Rest of New Jersey GOP Not Immune
MADISON, NJ - New Jersey voters are unhappy with the state of national politics, but incumbent Governor Chris Christie remains insulated from voter dissatisfaction with Congress. However, according to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll of registered voters, this same disapproval of national politicians is having a sizable impact on New Jersey voters in general, making the state much more inhospitable for other Republican politicians.
Going into Election Day, Christie’s approval ratings remain high, with 61 percent of voters saying that they approve of the job he’s doing as governor; a slightly smaller figure, 56 percent, say that the state is on the right track. Both of these figures are unchanged from last month.
“Generally, we’d expect that an election would cut into an incumbent’s approval numbers,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the poll. “But Democratic opponent Barbara Buono hasn’t been able to cut into his numbers at all.”
New Jersey voters are less happy with the national political situation. When asked about the negotiations over the federal budget -- the failure over which led to the recent government shutdown -- only 38 percent approve of the way President Obama has handled negotiations. While these numbers aren’t high, they’re better than for the other players involved in the standoff: only 32 percent approve of the job Congressional Democrats are doing and only 14 percent think Congressional Republicans did a good job.
“New Jersey voters are as frustrated as the rest of the country with how Congress has been acting,” said Cassino. “The difference is that voters in New Jersey don’t have to wait another year for an election if they want to act on it.”
However, Governor Christie seems to be largely insulated from the dire approval ratings at the national level. Half of voters polled were randomly assigned to answer questions about the federal budget negotiations before answering questions about New Jersey politics. The other half answered questions about New Jersey first, and questions about the federal government only afterwards. By comparing the two groups, it’s possible to see how a voter’s opinions of the national political situation impact how they feel about New Jersey politicians.
Voters who were first asked about the budget negotiations were no less likely to approve of the job Christie is doing – but they were more likely to be undecided about how they feel about Christie. When voters answer questions about New Jersey first, only three percent say that they “don’t know” how they feel about Christie. When the national questions are asked first, sixpercent say that they “don’t know.”
“In New Jersey, about a quarter of Democrats say that they’re going to vote for Christie,” said Cassino. “National Republicans are making them uncomfortable supporting a Republican, but not enough to make them turn against him.”
The same question ordering technique can also be used to estimate the effect of the national political situation on New Jersey voters more generally. Just before being asked about whether they consider themselves to be Republicans or Democrats, respondents were randomly assigned to be asked about N.J. politics, the federal budget negotiations, or a series of non-political questions about New Jersey farms. Compared to voters who had just been asked about Jersey Fresh produce, voters who had been asked about the federal government were nine points less likely to say that they were Republicans (from 29 percent to 20 percent), with the number of independent increasing by about the same number (from 12 to 23 percent). Voters who were reminded about New Jersey politics were no different from the control condition.
“New Jersey voters disapprove of the national political situation so much that reminding them of it reduces the number of Republicans statewide by a third,” said Cassino. “Christie’s personal approval is insulating him from these effects, but if these effects continue, it will be difficult for other Republicans trying to run statewide.”
In addition to the governor’s race, voters will also be deciding on control of the N.J. State Assembly and the State Senate. Forty-three percent of registered voters say that they will support the Democratic candidate for Assembly in their district, while 36 percent say that they will support the Republican. Democrats hold almost exactly the same advantage -- 43 to 36 -- in the race for the State Senate. These results indicate that significant change in Trenton is unlikely. Since PublicMind first began polling voters about the state legislature, the results have been almost unchanged. In 2001, Democrats had a 41 to 36 advantage in the vote for State Assembly. In the last survey before the 2003 election, 42 percent of voters said that they would support Democratic candidates. In 2011, Democrats led 41 to 36. The only recent year that’s deviated from this balance was 2007, when 49 percent said that they would support Democrats in their local assembly races.
“Democrats can expect to hold on to control of Trenton,” said Cassino. “Voters generally don’t know who the state Assembly and Senate candidates are, so they’re just voting on party lines. So long as voters continue do so, Democrats are going to do just fine.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 1,206 registered voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from October 24 through October 30, 2013, and has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points.