NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Despite divided opinions on the budget unveiled last week by Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey voters are warming to the idea of budget cutting, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today.

Following last week’s budget address, Garden Staters are less likely to want to protect a wide range of program areas than they were in March 2010.

In particular voters are 8 points less likely to say no cuts should be made to municipal aid, 10 points less likely to want to protect environmental programs, and 12 points less likely to oppose cuts in colleges and universities than they were after the governor’s budget address last year. At the same time voters continue to oppose increasing revenue through higher taxes and tolls.

“Governor Christie talked about the ‘new normal’ in his budget speech; for voters the new normal appears to be greater acceptance of budget cuts,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “While Democrats still resist many cuts and are more likely to support revenue increases, independents are looking more like Republicans in their support for budget cutting.”

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with +/-3.4 percentage point margin of error.

Budget cuts: More protection for schools; poor, compared to other services

New Jersey voters are split in their reaction to the governor’s budget, with 45 percent pleased and 48 percent displeased. But when asked about specific services, support varies significantly.

New Jersey voters are most supportive of education and programs for the poor, as they were last year. While 13 percent want school aid cut more deeply, 50 percent say there should be no cuts at all to state aid to schools. In his budget Gov. Christie proposed an increase in state aid to local school districts, though aid will remain far below pre-2010 levels. Last year 57 percent said they wanted no cuts to school aid, while 15 percent wanted deep cuts.

Likewise, there remains significant support for programs designed to help less well-off New Jerseyans, though support has also declined. This year 42 percent want no cuts in such programs, compared to 51 percent a year ago, while 16 percent want these programs cut more deeply (14 percent in 2010).

“In the span of a year, New Jerseyans have warmed up to program cuts – even to the most supported programs – to close the budget deficit,” said Redlawsk. “And while most still oppose deep cuts to education and assistance to the poor, more are willing to cut at least something.”

Democrats are much more likely to oppose cuts in aid to school districts, at 66 percent, while 38 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents also oppose such cuts. Democrats were also more likely to oppose cuts to programs for the poor, at 56 percent, versus 32percent of Republicans and 35 percent of independents. A year ago independents were much closer to Democrats in their support of these programs.

Retired and unemployed voters see government programs for the poor as much more important than those who are employed: 50 percent of retirees and 49 percent of unemployed New Jerseyans think that these programs should not be cut at all, compared to 39 percent of those employed full-time and 34 percent of those employed part-time.

Large majorities OK other cuts

Garden Staters are significantly more willing to see cuts in other areas. Only 23 percent say no cuts should be made to municipal aid, 29 percent oppose any cuts in environmental programs, and 34 percent oppose cuts to public transportation funding. Another 37 percent oppose any cuts to colleges and universities, a substantial drop from March 2010, when nearly half said higher education should suffer “no cuts at all.” More than a quarter of voters want aid to local government and environmental programs to be cut “more deeply” for budget balancing purposes. Overall, voters are now more likely to support budget cuts in all programs presented in the poll.

Republicans overwhelmingly favor cuts to environmental programs (80 percent), compared to 71 percent of independents and 62 percent of Democrats. Republicans favor deeper cuts to environmental programs to balance the state budget by a 29-point margin over Democrats, 42 to 13 percent.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that state aid to local government should be cut, but Republicans and independents think that these cuts should be deeper than Democrats do.

Thirty-three percent of Republicans and thirty-two percent of independents believe that state aid to local government should be cut "more deeply" than other programs, compared to 19 percent of Democrats.

Democrats are much more likely to oppose any cuts to funding colleges and universities, at 50 percent. Only 28 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of independents think there should be no cuts to higher education. Retired voters are more likely to oppose cuts to public transportation spending (42 percent say make no cuts), while other voters, even unemployed New Jerseyans, are more likely to support transit budget cuts.

Little support for tax and toll hikes

When asked about raising taxes or tolls to balance the budget, New Jerseyans overwhelmingly say no, with the exception of a sales tax on “luxury goods,” supported by 75 percent of Garden Staters. Interestingly, high earners (more than $150,000 per year) are more likely to support a luxury tax than those making under $50,000 per year by a 17-point margin, 81percent to 64 percent.

“With consistent strong support for a tax increase on “millionaires,” and now this, New Jersyans seem happy to ask the rich to pay more,” said Redlawsk. “That those not subjected to such a tax support it is no surprise, but it is interesting that high income voters are even more supportive. Maybe they also recognize the need to share the pain of the state’s financial troubles.”

In contrast to a luxury goods tax, majorities of New Jerseyans oppose raising the gas tax (70percent), or the state income tax (73percent), adding the sales tax to clothing (61percent), raising highway tolls (57percent), and increasing business taxes (56percent).

Looking at specific groups, voters who are employed and making money are less likely to support tax increases than those who are retired, unemployed, or earning less than $50,000 per year.

“The take-home is a little different from last year,” said Redlawsk. “After a year of hearing how bad things are, voters are more willing to accept program cuts to balance the budget. But for the most part they are still completely uninterested in paying more.”

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was conducted by telephone from February 24-26, 2011 with a scientifically selected random sample of 912 New Jersey adults. Data are weighted to represent known parameters in the New Jersey population, using gender, age, race, and Hispanic ethnicity matching to US Census Bureau data. All results are reported with these weighted data. This telephone poll included 775 landline respondents and 137 cell phone respondents, acquired through random digit dialing. Data reported in this release are from a weighted sample of 811 registered voters drawn from the full sample of adults.

All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. The sampling error for 811 registered voters is +/-3.4 percent, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 50 percent of New Jersey voters favored a particular position, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 46.6 and 53.4 percent (50 +/-3.4) had all New Jersey voters been interviewed, rather than just a sample. Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample. Sampling error does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question wording or context effects.

This Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was fielded by Braun Research, Inc., of Princeton, New Jersey. The questionnaire was developed and all data analysis was completed in house at the Eagleton Institute of Politics Center for Public Interest Polling. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is paid for and sponsored by the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, a non-partisan academic center focused on the study and teaching of politics and the political process.

Weighted Sample Characteristics
(811 New Jersey Registered Voters)
35% Democrat 49% Male 17% 18-29 74% White
42% Independent 51% Female 41% 30-49 9% Black
23% Republican 24% 50-64 10% Hispanic
17% 65+ 6% Asian
1% Other