Independent candidate Chris Daggett has continued to gain ground in New Jersey's gubernatorial race, and is now up to about 14 percent of the vote whereas the race between Jon Corzine and Chris Christie has turned into a dead heat.
The rise in support for Daggett has coincided with a fall in support for Christie, which has led many observers, including myself, to conclude that Daggett is "stealing" votes from Christie. The reason that could be important is because support for third party candidates sometimes collapses on Election Day, if their potential voters feel like their ballots might be wasted. In addition, third-party candidates in New Jersey can literally be hard to find on the ballot, which might harm Daggett's numbers further. Thus, if Daggett's voters are mostly coming from potential Christie supporters, one might conclude that Christie is in a somewhat stronger position than he appears in the polls.
Except that -- the numbers don't really bear this out.
In their latest poll, released on Wednesday, Quinnipiac asked Daggett voters directly who their second choice was. 40 percent said Christine and 33 percent said Corzine, with the remaining 27 percent saying they weren't sure or they wouldn't vote. If Daggett were to withdraw tomorrow, taking his 14 percent of the vote with him, then this would be distributed 6 percent to Christie, 5 percent to Corzine, and 3 percent to undecided. That would make the numbers Christie 47, Corzine 45 -- not much better for Christie than the 41-40 lead they gave him with Daggett included.
In addition, a New York Times poll today which gave Corzine a 3-point lead among likely voters found the same 3-point lead for Daggett were eliminated as an option.
And, of course, it's not necessarily safe to assume that Daggett's support will collapse. His name recognition is still quite low, which means that it could potentially improve as more voters become familiar with him. And if Daggett starts to poll in the 20s, a lot of voters might conclude that he actually has a shot at winning and wouldn't abandon him on Election Day. Alternatively, Daggett's numbers might not improve, but his voters might stay home rather than voting for one of the other two alternatives, which would have no effect on the relative standing of Corzine and Christie.
But what consequences does this have for the other narrative about the race -- that the decline in Christie's support is the result of an increase in support for Daggett? Actually, it doesn't necessarily contradict it. Keep in mind that Daggett is fairly liberal -- having been endorsed, for instance, by the Sierra club -- and that third-party votes are generally thought of as protests against the incumbent. That might imply that initially at least, Daggett's vote was coming more from Corzine than Christie. But perhaps the newcomers to Daggett's campaign over the past month or so have been coming more from Christie's side. Unfortunately, this hypothesis would be hard to test -- until very recently, the pollsters generally haven't been asking Daggett voters about their second choices.
Either way, the general point is the same -- I don't think that Christie can count on more than 1 or 2 additional points worth of support as a result of the Daggett Effect, and even that might be generous.