Saturday, November 28, 2009

Does NJ Support or Oppose Gay Marriage?

Depends on how and who you ask - doesn't it always? Quinnipiac is out with a new poll showing NJ voters opposing same-sex marriage 49%-46%, with only 5% undecided. This compares to our poll, taken two weeks before, showing NJ adults supporting gay marriage 46% - 42% with 12% undecided.

So which is it? Well, the "support" numbers are not all that much different - both of us have "support" at 46 percent - even though we asked the question differently. We asked:

"Some people say gay marriage should be legal in New Jersey. Others oppose legalizing gay marriage. What is your position? Do you support gay marriage or oppose gay marriage?"

They asked:

"Would you support or oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to get married?"

Notice we ask about "gay marriage" and Quinnipiac asks about "same-sex couples" getting married. Small difference, perhaps, but even small wording differences can matter.

But what's really different about our results is that Quinnipiac has 49 percent opposed and we only have 42 percent. AND they have only 6 percent don't know while we have 12 percent. The result is different interpretations of our two polls.

I'm guessing that we provided context in our question, in that we pointed out that "some people" support and some oppose gay marriage. By doing this we might have caused respondents to think a little more deeply about the question, perhaps to bring to mind both sides. This could lead to more "don't knows" rather than a gut "support" or "oppose" reaction, which is more likely to happen with the very simple Quinnipiac question.

One other point about the question - we reported "New Jersey adults" and Quinnipiac reported "New Jersey voters". Obviously voters are a subset of adults, and are the ones politicians care the most about (Sorry non-voters, politicians are not that into you!)

But we also have a voters sub sample, and when we look only at voters our results essentially do not change - we still have a 4 point plurality in favor of gay marriage.

So are New Jerseyans for or against gay marriage? The answer really is that they are pretty evenly split. But I would argue that opinion on this issue is not the key point. What really matters is the intensity of opinion. We asked how important the issue is to New Jerseyans and, surprisingly to me we found first that it is not very important to most New Jersey residents, and second, it is MORE important to supporters than to opponents. So while opinion is split, we find that a majority of residents say that if the legislature legalizes gay marriage, New Jerseyans should accept the decision.

But this appears to be moot, since so far the Democrats controlling the legislature do not seem likely to bring the issue to an up or down vote in this lame duck session, killing gay marriage for at least the four years of the upcoming Christie administration, no matter what New Jerseyans may say they want.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Some Polling on Gay Marriage in New Jersey

In our post election poll from November 6-10, we had a battery of questions on gay marriage. This issue is coming to the front in New Jersey right now because the election of Chris Christie as governor means it either moves forward in the legislature now, or a law on marriage equality is dead, given Christie's vow to veto any such bill.

So there is a lot of speculation on whether a bill will come up for a vote in the lame-duck legislative session. If it does, and it passes, Gov. Jon Corzine says he'll sign it. And our polling suggests a majority of New Jersey residents would be ok with that.

The results, shown below, say that gay marriage is supported in NJ 46-42, but more importantly, when asked what should be done if the legislature legalizes gay marriage, 52% say that the decision should be accepted. Only 40% call for amending the constitution to overturn the law. This is mostly because those who "don't know" their position on gay marriage mostly say that if a bill passes, it should be accepted.

Now, of course this is asking the question outside of any possible intensive campaign opposing gay marriage, as would probably occur. But the issue does not appear to be all that important to New Jerseyans, the vast majority of whom call it "somewhat important" or "not at all important" compared to other issues facing the state. And, in an interesting finding, the issue is MORE important for those who support gay marriage than it is for those who oppose it.

Press release follows. Questions and tables are available at Marriage PR Final with Tables.pdf



A Majority would not Challenge a Legislative Bill Legalizing Gay Marriage

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Supporters of gay marriage may find New Jersey more hospitable than many other states, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. By a 46 percent to 42 percent margin, adults in New Jerseyans favor legalizing same-sex nuptials, with 12 percent unsure.

The survey also shows that if the state Legislature passes a bill legalizing gay marriage, 52 percent would accept the decision, while 40 percent would support a constitutional amendment banning the practice.

“Residents of New Jersey are more supportive of gay marriage than opposed to it, and more importantly a majority would accept a legislative decision legalizing same-sex marriages,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “While this tests opinion outside the intensity of a campaign to ban gay marriage as occurred in California, there is more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude in New Jersey than in many other states that have dealt with this issue.”

The poll of 903 New Jersey adults was fielded November 6-10 and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points. Half the respondents also had been interviewed before the Nov. 3 elections. The gay marriage questions were asked only after Election Day.

