Today we follow up on a survey we ran way back in February, trying to get an overall feel for the upcoming Congressional races in New Jersey. There are no statewide races on the ballot this fall, so it is likely to be a low turnout election, if history is any guide. On the other hand, a surprising number of people claim to be paying at least some attention to news about the election, and we all keep reading about how certain groups are energized and others are not. So maybe we'll see more coming to the polls than usual for this off-year election.
In any case, we did a statewide survey where we split the sample into two groups. With one group we asked the standard generic Republican vs. Democrat ballot test for Congress. With the other we asked about voting for "your current congressman" versus a "challenger running against him". (YES, all of NJ's members of Congress are male.)
These aggregate results give us an overall picture, but of course do not tell us about individual districts, since we have only about 55-60 respondents per district. So we aggregate by whether the district is currently held by a Republican or a Democrat to look a little more deeply at the results.
I should note too that these statewide aggregate results do NOT include the 3rd district, where we specifically polled the Adler/Runyan race. The release on that race is available here.
Following is the release. A PDF with the release and questions and tables is available here.
NEW RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL SHOWS DEMOCRATIC INCUMBENTS SAFE, BUT REPUBLICANS SAFER
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Will New Jersey voters support their incumbent congressional representatives in this fall’s contentious midterm elections?
Their answers depend on how the question is asked.
If the question is framed in terms of incumbency – will you vote for your current congressman? – voters who have made up their minds are split nearly evenly between incumbents and challengers.
But, if the question is framed purely partisan terms – will you vote for a Democrat or a Republican this fall? – voters who have made up their minds are favoring Democrats.
When registered voters statewide are asked about voting for their current member of Congress or for a challenger – without identifying either by party – they give incumbents a 30 percent to 28 percent lead, while 31 percent say they do not know how they would vote and 11 percent say they definitely would not vote. This compares a February, 2010 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, which showed incumbents supported 32 percent to 25 percent, with 27 percent undecided and 17 percent not voting.
“We have seen tightening of the generic incumbent versus challenger results since February,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Among those making a choice, it is now a statistical dead heat statewide, where incumbents had a seven-point margin six months ago. No question that the environment is more risky than usual for incumbents, though it still seems likely that most, if not all, New Jersey incumbents will survive.”
Half those polled were asked about voting for their “current congressman” versus a challenger; half were asked about voting for a generic Republican versus a Democrat. Among these latter voters, 38 percent said they would vote for a Democrat and 29 percent supported a Republican, with 4 percent “other,” 25 percent don’t know and 4 percent saying they will not vote. In February, 33 percent favored Democrats, 31 percent Republicans and 7 percent someone else, with 20 percent saying didn’t know and 10 percent not voting.
The poll of 751 registered New Jersey voters was conducted Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. The full sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Vote questions were asked of random half samples, which have a margin of error of +/- 5.0 percentage points.
Democratic “incumbents” fare badly, but “Democrats” do just fine
Across all districts held by Democrats, voters support a generic Democrat over a Republican 41 percent to 28 percent. But when party is not named, voters in these same districts appear more ready to toss their incumbents, with 29 percent supporting their “current congressman” and 31 percent supporting “a challenger.” The story is the opposite for Republicans. When party is named, voters in GOP-held districts support an unnamed Democrat 34 percent to 31 percent for the Republican, a -3 margin for Republicans. In February a generic Republican led by 15 points in these same districts. But when asked about supporting their “current congressman” over a challenger, voters support the incumbent 33 percent to 23 percent, a 10 point margin, compared to 7 points in February.
Republicans are hurt when their party is named because voters are very unhappy with Republicans in Congress. While only 37 percent of voters feel favorable towards Congressional Democrats, Republicans are liked by even fewer; only 27 percent hold a “favorable” impression.
“Still when we ask voters about supporting their current congressman or voting for a challenger, Democratic districts suffer the most, reflecting that voters are unhappy and know that it is Democrats who are in charge,” said Redlawsk. “Voters in GOP districts overall are more supportive of their ‘current congressman’ than those in Democratic-held districts, when party is not named. Anti-incumbency, such as it is, is more directed at Democrats than Republicans.”
Independents leaning Republican
Independent voters are more supportive of Republicans then Democrats. When asked whether they would vote for an unnamed Democrat or Republican for Congress, independents pick the Republican 25 percent to 14 percent for the Democrat with 8 percent preferring someone else. But 46 percent of independents are undecided, and another 7 percent say they will not vote. This is a slight drop for both parties from the February Rutgers-Eagleton Poll when Republicans led Democrats 30 to 17 percent.
When asked if they would vote for their current congressman or a challenger, independents statewide support a challenger 30 percent to 22 percent, with 34 percent undecided and 15 percent saying they would not vote. Challengers have gained since February when independents were evenly split 28 to 28 percent.
“But, as indicated by the very large undecided and not voting groups, turnout by independents in off-year elections is usually much lower than partisans,” Redlawsk said. “So while Republicans and challengers generally may gain from independent voters, the gain will be limited unless turnout by these voters is much higher than usual.”
There is some evidence independents may turn out in larger than usual numbers. More independents than Democrats say they are following news about the election somewhat or very closely, 63 percent to 52 percent. Republicans are paying even more attention, with 72 percent claiming they are following election news somewhat or very closely.
Obama and Christie have influence
Voters’ opinions about President Obama and Gov. Christie have some bearing on how voters see the congressional races. President Obama is seen favorably by 52 percent of New Jersey votes, and unfavorably by 36 percent, compared to 56 to 31 percent in March. Meanwhile, Gov. Christie is viewed favorably by 46 percent and unfavorably by 39 percent, up from April, when his rating was 33 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable.
Support for Obama appears to have a stronger partisan influence on registered voters, than Christie. Statewide, voters who view Obama favorably say they will vote for a Democrat for Congress, 61 percent to 8 percent for a Republican, while those favorable to Christie support a Republican 55 percent to 14 percent.
In districts held by Democrats, Christie support increases the vote for a challenger over the incumbent. Voters favorable towards Christie say they will vote for a challenger, 39 percent to 20 percent, while those unfavorable towards the Governor support the incumbent, 42 percent to 24 percent, a 37 point shift away from the Democratic incumbent based on Christie favorability in Democratic districts. Obama’s influence in Republican districts is not as strong. While support for Obama also leads to support for a challenger, 28 percent to 24 percent, those unfavorable towards Obama support the Republican incumbent, 40 to 19 percent. This is a shift of only 25 points from the incumbent based on favorability towards Obama in GOP districts.
“Voters in Democratic districts are more easily moved by support for Christie than are voters in GOP-held districts by support for Obama; Republicans are just less likely to defect,” said Redlawsk.
Statewide results do not include the 3rd Congressional District, where a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Aug. 10 shows incumbent Democrat John Adler leading Republican Jon Runyan 31 to 25 percent.