Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NEW POLL: Christie Budget Splits Garden Staters

NJ Governor Chris Christie gave his budget address on March 16 and it was an address like no other. Christie told the state that is is broke and that the solution is cuts nearly across the board. He made clear that he intends to depart from business as usual and spent a good deal of time laying the blame for the budget problems at the feet of predecessors, the legislature and both parties in it, and public employee union benefits and pension plans.

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll decided to wait a couple weeks to let the realities of the budget sink in, and then to see what Garden Staters think about it. So we went into the field March 31-April 3 to find out, and today we are releasing the first set of results. There is a lot of information here, but the quick story is that New Jerseyans are split on the budget, in some predicable ways, and as he himself predicted, Christie's favorables have taken a significant hit.

One of the cornerstones of the proposed budget is "Proposition 2 1/2" which would place a hard cap on property tax increases of 2 1/2 percent annually. Local voters could allow higher increases, but the governing bodies could not go higher without voter approval. This proposal is patterned on a Massachusetts law.

We asked New Jerseyans what they think about this. Not surprisingly it is wildly popular, but such caps usually are when people do not think about any consequences. So we split our sample, and for half we laid out some consequences that some observers in MA have noted. When we did this, the results are exactly the opposite. Thinking about potential consequences changes opinion - instead of strong support, there becomes strong opposition.

Interesting fodder for whatever campaign materializes around this issue.

The full release follows. Questions and tables can be found HERE.


50 percent of New Jerseyans are displeased with budget while governor’s favorability rating drops 12 points since March 16 address to Legislature

As he himself predicted, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s new budget has not won him many friends, according the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. The Poll finds impressions of Christie dropped from 45 percent favorable and 26 percent unfavorable in February 2010 to 33 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable following his March 16 budget address. This 12-point drop in one month comes on the heels of a budget proposal that displeases 50 percent of New Jersey residents while pleasing only 43 percent. Even so the Governor is seen much more favorably than either party in state government, where only 26 percent view Democrats and 25 percent see Republicans favorably.

“Three weeks after the budget speech, the impact is starting to sink in,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “The result is a recognition that the proposed budget cuts are going to hurt and a significant decrease in favorable impressions of Christie.”
The poll, conducted March 31 – April 3, included 953 New Jersey adults. The full sample has a margin of error of +/-3.2 percentage points. Specific questions about the budget were asked of a subsample of adults who had heard at least “a little” about the budget.

New Jerseyans are Paying Attention

Governor Christie’s budget proposal has garnered a great deal of attention from Garden Staters, with nearly 4 in 10 who said they had heard at least a little about the budget saying they watched or listened to at least part of the budget speech itself, and 65 percent saying they have heard or read at least something about the budget. “That more than a third of New Jerseyans saw or heard the budget speech first-hand is a testament to how seriously people take the state’s economic situation,” said Redlawsk. “It is also recognition of how visible Christie himself has been on the budget issue. There are very high levels of awareness across all demographic groups.”

Reaction to the Budget Mixed at Best

Of those who have heard about the budget, 43 percent say they are very or somewhat pleased with it, while 50 percent are somewhat or very displeased. Another 8 percent are unsure of their response. Not surprisingly, opposition is centered among those who view Christie unfavorably, with 90 percent displeased. Of those who view Christie favorably, 88 percent say they are pleased with the budget. “Support for Christie is tied directly to the budget proposal,” said Redlawsk. “How this budget process proceeds and the ultimate impact on New Jersey residents may well define Christie’s next few years in office. Of particular note is that the 30 percent of New Jerseyans who have neither a favorable nor unfavorable impression of Christie are displeased by the budget by a 50 percent to 30 percent margin.”

Predictably, Democrats are strongly displeased by the budget (48 percent very displeased) while Republicans are pleased (73 percent either very pleased or somewhat pleased). Independents are evenly split, with 45 percent either very or somewhat pleased and 44 percent very or somewhat displeased. Women are less likely to be pleased by the budget, with 55 percent displeased compared to 44 percent of men.

