The nation is now fewer than a hundred days from the presidential election and Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Robert Menendez will look to the fall election season with sizable New Jersey leads over their Republican opponents. Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by thirteen percentage points (49 to 36%), and incumbent Senator Robert Menendez is favored over State Senator Joe Kyrillos by twelve points (45 to 33%), according to the latest statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.
“Say what you want about New Jersey, but our residents can’t be pigeonholed politically,” said Krista Jenkins, Executive Director of PublicMind and professor of political science. “We have a Republican governor with strong approval, and yet registered voters are leaning heavily toward Democratic candidates for the White House and U.S. Senate.”
The lead that President Obama has over presumptive nominee Mitt Romney is notable in light of other numbers that point to discontent over his leadership. Only a third of registered voters (33%) believe the country is moving in the right direction, and less than a majority (49%) approve of the way he is handling his job as president.
“The fact that registered voters seem to prefer Democrats for the White House and U.S. Senate yet support Republican Chris Christie could be explained by differences in parties at the state and national level,” according to Jenkins. “Republicans at the national level have taken on more divisive social issues, something that seems to not sit well with New Jerseyans, hence the support for Christie at home and Democrats Obama and Menendez in Washington.”
Despite the lead that Menendez holds over Kyrillos, there’s some good news for the senator from Monmouth County. More than half of all registered voters (57%) remain uncertain about who he is, and among them the majority are either positively predisposed toward the senator or have no opinion. The trend is in the right direction for Kyrillos, since the same question asked in May resulted in 68 percent of registered voters indicating their unfamiliarity with Senator Kyrillos.
“As voter attention begins to turn more closely to the election, Senator Kyrillos doesn’t appear to have a lot of baggage weighing him down,” said Jenkins. “This could work to his advantage given the double digit lead that Senator Menendez has going into the general election.”
This is especially true given the sizable percentage across both major parties and independents who remain unfamiliar with Mr. Kyrillos. Slightly fewer than a majority (46%) of Republicans, and almost two-thirds of Democrats and independents (63 and 59%, respectively) say they haven’t heard of the senator. Moreover, among both Democrats and independents, relatively few have an unfavorable opinion of him, and of those who have heard of him, most remain unsure or have no opinion about Senator Kyrillos. Conversely, Senator Menendez receives a higher percentage of unfavorable ratings among those whom he’d obviously like to woo in the general election, independents and Democrats.
Another notable finding from the survey is attitudes on the Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker. Back in May when we last asked about Mayor Booker, his favorability was at 47 percent, an eight percentage point increase that followed on the heels of him rescuing a constituent from a burning building. Since then, his defense of private equity capital was newsworthy in the context of the presidential election. Despite some controversy around these remarks, registered voters remain favorable toward Mayor Booker, with a solid 48 percent indicating they are “very” or “somewhat” favorable toward Mr. Booker.
“New Jerseyans seem positively predisposed toward Mayor Booker these days,” said Jenkins. “This certainly helps Mayor Booker should his ambitions extend beyond the reaches of Newark.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University statewide poll of 945 registered and unregistered voters was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from July 23 through July 29, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points.