Support for Gay Marriage in New Jersey

Women are more likely than men to support gay marriage here, 51 percent to 42 percent, and younger residents (under 40) are more supportive than their older counterparts, by 53 percent to 43 percent. About half the Latino (52 percent) and white (49 percent) respondents favor same-sex marriage, but only 29 percent of blacks feel the same way. The results mirror national trends, Redlawsk said.

“Support for legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey follows the patterns of other states and nationally,” said Redlawsk. “For many younger people, the idea of gay marriage causes a shrug rather than a negative reaction. On the other hand, there is strong opposition to legalizing gay marriage in the African-American community nationally, something we also see in New Jersey.”

Gay Marriage not an Important Issue for Most New Jerseyans

Clearly, residents don’t give gay marriage a high priority among issues facing the state: only 2 percent say it is the most important issue, while 15 percent say it is one of a few very important issues. Another 37 percent call the issue “somewhat important,” while 44 percent say it is “not at all important.”

“The holds across the board,” said Redlawsk. “Even African-Americans, who are strongly in opposition, do not consider gay marriage an important issue, with 53 percent of blacks saying it is not at all important. While there is some opposition to legalizing gay marriage, most think there are more important issues for the state to address.”

Supporters of gay marriage are much more likely to call the issue “very important” with 22 percent of supporters feeling strongly, while only 24 percent think the issue is not important. In comparison, 61 percent of those who oppose gay marriage say the issue is not important.

Responding to a Bill Legalizing Gay Marriage

In response to hypothetical legislative approval of gay marriage, residents were asked to choose from three options: support a state constitutional amendment to ban both gay marriages and civil unions; support an amendment to ban gay marriages only; accept gay marriages. A majority (52 percent) would accept legalization, three times as many who would favor banning both practices and more than twice the number who would ban gay marriages only.

“If the legislature passes a bill on gay marriage, our results suggest that most New Jersey residents will accept the decision,” said Redlawsk. “There will be a strong reaction from opponents, but for the most part, opponents actually see this as a less important issue than do supporters. And interestingly, about half the undecided respondents would accept legalizing gay marriage, while only 18 percent would support some kind of ban, suggesting that they are not a likely source of opposition to a gay marriage bill.”

Knowing Someone Who is Gay or Lesbian Increases Support

Many New Jerseyans have gay or lesbian friends (56 percent), family (32 percent), or co-workers (30 percent). Those with a gay co-worker are 9 points more likely to support gay marriage than those who do not, while those with a gay family member are 19 points more supportive and those with a gay close friend are 17 points more supportive of gay marriage. Those who know gays or lesbians are also more likely to consider the issue of gay marriage to be important than those who do not.

“Social scientists hypothesize that having contact with people who are different from ourselves can result in greater sympathy for and understanding of other people,” said Redlawsk. “This is clearly the case in New Jersey. Knowing a gay person results in much greater support for gay marriage probably because having such contact results in seeing past whatever differences we imagine there are between people.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


In our post-election poll from November 6-10, we wanted to do more than simply ask people why they voted the way they did. So while we did have some questions like that in the poll, most of the poll focused on future-oriented questions. This release reports on those questions, most of which were drawn from a similar poll done in November 1999.

The basic idea was to ask people to "think ahead" to the next ten years about a range of social, political, and personal issues. Because we had a lot of questions to ask, most were asked only of half the sample (randomly selected) so our "N" is not as large as we would like (between 420-470 in most cases.) But I think there is interesting stuff here, and in particular it is fascinating how so many expectations about the future in 2009 are roughly the same as they were in 1999! But one thing is clear - New Jersayans are worrying more about the future than they were in 1999. But remember, 1999 was pre-technology bubble burst, while 2009 is int he midst of the global financial crisis. It's no wonder people are worried!

New Jerseyans worry more about health insurance, the income gap and personal finances than they did a decade ago

Questions and Tables available at

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll finds that while New Jerseyans are no more pessimistic overall, they worry more about economic issues than they did 10 years ago. The poll asked 903 adults to assess the state’s economic future as well as their own economic, social and quality of life concerns over the next 10 years. Similar questions were asked in a 1999 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

The poll was conducted Nov. 6-10 and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points for the full sample and +/- 4.6 percentage points for subsamples of about 450 respondents.

Living in New Jersey the Next 10 Years

New Jerseyans’ outlook on the next ten years is mixed: Only 35 percent think conditions will get better, 41 percent say they will stay the same, and 19 percent think they will get worse. Following the election Governor-elect Chris Christie’s victory, 43 percent of Republicans are more optimistic about the state’s future; 32 percent of Democrats, and 34 percent of Independents have positive outlooks. In 1999, New Jerseyans had similar feelings about the coming decade when 38 percent thought things would be better, while 27 percent thought they would worsen.