High-income residents are much more pleased with the budget than any other income group, with 54 percent of those earning $150,000 or more saying they are pleased, while 43 percent are displeased. On the other end of the scale, only 31 percent of those making under $50,000 are very or somewhat pleased. “Those who expect to feel less impact of the budget cuts are much happier with the proposed budget than those who expect to feel the brunt,” said Redlawsk. “Since Christie’s budget does not reinstate the surtax on high earners, which New Jerseyans strongly support according to our February 2010 poll, better-off New Jerseyans are more likely to support it.”

Homeowners are also more pleased with the budget, with 46 percent very or somewhat pleased, compared to 35 percent of renters,.

Budget Cuts Expected to Affect Most

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of Garden State residents aware of the budget expect Christie’s proposed budget cuts to affect them “a great deal,” while another 42 percent expect some impact from the cuts. Fewer than one in 10 expects no impact. “New Jerseyans know that these budget cuts are wide and deep,” said Redlawsk.

Those who expect the budget cuts to affect them a great deal are altogether unhappy with the Governor’s proposal; only 15 percent are at all pleased with the budget proposal, while 59 percent are very displeased. On the other hand, 60 percent of those who expect the cuts to affect them “very little” are pleased with the proposal. “There is a clear sense of self-interest in these results,” noted Redlawsk. “While people may be mistaken in their expectations, those who expect little impact profess to be quite pleased with the plan.”

Christie Favorables now Upside Down

Governor Christie is viewed significantly less favorably now than he was when the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll surveyed New Jerseyans in late February. The February poll gave the Governor a +19 rating, with 45 percent favorable and 26 percent unfavorable. The new poll has him upside down at -4, with 33 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable, a swing of 23 percentage points.

“The primary event that occurred between our February Poll and the post-budget poll was the budget address,” said Redlawsk. “While Christie has taken a number of actions that might bother some groups, the budget was the most visible, and it has clearly resulted in a major negative shift in opinion about the Governor.”
Christie has lost support across all parties, but most notably among independents, whose positive feelings dropped from 48 percent in February to 34 percent in March. Even so, Christie comes out ahead when compared to how residents feel about their representatives at the state capitol. Only 26 percent say they feel favorably towards the Democrats in Trenton and 25 percent towards the Republicans.

The Governor draws more support from men more than women. Only 30 percent of woman report a favorable impression, compared to 36 percent of their male counterparts. Additionally, those with household incomes more than $150,000 annually are the only group in which the majority views Christie favorably. Of high earners, 50 percent feel favorable toward the Governor, compared to 38 percent with incomes from $100,000-150,000, 34 percent of those between $50,000-$100,000 and 22 percent with household incomes less than 50 thousand dollars per year.

Constitutional Amendment to Limit Property Taxes Supported -- Or Maybe Not

Governor Christie also proposed what he calls “Proposition 2 ½,” based on a Massachusetts constitutional requirement that property taxes increase no more than 2 ½ percent annually. Public opinion on the proposal at this early stage varies widely depending on how the question is phrased when the idea is described. Half of the respondents to the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll were asked as if they would support a constitutional amendment proposed by the governor to limit property tax increases. Not surprisingly, nearly two out of three (64 percent) said “yes”. Support for such an amendment is wide, with majority support from Republicans, Democrats, and independents, as well as all income groups and all races.

The other half were asked the same question, but told that Massachusetts had a similar law that “some say resulted in closing fire stations, libraries, and senior centers, and cuts in school programs.” When put this way, a majority oppose the property tax limits the Governor advocates, with 57 percent opposed and 34 percent in support. Only Republicans reach 50 percent support when potential consequences are presented, while 78 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents oppose the measure.

“These stunning results suggest that while there is a great deal of concern about property taxes in New Jersey, there is equal concern about what passing Proposition 2 ½ might do,” said Redlawsk. When asked to limit taxes without being made aware of any consequences, New Jerseyans across the board respond with a rousing ‘Yes!’ But when they consider the loss of services that might come with such limits, support dries up considerably. Both supporters and opponents of Proposition 2 ½ might take a lesson from these results.”

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