How the NJ became a solid democratic state

New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the US Senate since 1972. But this winning streak for Democrats was once the outlier in a state that regularly elected Republicans to governor and separated its members from the House of Representatives. between Democrats and Republicans.

Gov. Phil Murphy is now seeking reelection as the first Democrat in over 40 years. But can Republican Jack Ciattarelli do what his two GOP predecessors did and remove an incumbent from the opposite party from power?

Making Ciattarelli’s job more difficult is a trend that has rocked New Jersey politics.

Last year, the number of registered Democrats in the state exceeded the number of unaffiliated voters for the first time. As of the first of the month, nearly 40% of those registered were Democrats, 23% were Republicans and 36% unaffiliated with a small number pledged to third parties such as Greens, Libertarians or Conservatives.

When the number of registered Republicans was not that far behind that of Democrats, and the majority of voters – nearly six in 10 – were registered as unaffiliated with a major party, the GOP consistently won state and national elections. counties.

Murphy holds a lead of at least nine points in some recent polls against Ciattarelli. No Republican presidential candidate has crossed the 42% mark with New Jersey voters since 2004, when incumbent President George W. Bush won 46%. President Biden’s margin of victory last year was 16 points. The New Jersey House delegation is an imbalanced 10-2 in favor of the Democrats, with one of those two representatives Jeff Van Drew winning as a Democrat in 2018. Democrats control the county elective offices – like for the commissioner, sheriff and clerk – in 11 counties, while the GOP dominates in seven. Counties like Bergen, Somerset and Burlington that were once Republicans, or at least competitive, are firmly in Democrats’ hands for office local.

Obama Registration Campaign

Voter registration still skyrockets in the presidential years, but in 2008 the then-Sen campaign. Barack Obama and several non-partisan groups have undertaken major registration campaigns in Republican states, in particular, but also nationally, targeting low-income populations, minorities and youth. In New Jersey that year, Democrats added more than 600,000 new voters, compared to Republicans 180,000. And the trend toward more registered Democrats is aided not only by the efforts of the party itself, but by changes in New Jersey’s population over the years.

“The overwhelming majority of these 600,000 New Democrats signed up after the primaries, so that seems to have been part of the overall Obama campaign’s electoral strategy,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at the Rider University.

The percentage of registered Democrats rose nine points in 2008, from almost a quarter to a third, while the proportion of unaffiliated voters fell below 50% for the first time in at least 16 years and she stayed below that bar. since.

Credit: (AP Photo / Mel Evans)
May 14, 2007: Senator Barack Obama, then presidential candidate, listened to a question at a large gathering of mostly union members in New Jersey. The Obama campaign has worked hard to register Democratic voters.

In 2016 and 2020, the Democratic Party again outperformed its main rival in registration efforts, adding an estimated 500,000 to its lists, double that of Republicans.

“Put simply, one side has invested more substantially in its future than the other,” said Rasmussen. “Adding 600,000 Democrats in a single year has been an incredible achievement, but Democrats have done almost everything again in 2016 and 2020. Registering hundreds of thousands is a laborious and time-consuming effort.”

GOP could not follow

And Republicans weren’t lazy, they just couldn’t keep up, he added.

“None of this is to say that Republican growth was awful – adding 180,000 and 150,000 and 110,000 to their ranks could have been perfectly fine in another three presidential years, but at a time when Democrats were adding more “a million, it wasn’t. almost enough to keep pace,” said Rasmussen.

Matt Hale, professor of political science at Seton Hall University, said there had been a lack of enthusiasm for Republicans in recent years.

“New Jersey Republicans are not (Donald) Trump’s people and they turned on (former Gov.) Chris Christie” during his second term, Hale said. “It means there hasn’t been a Republican that people have loved for a long time.”

Trump’s presidency has helped the Democratic Party win voters here. Total voter registration was lower in this century’s first four midterm elections than in previous presidential elections, and the number of Democrats fell in three of the four, while the number of Republicans rose in three of the four. four. But the total number of registrants in 2018 was higher than in 2016, with the number of Democrats increasing twice that of Republicans.

“Democrats have fallen in love with Obama and hate Trump with such enthusiasm that they continue to work to get people on the electoral roll,” Hale said.

Dan Cassino, professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of the FDU poll, said competitive primaries help Democrats convince people whose views matched those of the party to register.

“Starting in 2008, we had competitive primaries on the Democratic side in New Jersey at the presidential level,” Cassino said. “Competitive primaries are not something we’re used to here. As such, there was an incentive to register to vote as a Democrat that previously did not exist. Turns out if you go out on the streets and actually try to involve people, it works – and it’s something Democrats have been doing a lot in recent years.

Go and come

Another factor in favor of Democrats has been a demographic shift due to those leaving and settling in New Jersey.

“The people who leave are disproportionately upper-middle-income, white and older, and the people who arrive are disproportionately more educated, less white and younger,” Cassino continued. “That means, overall, New Jersey exports a lot of Republicans to Florida, while importing a lot of Democrats from Brooklyn. Over time, these trends accumulate.

In 2018, New Jersey also made it easier to register to vote by implementing automatic registration. Signed by Murphy, whose gubernatorial campaign did its part to register voters, the law created a system that automatically registers who is eligible to vote when they apply for a license, permit or card. ‘identity. Hale said several reforms that made voting easier, such as no-excuse postal voting, also helped.

“This means that more working class people who tend to be Democrats found it easier to vote and then easier to stay registered,” he said.

This great advantage of Democratic registration is not necessarily the weight against Ciattarelli. But the shadow continues that Trump is casting over a segment of the GOP May.

“Can a Republican Win Statewide?” Of course, the state today is not that different from the state that chose Chris Christie twice, ”Cassino said. “What makes it more difficult today is the Trump wing of the party. Republicans in the state seek a version of ideological purity in a way they weren’t in the past, making it harder for Republican candidates to hold onto their base while winning over moderates who might be willing. to vote for a Republican. “

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