“New Jerseyans are simply unsure about how good a place to live the state will be in 10 years,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Ten years ago, about 60 percent also thought the state would either stay the same or get worse as a place to live. There is clearly a long-term lack of positive expectations about the future of New Jersey.”

Some Optimism about the Overall Economy; Pessimism about the Specifics

Asked about New Jersey’s future economic strength, almost two-thirds of respondents say the economy will get stronger, but the optimism does not extend to perceptions about affordable living here. Almost half believe New Jersey will be less affordable 10 years from now and while 35 percent think it will be more affordable. As a result, 51 percent of residents think the state will be a worse place to retire while only 19 percent think it will be better.

Other economic concerns include healthcare and the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Almost half (45 percent) of New Jerseyans believe healthcare will be less affordable, and 65 percent think the gap between the rich and poor will grow.
Men are more optimistic about the future of the economy than are women by a 69 percent to 56 percent margin, and when asked about the future of affordable health care in the state, those earning $50,000 to $75,000 annually were the least optimistic, with only 29 percent believing affordability would improve.

A decade ago, 68 percent thought economic conditions would improve, and 57 percent believed New Jersey would be less affordable in the future. Pessimism about retiring in New Jersey remained the same in 1999 as in 2009. “As bad as the economy is, most people see it having nowhere to go but up,” said Redlawsk. “At the same time, New Jerseyans are deeply pessimistic about affordability and New Jersey as a place to retire, and have been for years. There are few if any bright spots right now.”

Race Relations and Conditions in the Cities

Residents believe that race relations will improve over the next 10 years, with 58 percent optimistic (compared to 52 percent in 1999) and only 19 percent pessimistic. Democrats (61 percent) and independents (58 percent) are more optimistic than Republicans (53 percent). Latinos (63 percent) are more hopeful than whites (61 percent) and blacks (46 percent).

New Jerseyans are mixed on conditions in New Jersey cities, with 40 percent saying they will worsen and 39 percent saying they will improve. The respective figures were 39 percent and 44 percent in 1999. Latino respondents (59 percent) are the most positive, and whites (32 percent) the most negative. Blacks (44 percent) fall in between.

New Jerseyans More Pessimistic About Personal Situation

New Jerseyans are more pessimistic about their own situations than they were a decade ago. Just about half anticipate their job situations and incomes will improve, compared to 58 percent and 65 percent, respectively, in 1999. At 18 percent, more than three times as many current respondents expect their incomes to worsen in the coming decade than in the earlier group.

New Jerseyans also have mixed feelings about prospects for their own health care. Only 34 percent of all respondents expect their access to good-quality health care to improve, while 36 percent said they expect it to stay the same, and 25 percent expect decreased health care availability and quality. Almost two-third of younger respondents (ages 18 to 34) are worried “a lot” about availability, compared to just over 50 percent of older residents. Overall, concerns are up substantially since the earlier poll, when 43 percent of all respondents said they worried “a lot” about health care, compared to 56 percent today.

Age also is a factor in optimistic or pessimistic outlooks, and younger respondents tend to be more upbeat, Redlawsk noted. About 74 percent of those aged 18-34 anticipate improvement in their jobs and 69 percent expect better incomes. Though they worry about health care quality and availability, only 24 percent expect it to be worse in the future.

“The optimism of youth is visible in how people view their personal situations,” said Redlawsk. “While older New Jerseyans are even more pessimistic than they used to be, young people retain a sense that the future will be better.”

Despite their concerns about New Jersey’s future, Democrats are more optimistic about their personal situations than are Republicans. Only 11 percent of Democrats say their income will decline, compared to 21 percent of Republicans. Similarly, 40 percent of Democrats anticipate better access to good-quality healthcare in 10 years compared to 23 percent of Republicans.

“The partisan differences are striking,” said Redlawsk. While Republicans are much more likely to think New Jersey will be a better place to live in ten years, Democrats are more likely to think their own personal situation will be better in the future.”

New Jerseyans Worry, Worry, Worry

Although New Jerseyans are fairly optimistic about their personal futures, they continue to worry – 46 percent worry “a lot,” about having enough money to live comfortably, 55 percent worry about health care and 50 percent worry about sufficient retirement funds. Women are more negative about their personal futures in terms of having sufficient money to live comfortably, retire and retain access to good-quality health care.

Overall, New Jerseyans worry more now about their future than they did in 1999. Today, 46 percent worry a lot about whether or not they will have enough money to live comfortably, compared to only 27 percent a decade ago. Insecurity about retirement is also greater in 2009. New Jerseyans are 22 points more likely to say they worry “a lot” about having enough money for retirement now than ten years ago, 55 percent to 33 percent.

