Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: Menendez holds narrow lead over Hugin in U.S. Senate race

With two weeks until Election Day, incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Menendez narrowly leads Republican challenger Bob Hugin, 51 percent to 46 percent, among likely voters in New Jersey, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

According to Rutgers experts, Menendez’s tight margin stems from the mark his federal corruption trial has left on his reputation, his inability to capture a majority of independents, and a large enthusiasm gap between his likely voters and Hugin’s supporters. (See related Vox story).

Likely voters who identify as independents prefer Hugin, 50 percent to 43 percent.

Thirty-eight percent of likely voters say Menendez’s trial factors “a lot” into their vote, while 16 percent say it factors “some.”( Several Democrats have written editorials saying they will hold their noses and vote for Menendez on Nov. 6.)

Twenty-nine percent of Menendez voters are “very enthusiastic” to vote for the senator, compared to 58 percent of Hugin voters, who say the same about their candidate of choice.

“After his recent onslaught of attack ads against Menendez, Hugin is making this race much closer than it should be for an incumbent in a blue state,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. “But what’s most responsible for the narrow margin here is the corruption charges against Menendez that have haunted his entire re-election campaign. Mistrial or not, the charges have dampened support where Menendez needs it most – with independents and even a handful of his own base.”

Menendez’s tight lead does not extend to Democrats statewide. In a generic House ballot test, 54 percent of New Jersey likely voters side with the Democratic candidate, while 40 percent support the Republican candidate in their home district.

The results are from a statewide poll of 1,006 adults contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from Oct. 12-19. The poll contains a subsample of 896 registered voters and 496 likely voters. The entire sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points; the registered voter subsample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points, and the likely voter subsample has a margin of error of +/-5.1 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.