Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Logic of Voters: Personal Financial Situation and Vote Choice

A few late thoughts on the election and voters' perceptions of their financial condition. This is not one of our regular press releases; rather it is just something I find interesting.

Many have argued that this month's election in which Republicans took the majority in the House of Representatives (winning one Democratic-held seat in NJ), was a referendum on the state of the economy. Though economists have officially proclaimed that the recession is over, our polling just before the election shows that New Jerseyans are still feeling the pinch.

When asked about their current financial situation, 44% of registered New Jersey voters said that they were worse off than they were a year ago, while 42% said that they were getting along “about the same” (and this is compared to the depths of the recession LAST year!) Only 14% of registered New Jersey voters said that they are better off financially than they were a year ago.

On our generic ballot test (vote for Republican or Democrat for Congress) the results are not surprising: among registered voters statewide who reported that they were worse off financially than a year ago, 42% chose the Republican versus 32% who chose the Democrat. On the other hand, those who said they were doing better were MUCH more likely to support a Democrat: 51% to 24%. Clearly, New Jerseyans who are feeling the pinch were more likely to want to elect Republicans, in repudiation (refudiation?) of the Democrats who were in charge.

We also saw that those who were worse off were more likely to say they would vote against their incumbent representative than those who were not doing so badly. (We asked half our respondents the generic ballot test and the other half an incumbent/challenger test.)

Those who said they are worse off now than they were this time last year were pretty evenly split, with 32% for their current congressman and 27% for a challenger. But, 42 percent of those doing “about the same” said they supported their incumbent, while 29% favored a challenger. And those who are doing better supported their current representative even more: 41% to 14%, a 27 point margin.

These results coincide with favorability ratings of the parties in Congress. Among those who report being worse off, 55% had an unfavorable view of Republicans, and 52% had an unfavorable view of Democrats. Essentially it's a pox on both their houses - but given a two party system they had to vote for someone (if they voted) and as noted above, it was against Democrats.

Among those who report being better off financially than they were a year ago, an overwhelming 76% had an unfavorable view of Republicans, while only 42% were unfavorable towards Democrats. And for those doing about the same as last year, 61% were unfavorable toward Congressional Republicans and 52% were unfavorable toward Democrats.

This all seems very logical to me and suggests that voters do not just cast votes without any sense behind them. If you know Democrats are in charge and things aren't getting better, than disliking them and voting against them makes sense. And if you are actually somehow doing better in this environment, you should want to reward those in charge. And that's what we see, with the folks doing no better, no worse, solidly in the middle. Actually gives you some hope that voters (sort of) know what they are doing.

(Thanks to Virginia Tangel, of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll staff for this analysis.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Atttitudes Towards Education Reform

In our pre-election poll we also asked NJ registered voters their attitudes towards several education reform plans. Today we release the results. The full release with tables is available here.

The test of the release follows:


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Though harboring mixed feelings about key aspects of Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed education reform plan, a clear majority of New Jerseyans say the state is underfunding education, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Almost six-in-10 (59 percent) registered voters say not enough is being spent on schooling; 15 percent believes too much is being spent, while 21 percent thinks expenditures are adequate.

At the same time, Garden Staters are decidedly mixed on two of the governor’s key reform proposals. A large majority of registered voters (70 percent) say tenure for school teachers is mostly a barrier to removing bad teachers, but 63 percent opposes basing teacher pay on pupil test results.

“The spending results are consistent with our earlier polling,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “New Jerseyans generally support their schools and want to see them better funded, even while they want the state to cut back on funding in other areas. While they question tenure, they do not necessarily support the governor’s plans or his spending cuts.”

The poll results are from a random sample of 885 registered voters interviewed statewide Oct. 21-27. The margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.3 percentage points.

Partisans split on funding

Almost twice as many Democrats as Republicans (74 percent to 38 percent) say state funding for education is inadequate. A majority of independents (55 percent) feel the same. Sixty-five percent of parents with children under 18 believe that New Jersey does not spend enough on its schools compared to 54 percent of adults living in households without children.

Public mixed on Christie’s ideas

In September, Gov. Christie unveiled his plan for education reforms that included eliminating tenure, basing pay on pupil performance and testing teacher proficiency in reading and math. New Jerseyans are split on his ideas: 63 percent oppose basing a teacher’s salary on test scores while 32 percent support the concept of merit pay. Respondents are likely to favor tenure reform, since 70 percent think tenure is a “barrier to eliminating bad teachers,” while only 22 percent believe teacher tenure is necessary for job protection. An overwhelming 90 percent of registered voters say teachers should be tested for their reading and math proficiency.