Questions and Tables available at

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Respondents Mixed as to State’s Future with Gov-Elect Chris Christie

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Nearly half of New Jersey residents want to see Governor-elect Chris Christie cut taxes in his first year in office, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll taken after the November 3 election. Fewer than one in ten (6%) think it is very likely that taxes will be cut, while about half (49%) think it is somewhat likely. At the same time only 29% believe the future of New Jersey after Christie’s election will be better than it was, with 26% saying it will remain the same and 21% projecting the future to be worse. Nearly a quarter (24%) did not want to venture a guess about the future after the election.

The poll of 903 New Jersey adults was fielded November 6-10 and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points. The poll included interviews with 451 respondents who had been previously interviewed before the election and 452 new respondents.

New Jerseyans want their Taxes Cut – No other Priority Comes Close

The poll asked both voters and nonvoters to identify what they believe should be the new governor’s top priority next year. Cutting property taxes led the way at 27 percent, followed by cutting other taxes at 20 percent. Reducing unemployment (10 percent) and supporting public education and fighting corruption (each 6 percent) trailed the tax cuts.

Christie voters were much more likely than those who voted for Governor Jon Corzine to make tax cuts their priority, 56 percent to 36 percent. Corzine voters were much more likely to name supporting public education as the priority, 9% to 1%.

Residents are somewhat cynical about their named priorities actually getting done next year, however. Only 8 percent believe it is very likely that their priority will get accomplished, while 46 percent think it is somewhat likely. Even Christie voters are not all that certain, with only 14 percent saying very likely and 61 percent saying somewhat likely.

Respondents who prioritize cutting taxes are even less certain – only 5% think it is very likely property taxes will be cut, while 46% think it is somewhat likely. They are a little more likely to believe other taxes will be cut, with 8% saying very likely and 53% somewhat likely.

“Taxes are clearly on the minds of New Jerseyans,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science. “While that’s not surprising, it is interesting how even a large percentage of Corzine voters want Christie to cut taxes in the next year. However, at the same time, people are pretty uncertain as to whether this can even be done. This suggests that while the pressure will be on Christie to take visible action on taxes, few will be surprised if little actually changes.”

Residents Strongly Support Closing the Budget Gap by Reducing Spending

With New Jersey facing a projected budget deficit of $8 billion and Christie bound by the state constitution to balance it, the poll asked how that might be accomplished. Well over half of residents call for a reduction in spending, while only about one-quarter support a tax increase. Another 6 percent support a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

Among those who favor spending cuts, about 25 percent admit they do not know what should be cut. Another 10 percent simply give an unfocused “cut spending” response. Almost a quarter (23 percent) believe that spending cuts should start with reducing waste and inefficiency, 9 percent mention cutting government employee pay and benefits, and another 9 percent call for a cut in government jobs. Corzine voters are more likely to look for savings in waste and inefficiency (32 percent) compared to Christie voters (22 percent), while 10 percent of Christie voters cite program cuts as a way to save money, compared to only 4 percent of Corzine voters.

“There is a clear sense that government spending in New Jersey is out of control,” said Redlawsk, “and residents do not see taxes as the way to solve the budget problem. But people in New Jersey also have no real sense of how to go about making the needed cuts. And when we tell them that the budget gap is $8 billion, they are slightly more likely to support tax increases of
some kind than when they are not informed about the size of the gap (34 percent to 30 percent). But overall, the mandate for cutting spending is clear, if unfocused.”

Christie Wins on Turnout, Partisan Support, and Independents

While a larger percentage of poll respondents said they voted than was true of the general population, the results show that Christie benefited from increased turnout among Republicans, less party drop-off, and overwhelming support from independents. In the Poll, 70% of Democrats said they voted, compared to 87% of Republicans. And Christie won 88% of all Republican votes, while Corzine won only 79% of Democrats. Independent Chris Daggett drew much more heavily from Democrats, winning 11% of Democrats and only 3% of Republicans. Examining racial and ethnic voting, Christie won 52% of white voters, 32% of Latino voters, and 12% of black voters in the Poll.

“We always say it ahead of time, but turnout was absolutely the key to this election,” said Redlawsk. “The turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats was 17 points among our respondents, and the additional cohesiveness of Republicans added to Christie’s victory. Had Democrats even come within 10 points of Republican turnout, it would have closed the gap between Corzine and Christie.”

