Brendan Byrne’s polls & votes

Section 2

How disliked was Gov. Brendan Byrne before he became a beloved elder statesman?  The first poll of his administration had his approval ratings at 51%-21% (Eagleton-Rutgers, March/April 1974).  By the mid-term election, Byrne was upside down at 23%-71% (Eagleton-Rutgers, October/November 1975), and Republicans picked up seventeen Assembly seats.  In Byrne’s defense, some of the Assembly seats were Republican anyway, and part of the GOP success in the mid-terms was simply a market adjustment.

Byrne’s problem – supporters of the incoming Governor of New Jersey, take note – was

At the start of his re-election year, Byrne’s approval ratings were about the same: 22%-71% (Eagleton-Rutgers, January/February 1977).   He went into the Democratic primary with 25%-70% approvals.  (Eagleton-Rutgers, May 1977).  The same poll had Byrne statistically tied with Rep. Bob Roe, 17%-14%.

The only good news for the man called One-Term Byrne was that the Democratic field included ten rivals, including Roe of Passaic; Rep. Jim Florio of Camden; former State Sen. Ralph DeRose of Essex; former state Labor Commissioner Joseph Hoffman (who quit Byrne’s cabinet challenge him); and State Sen. Raymond Garramone of Bergen.  Jersey City Mayor Paul Jordan was also on the ballot, even though he dropped out after a political rival replaced him in the May Jersey City election.

Byrne pulled off a stunning victory in the primary, beating Roe 30%-23% — a margin of 41,332 votes.  The others: DeRose (17%), Florio (15%), Hoffman (10%), and Garramone (1%).

In July, Byrne’s approvals were at 28%-68%.  State Sen. Raymond Bateman led Byrne by five points, 40%-35%.  State Sen. Anthony Imperiale, an independent, was at 13%.  (Eagleton-Rutgers, July 1977).    Two months later, Byrne had clawed his way into a statistical dead heat: Bateman, 40%; Byrne 38%.  Imperiale, who dropped out at the end of September to concentrate on his Senate re-election bid, was at 10%.  (Eagleton-Rutgers, September 1997).

The last poll had Byrne’s approvals at 34%-61%, yet Byrne was now ahead by eight points, 43%-35% (Eagleton-Rutgers, October 1977).

Byrne, upside down for most of his four years as Governor, was re-elected by a 56%-42% margin – a plurality of 295,684.  Democrats lost two State Senate seats (again, a minimal market adjustment from 1973) and lost six Assembly seats.

Byrne pulled off a political miracle, re-elected in a landslide despite continuing disapproval of his job performance.  Why? The print newspapers do a good job explaining the policy stuff in their obituaries.

The lesson here is that politically, Byrne pulled off some modern-day miracle.  He was the last Democratic Governor to get re-elected in one of America’s bluest states.  Republicans have re-elected three Governors since Byrne.

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