MADISON, NJ - In the most recent panel study of registered voters from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, the claims of those who argued that Sandy tampered with the outcome of New Jersey’s elections are investigated. In particular, some argued that the storm had a negative impact on votes for GOP candidates down ballot, as well as increasing support for the highly visible president. Is this true? By speaking with the same random sample of registered voters both before and after the hurricane, we can address this question.
Forty-five percent of registered voters contacted before the election said they favored the president; 50 percent of the same panelists reported they did, in fact, vote for President Obama when they were reinterviewed after the election. “The five percentage point change could be accounted for, in part, by people deciding late in the process for whom they’ll vote,” said Krista Jenkins, director of PublicMind and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “But, the difference represents movement that is not statistically significant.”
Approximately four out of five panelists also agreed with the statement, “I have a choice between two candidates, one of whom generally represents my interests and values,” both before and after the election (86 versus 78 percent, respectively). The alternative statement, “I have a choice between two candidates, neither of whom represents my interests and values,” was supported by 12 and 15 percent of panelists before and after the election, respectively.
“This clearly wasn’t a choice between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum,” said Jenkins. “Garden State voters saw this election as one that pitted two very different candidates, only one of whom aligned himself with their interests.”
Panel respondents also did not change their minds in regard to the Senate race. In the measure taken before Sandy, Menendez led Kyrillos among the sample by a comfortable eleven-point margin (52 to 41%, respectively). The numbers hardly moved, as the panel respondents reported after Sandy what is statistically the same preference – 49 to 42 percent for Menendez.
“Even though the Republican nominee derived a good deal of support from one of the hardest hit regions of the state, these data do not suggest that his base was eroded by the storm,” said Jenkins.
Voters were also asked to decide two public questions in November. Despite knowing little (25%) or nothing at all (47%) about the issue that would allow bond sales totaling $750 million to fund higher education in New Jersey, the number who said they were going to vote “yes” and who actually did according to self-reports remained virtually unchanged
(54 versus 55 percent).
The same is true for the other public question – the request to amend the state constitution allowing the legislature to require contributions by state court justices to their benefits. The majority of panelists went into the voting booth knowing little (14%) or nothing at all (46%) about the issue, and about equal numbers of panelists said they intended to (73%) as actually voted to support the change (77%) on Election Day.
“The timing of both the hurricane and the presidential election presented a unique opportunity to assess the effects of a natural disaster on voters,” said Jenkins. “People’s lives may have been changed by the storm, but not their voting preferences.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University panel survey of 241 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from October 26 through October 29, 2012 and November 13 through November 18, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-6.3 percentage points.