The Poll shows that voters were just as likely to say they voted against other candidates as to say they voted for their candidate. This election was as much about Corzine as anything, noted Redlawsk. While 51% of Christie voters said they cast their vote more for him, 44% said they were voting against the other candidates. Moreover, fully 72% of Daggett voters cast their vote as a protest against the others.

A Rutgers-Eagelton Poll taken about three weeks before the election showed independent Chris Daggett with 20% support. On election day, his support dropped to about 6%. The new Poll asked the 92% of respondents who did not vote for Daggett why they did not choose him. More than a quarter (27%) said the main reason was they knew little or nothing about him. Another 25% said they did not vote for him because Daggett could not win. Only 13% said it was because of his policies and 10% said they voted for their party.

“Despite the attention Daggett received in the last few weeks of the campaign, a large share of New Jersey voters still knew nothing about him, and for those who did, there was real concern about wasting their votes,” said Redlawsk. “Thus we saw the typical result for an independent – a high water mark a few weeks out and then steady decline to the election.”

Open Space wins by a Nose

Voters in the Poll supported the open space bond 52%-48%, close to the election day result of 53%-47%. Democrats were much more likely to vote for open space, with nearly three-quarters voting yes. Only 38% of Republicans and 43% of independents said they supported the bond issue. The results were similar by Governor candidate, with 35% of Christie voters, 74% of Corzine voters, and 50% of Daggett voters in support of the bond. The bond was strongly supported in urban areas, while strongly opposed in the shore areas. Exurban and suburban voters were evenly split with 51% support in the suburbs and 49% support in the exurbs.

“Our October Poll showed the vote much closer than other polling in the run up to the election,” said Redlawsk. “We had a statistical tie while others called an easy win. The difference was that voters clearly had the costs of the bond issue – the fact that it requires borrowing money – on their minds when they voted. Fortunately for those supporting the bond, extremely strong urban and Democratic support overcame reluctance in other parts of the state and among Republicans.

Tables and questions will be available at

Friday, November 6, 2009

One interesting note...

Our data on corruption attitudes seems to suggest:

1. New Jersey residents think politics in the state is corrupt. No surprise there.

2. Many also think business is corrupt - 40% see "a lot" of corruption in NJ business.

3. Despite what appears to be a high level of cynicism about corruption, people here actually believe things can get done without corruption. 80% told us that they DISAGREE with the statement that "in government, corrupt means are needed to achieve important goals." Only 15% agreed. So there is some sense that things could get done with honest politicians.

4. But, if they HAD to choose between an ineffectual honest politician, and an effective corrupt politician, New Jerseyans say they would choose the HONEST one, even if things didn't get done.

The challenge for voters of course is it isn't always possible to figure out who the (potentially) corrupt politicians are when they are running for office!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Jersey and Corruption: Perfect Together?

When I lived in New Jersey back in the 90's the state tourism pitch was "New Jersey & You: Perfect Together". Given the perception that New Jersey is inherently politically corrupt, seems as good a title as any for this post.

In our polling from October 15-20, we asked a series of questions about corruption, including perceptions of how corrupt politics is (very!), and how corrupt business is (lots of cynicism there too.) We also asked about penalties for corruption and who should take a leadership role in cleaning things up.

The full press release with tables and details will be posted on the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll website ( but here are a few highlights from the press release.


Leadership by citizens groups needed to raise ethical standards

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As New Jersey voters elected a corruption-busting former US Attorney to the Governor’s office, a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of state residents finds overwhelming belief that New Jersey politics is corrupt, with more than half believing the state is more corrupt than other states. At the same time they are divided about the harshness of punishment to be meted out to those accused of corruption, believing accused officials should not summarily have their pay and benefits cut off, but that they should be forced to leave office upon being accused.

Perceptions of Corruption in New Jersey

Almost two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) say that there is “a lot” of political corruption in New Jersey, while 26 percent say there is “some” and only 5 percent say there is “little” political corruption. In comparison, when asked about corruption in New Jersey business, 80 percent are evenly split between “a lot” and “some” categories, and 10 percent said there is only a little corruption.

When asked to compare states, 54 percent of respondents say that New Jersey is more corrupt than other states, while 40 percent believe corruption in New Jersey is about the same as elsewhere. Only 3 percent believe New Jersey is less corrupt.

The results show a dramatic surge over the past decade in the belief that New Jersey is more corrupt. Redlawsk noted that in a 1974 poll, only 16 percent thought New Jersey was more corrupt than other states, and the percentage dropped to 11 percent in 2002. “With recent high-profile corruption arrests and convictions, New Jerseyans have become much more negative about how corrupt their state really is,” he said.

