fdu_public_mind_pollMADISON, NJ - With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%).

“Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.

Menendez, a Democrat, was appointed to the seat in January 2006 by then-Gov. Jon Corzine and was elected in Nov. 2006. His seat is up for election in 2012.

Among Democrats, 17% say they don’t recognize Menendez’s name, 26% say they are unsure or have no opinion of him, 10% have an unfavorable opinion, but 47% say their opinion is favorable. By contrast, New Jersey’s senior senator, Democrat Frank Lautenberg, rates 42% favorable to 31% unfavorable among all voters, and among Democrats, 58% have a favorable view of the octogenarian, while 12% have an unfavorable view.

“When Menendez was elected in 2006, his campaign tapped into the unpopularity of the president and voters’ dissatisfaction with the direction of the country,” said Woolley. “Next time it will be Menendez’s Republican opponent who will try to exploit presidential unpopularity and concern over the direction of the country,” said Woolley.

In November 2006, just before Menendez’s defeat of Republican Tom Kean Jr., the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll showed that New Jersey voters by a margin of two-to-one disapproved of President George W. Bush (63%-32%) and just 22% said the country was headed in the right direction.

For now, President Barack Obama is ahead in the Garden State: With the heat of the midterm elections behind voters, 51% approve of the president and 40% disapprove, up from 47%-43% in October’s run-up to the mid-term elections.

However, 58% say the country is on the wrong track, compared to just 31% who say it is headed in the right direction. Men and women agree the country is on the wrong track, and Democrats split on the question 47%-42%.

“When voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, it is incumbents who get the blame,” said Woolley. “I know at least two Democrats who are hoping that dissatisfaction will abate a little before the next national election in 2012.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 804 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from Nov. 15, 2010, through Nov. 21, 2010, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.