fdu_public_mind_pollMADISON, NJ - According to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, fewer than one in five New Jersey voters (18%) say the country is headed in the right direction; 71% say the country is “off on the wrong track.”

“That is a steep dive from the 34% who said the country was going in the right direction in May,” Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “You have to go back to the last days of the Bush administration to find such pessimism.”  In October 2008 just 13% said the country was headed in the right direction and 78% said it was on the wrong track.

But President Obama doesn’t get all the blame. Voters essentially split on the president, 44% approving and 47% disapproving. That is down dramatically from 55%-36% approvals in May after Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden. And it is the first time since he took office, through 18 PublicMind polls, that his disapprovals have exceeded his approvals in this state which leans distinctly Democratic.  “The killing of Osama Bin Laden gave the president a very temporary boost.  But people put that behind them quickly, and are thinking about economic problems,” said Woolley.

More voters are concerned that government debt is dragging down the economy than are concerned that the government is not doing enough spending to stimulate growth.  One-third (32%) say the federal government needs to spend more money to get the economy going—not cut the budget. But a majority (54%) say the government needs to cut its debt to fix its finances—not spend more money.

Bob Menendez who must stand for reelection in the same cycle as the president, and is closely linked to Obama, continues to have a low profile: 30% have a favorable view of the Democratic senator and 23% an unfavorable view, while 47% don’t know him at all or have no opinion of him, including 49% of Democrats.

“The senator’s weak numbers don’t necessarily mean he is easily beatable,” said Woolley. “The Republicans will have to find a strong challenger.”  However, 92% have never heard of or have no opinion of State Senator Joe Kyrillos, a friend of Gov. Chris Christie and one possible challenger to Menendez.  Likewise, 92% have not heard of or have no opinion of State Senator Michael Doherty, a Tea Party favorite and possible challenger to Menendez.

In hypothetical matchups, Menendez outpolls both state senators: 49%-28% over Kyrillos and 49%-30% over Doherty.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from Sept. 19 through Sept. 25, 2011, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.