Penalties for Officials Accused of Corruption

After the July 2009 arrests of legislators and local officials on corruption charges, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. announced the immediate cutoff of pay and benefits to three legislators who had been accused. By 58 percent to 36 percent, poll respondents say that such penalties should be applied only after conviction. But when asked if officials who have only been accused of corruption should be forced to leave office, 50 percent say yes; 42 percent say such officials should be allowed to stay in office until found guilty.

New Jersey Residents Prefer Honest Officials, even if Ineffective

The poll tested tolerance for corruption by asking respondents to make a choice between a “politician who might be corrupt but could get important things done” and “an honest politician who had trouble making things happen.” Overwhelmingly, New Jerseyans chose the honest politician, 78 percent to 15 percent. When asked to “in government corrupt means are needed to achieve important goals,” 80 percent disagreed, while only 15 percent agreed.

Residents Call on Citizen’s Groups to Take the Lead

Given the perceived pervasiveness of corruption in New Jersey politics, the question becomes who should play a leadership role in raising ethical standards and addressing corruption. Repeating a question first asked by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in 2006, respondents were asked to identify who should take the lead on ethics in New Jersey. Citizen’s groups were preferred by 28 percent of respondents, while 22 percent thought it is up to state and federal prosecutors. The governor and the state legislature were each named by 17 percent, while only 3 percent though business leaders should take the lead on political corruption and ethical standards.


Probably not actually surprising anyone with these results, I suppose, but an interesting look into perceptions of corruption in the state.

I did a little bit of quick and dirty looking into actual corruption here the other day. Federal public corruption statistics show New jersey as having had the 12th largest number of federally convicted public officials over the past decade or so. Interestingly, the Census says we have the 10th largest public employee payroll (state and local). We also have an ungodly number of local governments, when municipalities, school districts, and various authorities and special districts are counted. I think these things are all related!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Exit Poll Calculation Update

I added the following on Nov 9...


OK, I have to thank Patrick Murray for pointing out very nicely that I am sometimes a doofus. In my zeal to talk about how turnout matters, I mis-used the exit poll data. What I didn't think about (and should have) was how the data are weighted. They are weighted either to a vote "guess" - in the case of the early polls this time around to an estimated tie vote - or to the actual vote results (for the final exit poll numbers).

So no surprise that the calculations came out the way they did in terms of vote estimates - they were WEIGHTED that way! Duh.

BUT, the concept that relative turnout makes all the difference still is the point I wanted to make. Christie won at least partly because the Republicans turned out in greater proportions. And the independents who did turn out were more conservative and voted for Christie.

Thanks Patrick for pointing out my mis-use of the exit poll. I will try to do better next time. But I'm leaving the original posts because I don't want to pretend I didn't do it!


So this morning's NY Times published the exit polls. And they look different from the exit polls reported in The Atlantic right after the polls closed last night. The immediate exit polls calculated to a <1 point margin for Corzine. Of course Christie actually won by 4+ points.

Well the (more complete) exit poll shows this:

Democrats: 86% Corzine, 8% Christie, 5% Daggett
Republicans: 91% Christie, 6% Corzine, 3% Daggett
Independents: 60% Christie, 30% Corzine, 9% Daggett

And this exit poll shows turnout shares as 41% Democrat, 31% Republican, and 28% Independent.

Republicans turned out +11 over their share of registered voters. Democrats only managed +7 over theirs. And independents were -18. And Republicans were somewhat more cohesive: 91% voted for Christie; 86% of Democrats voted for Corzine.

But Corzine lost it with the independents, 60% of whom voted for Christie (Corzine got only 30%). If Corzine had gotten 35% of Independents and Christie 55%, it would have been a tie. The result may be that simple.

We can do the (new) math on the exit poll:

Corzine: 45.5% (.86*.41 + .06*.31 + .30*.28)
Christie: 48.3% (.08*.41 + .91*.31 + .60*.28)
Daggett: 5.5% (.05*.41 + .03*.31 + .09*.28)

So the final exit poll calls for a 2.8 point Christie win, 48.3% to 45.5%.

The final results with 99% counted (from today's Star Ledger): 48.8% to 44.6%

Pretty darn good in the end if you ask me!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

And this is why....

We should always recognize the error inherent in polling, whether exit polling or any other kind! New Jersey Network has called the governor's race for Christie. He is up about 100,000 votes as I write this, about 5.7 points with 74% of the vote reported.

Clearly either the turnout estimate in the exit polling is wrong -- the most likely reason -- or the reported breakdown of the vote by partisans is wrong.

I'm guessing there are more Republicans in the mix than the exit poll showed. Either they didn't sample some areas that had (relatively) massive Republican turnout or Republicans were less likely to talk to exit pollsters. Or something else... :)

For example, if Republicans made up 33% of all voters (compared to the exit poll report of 31%) and Democrats were 40% (instead of the 43% in the exit poll), Christie gets a 3 point win in the calculations.

It simply looks like Republicans turned out - especially in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, and Democrats just did not keep up the pace in comparison.

So again, polling gives us insights in how something happened, but in the end we have to count the votes!

No One is Reading This - Thank Heavens as I go out on a limb!

Well it is 8:40pm election night - polls have been closed for 40 minutes and results are starting to come in. More interestingly, the exit polls are now available.

According to a posting at by Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic, the exit polls say that turnout ratio by party is:

Democrats: 43%
Republicans: 31%
Independents: 27%

(Rounds to 101%)

Key point - in the polling as I noted in an earlier post, independents were shown as 35-38% of turnout (compared to their 46% of voters.) But IF the exit polls are right (and are being reported right), their turnout is MUCH lower than that at only 26-27% of all voters. This is not great for Christie.

But what is great for Christie is that those independents are overwhelmingly for him - 58% to 33%.

On the other hand it may be a bit of a wash that 43% of voters were Democrats and 31% were Republicans. That puts Democrats +9 over their registration and Republicans +11 over theirs.

As expected, the exit polls show partisans voting for their guy, and also show a large drop for Daggett from the pre-election polling.

Here's what the exit polls show as the vote breakdown:

Democrats: 85% Corzine, 8% Christie, 7% Daggett
Republicans: 89% Christie, 7% Corzine, 4% Daggett
Independents: 58% Christie, 33% Corzine, 8% Daggett

So we can do the math. If the exit polls are correct (Warning - they are subject to error, I just don't know in which direction!) we get the following:

Corzine: 47.6% (.85*.43 + .07*.31 + .33*.27)
Christie: 46.7% (.08*.43 + .89*.31 + .58*.27)
Daggett: 6.4% (.07*.43 + .04*.31 + .08*.27)

This isn't a prediction, just a calculation - and it doesn't account for the rounding that exists in the exit poll - which given a less than 1% potential margin, could really matter!

So that's what it looks like from the exit polls. Long night?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Election Day is Tomorrow: Who is going to win?

Obama has come and gone. The final polls are out. And the campaigns are focused on GOTV. Getting out the vote is what it is all about. And while there are reports that about 175,000 New Jerseyans requested mail-in ballots (and about 100,00 or so had been returned as of the end of last week), the vast majority of the 2.4 million or so voters (out of 5.2 million voters) will cast their votes tomorrow in voting booths around the state.

Who's winning? Well it ALL depends on our assumptions about turnout.

Let me use the last two Quinnipiac Polls to illustrate this. They are very helpful since they are one week apart, but report very different results!

The latest Quinnipaic Poll (released today) suggests Corzine has dropped back. The last QPoll (10/28) had CORZINE up 5 points. This one has CHRISTIE up 2 points, 42%-40% with Daggett at 12%. The margin of error is +/-2.5%.

The key point I see in this poll is that Corzine and Christie remain at parity among their party voters. Corzine has 77% of Democrats and Christie has 78 percent of Republicans pretty much where they were a week ago. So without any real change in partisan support for the candidates, there has been a 7 point swing in the reported poll results. Where is it? It's not in the independents, who are now 47%-32% Christie, compared to 45%-30% last week - making no swing at all here. And the Don't Knows are at 6% this week, compared to 5% last week, so it can't be them either. So what the heck is going on?

Let's take a closer look at the numbers.

Given that there are MANY more Democrats in NJ than Republicans, this should benefit Corzine. For every 100 registered Democrats there are 60 Republicans.

So if we only cared about Democrats and Republicans, and if BOTH parties vote in the same proportion as they are registered, Corzine gets 77 votes from Democrats and Christie gets 47 votes from Republicans (from each 100 Dems and 60 Reps). That's quite a margin.

Of course some Democrats plan to vote for Christie (Qpoll says 6% of Democrats will do this.) And some Republicans will be for Corzine (10% according to the poll).

So we have to add these folks to the totals: 6% of Dems X 100 Dems = 6 more for Christie (now at 53) and 10% of Reps X 60 Reps = 6 more for Corzine (now at 83).

Note I am ignoring Daggett. This is not a political statement in the least. I believe voters should vote sincerely, that is, for the candidate they support, even if that candidate is unlikely to win. But for this calculation he is not relevant.

But of course all the voters are NOT Democrats and Republicans. So what about the Independents? Turns out there are 136 registered independents for each 100 Democrats. And Qpoll says that they go strongly for Christie, 47% - 32%.

