MADISON, NJ - According to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™,  60% of New Jersey voters say the country is “on the wrong track,” up six percentage points from the previous measure, and the highest measure since the last months of the Bush presidency.  Just 30% say the nation is headed in the right direction, a decrease of three points from the last measure and the lowest so far in the Obama presidency.

Meanwhile, 47% approve of the president’s job performance while 43% disapprove.  That nearly even split conceals important differences: The president’s approval runs 10 points ahead with women (50%-40%) but three points behind with men (43%-36%).  Obama runs way ahead with non-white voters (79%-10%) and well behind with white voters (36%-54%). Most telling is that among voters who do not rate their chances of voting in the midterm elections as “excellent,” the president runs comfortably ahead (53%-33%), but among voters who do rate their chances of voting as excellent, the president runs five points behind (43%-49%).

“That doesn’t translate well for Democratic candidates,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science and analyst for PublicMind. “It remains to be seen if Democrats can muster the enthusiasm to get out enough of their voters to hold on to contested seats. People who put Obama over the top in 2008 are far less likely to vote this time.”

Asked which party they prefer to control the U.S. Congress after the upcoming elections, voters choose Democrats over Republicans by a close margin, 41%-37%. But voters who say their chance of voting is “excellent” prefer Republicans by a five-point margin (44%-39%) while those who rate their chance of voting as less than excellent prefer Democrats by a much wider 16-point margin (43%-27%).

While 70% of Garden State Republicans rate their chance of voting in the upcoming congressional elections as “excellent,” just 55% of Democrats rate their chance of voting as “excellent.”

Further evidence of the challenges facing the Democratic Party in this election is seen in the difference between how voters view named and generic candidates. Half of respondents to the survey were asked to choose between the actual, named candidates in their congressional district, while the other half were only asked to choose only between “the Republican” and “the Democrat.”  Voters choosing only between the party names preferred Democrats over Republicans by a five-point margin, 42% to 37%. But voters given the names of the actual candidates in their district preferred the Republican candidates over the Democratic candidates by a four-point margin, 41% to 37%.

“The Democratic Party hasn’t managed to field very many first-tier challengers this year,” said Cassino. “It doesn’t matter if it’s because they’ve run out and need to rebuild their bench, or because highly qualified Democrats are scared to run this year – either way, Republican incumbents don’t have much to worry about.

“Most estimates we have about which party is going to control the U.S. Congress show that the election will be very tight,” said Cassino. “Most national polls ask voters to choose between unnamed candidates for Congress, and such questions tend to overestimate the vote share of the Democrats.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 831 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from Oct. 4, 2010, through Oct. 10, 2010, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Methodology, questions, and tables on the web at: