We are out today with our latest statewide poll of registered voters in New Jersey. Today's release is about our generic congressional ballot test questions and is a follow up to our early August poll that found incumbents in general in pretty good shape (always excepting CD-3 where John Adler has probably the strongest challenge of any incumbent.
I should make very clear that this poll is STATEWIDE and not focused on any specific Congressional districts. This means that we have about 830 registered voters across all 13 districts. The result is that no district has more than about 65-70 or so respondents in it. Thus we cannot draw conclusions at the district level.
So why do this? Mainly because we think it is useful to judge the overall mood of the state in terms of voting for Democrats versus Republicans and Incumbents versus Challengers.
As we did in August, we randomly split our sample so that half get a traditional generic party ballot test (if the election were today would you vote for a Democrat, and Republican, Third Party, or would you not vote?") and half get an incumbent versus challenger test ("...would you vote for your current congressman or a challenger running against him?").
When asked by party, Democrats maintain the healthy partisan lead they had in August. Not surprising since there are far more Democrats in NJ than Republicans, even these days. Independents have move toward the Democrats, rather than away, and what was an 11 point margin for the Republicans among these registered voters in August is now a 5 point margin. While voters ARE in a grumpy mood overall, Democrats in NJ still support Democrats - we see no evidence of significant partisan defection in the aggregate.
On the other hand, and here is where it gets really interesting. When we ask the question as "incumbent" versus "challenger", incumbents fair pretty badly overall, no matter whether they are democrats or republicans. If voters were to go into the booth simply to vote the bums out, challengers would do very well according to our numbers. But most voters - especially the kind of partisan ones who show up in off-year elections - really don't do that as witness our question on whether the Democrats should be given more time in Washington - 54 percent say yes; only 34 percent say it is time to elect Republicans.
So for the moment I stick by my assessment that even with the unsettled electorate, incumbents of both parties in NJ are probably in pretty good shape, through partisan support and gerrymandered districts that maximize that support. Except for John Adler, in CD 3 of course, where it is a real horse race.
And of course, this is only a snapshot in time, not a prediction. A lot can change in the remaining weeks of this campaign.
The press release follows. The full release with questions and tables can be accessed here.
DEMOCRATS REMAIN STRONG IN NJ CONGRESSIONAL POLL
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – New Jersey voters seem to be moving toward Democrats in a statewide test of generic congressional candidates, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Among registered voters, 45 percent say they would vote for a Democrat for Congress, up from 38 percent in August and 33 percent in February. Republican support has stayed consistent, at 33 percent now, compared to 29 percent in August and 31 percent in February. At the same time, voters have become more certain of their choices, with only 14 percent “don’t know,” down from 25 percent in August.
Applying a “likely voter” screen – defined as those who voted in the last two elections and are generally enthusiastic about voting this time – does not change results very much. Among likely voters, 47 percent say they would vote for a Democrat and 36 percent for a Republican, while 4 percent prefer a third party and 12 percent do not make a choice.
“When we test by party, eight of 10 voters support their own party, and there are simply more Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Independents continue to lean Republican as they have all year, but the margin has dropped from 11 points in August to five points. And in any case, independents are much more likely to stay home in an off-year election.”
The poll of 830 registered New Jersey voters was conducted September 23 to 26. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points. Generic vote questions were asked of random half samples, which have a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percentage points. Results do not apply to specific districts but give a sense of the overall mood of the state.
Support for incumbents vs. challengers depends on the question
To test attitudes toward incumbent members of Congress, half of those polled were asked if they would vote for a generic Republican versus a Democrat, while the other half were asked if they would vote for their current representative or a challenger.
While supporting their party, voters are more uncertain when it comes to supporting their representative. Registered voters favor their current congressperson by only one percentage point, 32 percent to 31 percent; another 24 percent are undecided and 13 percent say they would not vote. Among “likely voters” only, incumbents are ahead, 35 percent to 33 percent. Results are essentially unchanged from August, when generic incumbents held a 30 percent to 28 percent lead over challengers among registered voters, with 31 percent don’t know.
“We have consistently seen that voters readily support their own party in a generic ballot test,” said Redlawsk. “But they are much less sure if they support their ‘current congressman’ when they are not given a party cue. If voters vote by party, incumbents are generally safe. If they enter the voting booth in a ‘throw the bums out’ mood, some races could be closer than expected.”
Voters in a relatively sour mood, but give Democrats another chance
New Jersey registered voters match the mood of the nation: half think the state is on the wrong track, while only 40 percent think it is going in the right direction. Fifty-eight percent say thinking about the government in Washington makes them angry. New Jerseyans also are less than positive about both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Forty-four percent of registered voters have a favorable view of Democrats in Congress, while only 33 percent feel the same about Republicans. While both parties have gained six points since August, Democrats are in a stronger position, with only 39 percent holding an unfavorable view, versus 50 percent for Republicans.
Reflecting their feelings about the parties and the generic ballot test, 54 percent of Garden Staters think Democrats should be “given more time to solve the country’s problems” while only 34 percent say “it is time to elect Republicans to take charge in Congress.”
In Democratic districts, Democratic margin increases as voters decide
Across current Democratic congressional districts, 47 percent of registered voters would vote for a generic Democrat compared to 31 percent for a Republican, while 15 percent of voters living in Democratic districts are still undecided. This is an increase in support for both parties since August when 41 percent of registered voters living in Democratic districts supported a Democrat and 28 percent supported a Republican.
Support for incumbents in these districts is 15 points lower when the question is asked about supporting “your current congressman” and not including political party. Among registered voters living in a Democratic district, only 32 percent say that they would vote for their current representative, while 31 percent favor a challenger. At the same time, when party is not included, 24 percent of voters are still undecided, and 13 percent say they would not vote. Support for incumbents in Democratic districts is about the same among likely voters who favor their current representative over a challenger by a 36 percent to 32 percent.
Republican Districts remain closer
Across all Republican-held districts, 38 percent of registered voters would vote for a generic Republican, while 42 percent would vote for a generic Democratic candidate; an increase of one point for Democrats since August. Republicans pick up four points among likely voters, with 42 percent siding with the Republican and 44 percent the Democrat. Another 5 percent would vote for a third party candidate and 7 percent are undecided. Likely voters in Republican districts are more certain about their choices than those voters living in Democratic districts (13 percent undecided).
Framing the question as incumbent versus challenger makes some difference across all Republican-held districts. Put this way, 32 percent of registered voters in these districts would vote to re-elect their current congressman, while 32 percent say they would vote for a challenger. As with Democratic districts, many more say they are undecided when party is not included: 21 percent are undecided, and 15 percent say they would not vote.
“While it would appear Republican incumbents face a tougher electorate than Democrats in New Jersey, this is mostly due to the aggregate nature of our statewide polling,” said Redlawsk. “We have fewer respondents in the five Republican districts than the eight Democratic districts, so we must be much more tentative with the numbers here. At this point there is no reason to believe any Republican incumbents in New Jersey are actually in trouble.”
Independents voters favoring Republicans, challengers
Independent registered voters are more supportive of generic Republican congressional candidates than Democrats. When asked if they would vote for a Democrat or Republican for Congress, 25 percent pick the Republican, 20 percent the Democrat, and 16 percent prefer another candidate. But 35 percent of independent voters are undecided, and 5 percent say that they will not vote. This shows an increase in the number of independents preferring a third party candidate, as well as an increase in support of Democratic candidates from August.
When framed in terms of voting for a current incumbent or a challenger, independents are riding the anti-incumbency wave along with their partisan counterparts: 30 percent say that they would support a challenger in a congressional race, while only 24 percent would favor an incumbent. Another 30 percent have not yet made up their minds, and 16 percent say they would not vote.
Partisans are paying attention
Republican and Democratic likely voters are following election news much more closely than independents. Among likely Republican voters, 46 percent say they are following news “very closely” along with 44 percent of likely Democratic voters. But only 31 percent of independents report that they are following the election news “very closely.”