So let's add them in. 47% of 136 Independents is 64 more votes for him, bringing Christie to 117 votes. Corzine gets 32% of the 136 I's, giving him another 44 votes, bringing Corzine to 127 votes.

Wait a minute. When I do the calculation based on how many registered voters there are, Corzine is winning, 127 to 117, which translates to 42.9% to 39.5%, a 3.4% margin in favor of Corzine (again ignoring Daggett voters and Don't Know voters, who make up the remaining 17.6%.) But Quinnipiac reported a 42% - 40% race in favor of Christie.

Where do the numbers come from?

So is Quinnipiac cheating? Of course not. In fact they do a great job with their polling. The problem in this example is my own basic assumption: Democrats, Republicans AND Independents will turn out tomorrow in the same proportions they exist as registered voters - that is, 46% Independent, 34% Democrats, and 20% Republicans.

But this will not happen. We know for certain that voters who are registered independents are MUCH less likely to vote in ANY election, especially a non-presidential one. And Republicans (as the out party) MIGHT be more motivated to vote than Democrats, who do not appear to be that enthusiastic about Corzine, even if they support him.

So the polling results you see reported are based on some some expectation about who will turn out. And those assumptions are embedded in the screening questions public polls use to determine "likely voters". The screening questions are different for each pollster, and who becomes a "likely voter" may be different as well.

A quick back of the envelope calculation suggests that in the Quinnipiac Poll I just used for the example, Republicans must be significantly more likely to pass the "likely voter" screening questions than Democrats or Independents. The sample is probably 28-30% Republican (versus 20% in the registered voter population) and 35-38% Independent (much lower than their 46% share of registered voters.) Democrats are probably somewhere near their actual ratio of registered voters (33-34%). I don't know for sure because I can't find it reported in the QPoll.

But Corzine was up 5 points in the last Quinnipiac Poll a week ago!

But why was the Quinnipiac poll only a week ago showing Corzine up 5 points? Did he lose that much ground? Let's see, that poll looked like this:

Corzine -- Dems: 79%; Reps: 7%; Inds: 30%;
Christie - Dems: 8%; Reps: 79%; Inds: 45%;

It's obvious these numbers are not much different from the new poll. Doing the same calculation I did earlier with the same (wrong) turnout assumption I started with, that's:

100 D's - 79 Corzine, 7 Christie
60 R's - 4 Corzine, 48 Christie
136 I's - 41 Corzine, 61 Christie

Total - 124 Corzine, 116 Christie or 41.9% Corzine, 39.2% Christie.

This is nearly the same as this week! In fact if anything, Corzine is doing BETTER this week (42.9 versus 41.9 last week).

It seems obvious now that it is all about turnout assumptions, doesn't it?

It would be very helpful to all of us if ALL public polls reported their partisan breakdown of likely voters. We did that in our pre-election poll, and Monmouth routinely does it as well. Their last poll shows 40% Democrat, 34% Independent, and 26% Republican. They have Christie up 43%-42%.

In our Rutgers-Eagleton Poll (fielded 10/15-20) we came up with 39% Democrat, 35% Independent, and 26 Republicans. And we had Corzine up 43%-40%. Where did we get these numbers? It's what came through our likely voter screen.

If we applied the new Monmouth partisan shares to the new QPoll numbers, we would get:

Corzine: .77 X .39 + .32 X .35 + .26 X .10 = 43.8%
Christie: .06 X .39 + .47 X .35 + .78 X .26 = 39.1%

So using Monmouth's likely voter partisan shares and Quinnipiac's partisan results, we get a 4.7 point lead for Corzine, almost exactly what they reported on October 28. (Note, Monmouth says Christie wins 81% of Republicans, which is why he is leading by 1 point in their poll.)

It MUST be the case that the Quinnipiac Poll of October 28 had a larger share of Democrats in it than the poll of November 2 does. And the November 2 poll MUST have fewer Democrats than Monmouth Or Rutgers-Eagleton) reports. So either it is the random effects of sampling populations, OR Democrats have become less likely to say they will turn out this week than they were last week. And of course this week is the week that matters!

So who cares?

In a close race, it is essentially useless to use any of these polls to say one candidate or the other is winning. It is a statistical tie, and the media should make that clear. Basic assumptions, likely voter screens, and the number of partisans in the samples all make a difference when the race is this close.

The campaigns all know the numbers too, of course, but they do a lot LESS guessing about turnout. At a minimum they run their polling using voters registration and history lists. They KNOW who has voted in the past over the years, and thus who is more likely to turn out and who will stay home. And while it is not an exact science for them either, if we could see the internal campaign polls and compare them to the public polls, we'd have a much better sense of what's really going on.

Or we can just wait until tomorrow night!