do consider themselves to be 2A advocates may not normally vote because they believe the state’s a lost cause. I can’t guarantee that Phil Murphy’s going to lose this election if every pro-2A gun owner casts a vote this year, but I can guarantee that he’ll win if they stay home.

Murphy is not only losing almost 2/3rds of independent voters, but he’s dealing with apathy among his base of support. While the anti-gunner is leading among those who’ve already voted by a large margin (76-24), among those who say they’re very likely to vote in the election Ciattarelli leads 48-45. Amazingly, the Republican is leading among those New Jersey residents who are most tuned in, politically. He’s also getting a whopping 80% of those who didn’t vote in the 2020 election.

Most of us know one or two folks who fit that bill, and I hope that the highly-engaged Second Amendment community in New Jersey are trying to sway the more casual voters among their friends and family to actually cast a ballot this year. Look, I completely understand why a New Jersey 2A supporter or gun owner would believe their vote won’t make a difference. I believe in voting even when you know you’re outnumbered, but I’ve also watched his home state steadily drift leftward until we reached Democratic critical mass in 2019, so I also personally understand how it stings to cast a vote and continuously be disappointed by the election’s outcome. And yeah, there’s a good chance that Murphy will win the election. But the odds aren’t as good as Murphy thought they’d be, and they aren’t insurmountable for his challenger. If the #GunVote turns out in force to note only cast a ballot of their own but to encourage those reluctant voters to head to the polls, then this year New Jersey’s gun owners most certainly can make a difference.