Virtually all (95 percent) parents of minor children support teacher testing, while 59 percent oppose merit-based pay and 73 percent see tenure as a barrier to removing bad teachers. “Those in households with children under 18 are a little less likely to oppose merit pay and somewhat more likely to see tenure as a barrier,” said Redlawsk. “Those closest to the system see its problems more directly, but still do not support key parts of the Christie plan.”

Republicans and Democrats agree: don’t base pay on test scores

Sixty-eight percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents oppose linking teacher salaries to pupil test scores. At the same time, even a strong majority (60 percent) of Democrats see tenure as a barrier to removing bad teachers, rather than an important job protection. Even more Republicans (80 percent) and independents (75 percent) agree. Just 29 percent of Democrats, 15 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of independents see tenure as an important job protection.

Support for teacher testing in math and reading also crosses party lines: 86 percent of Democrats, 92 percent of Republicans, and 94 percent of independents think teachers should be required to pass reading and math tests to be certified.

“While Democrats and Republicans may differ on state spending for education, there is remarkable agreement across parties on other issues,” Redlawsk said. “The governor’s idea for merit pay gets little support across the board, but members of both parties agree with testing teachers and are dubious about tenure.”

Diverse thoughts about problems in education

Asked to name New Jersey education’s most pressing problem in their own words – before hearing other questions on the subject – registered voters come up with many ideas, Redlawsk observed. About 20 percent says budget issues, while 15 percent names teacher-related issues, including high salaries and benefits, and teacher proficiency. In this group a small percentage (2%) says teacher shortages.

Another 8 percent call the New Jersey Education Association (or “teachers’ union”) the most important problem, 5 percent say “bureaucracy” and 4 percent focus on class size. Only 3 percent cite teacher tenure as the most important problem.

One in four parents (26 percent) sees budgets as the biggest problem in education, with another 17 percent citing teacher-related issues. Just 8 percent of parents call the NJEA the biggest problem in education.

Democrats and Republicans view the biggest problem differently: 25 percent of Democrats cite budget issues while only 16 percent of Republicans agree, along with 20 percent of independents. Twenty percent of Democrats, 14 percent of Republicans, and 11 percent of independents cite teachers as the biggest problem facing education in New Jersey. Republicans are much more likely to name the NJEA as the problem, by a 13 percent to 3 percent margin over Democrats; 11 percent of independents think the NJEA is the biggest problem facing education in the state today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Day before...

It's the day before the Tsunami election of 2010, or whatever the pundits are calling it. There is no denying the Republican trend - certainly in New Jersey we see more enthusiams among Republicans, a swing twoard Republicans for independent voters (if they show up), and today we report that NJ voters appear to prefer some Republican solutions to issues, at least statewide.

Our polling last week gives us a sense of the overall environment throughout the state, but it not meant to describe any one Congressional district (except for the specific polling we did in CD 3.

So here's today's release - an overview of where we are right before the election. A PDF of the full release with all tables is available here.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Taxes, the economy and unemployment will be primary on the minds of voters as they head to the polls tomorrow. New Jerseyans believe Republican policies are more likely to fix the economy, are less favorable toward such Democratic measures as government stimulus spending and view GOP leaders more favorably than their counterparts, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

“In addition to a clear ‘enthusiasm gap’ where Republicans are more motivated to turn out, voters are also more favorable toward GOP officials and approaches,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “New Jersey voters are paralleling what is being seen all over the country, but most Garden State congressional districts are so one-sided that the majority of incumbents are unlikely to feel the direct effects.”

Results are from a statewide Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 885 registered voters, including 552 likely voters, was conducted October 21-27, with a +/- 3.3 percentage point margin of error for registered voters and +/- 4.1 for likely voters. Generic vote questions were asked of random half-samples, which have a margin of error of +/-4.6 percentage points for registered and +/-5.9 for likely voters. The poll did not survey individual congressional districts and provides a general sense of the state rather than specific results for any one race.

Most important problem

Asked about the state’s most important problem, 31 percent of likely voters say taxes of some type, while 20 percent name jobs and 10 percent offer the economy. Education also draws 10 percent, followed by the budget deficit at 7 percent. Of those who name taxes, 56 percent will vote for a Republican congressional candidate and 31 percent for a Democrat.

Of those who say jobs or unemployment is most important in New Jersey, 65 percent prefer a Democrat, while 14 percent prefer a Republican. Among those who think the economy is most pressing, 48 percent will support the GOP and 39 percent will vote Democratic. Where education is the top concern, 47 percent say they will vote for the Democrat and only 20 percent will support the Republican.

“There are clear differences between the parties on theses issues, and voters recognize them,” said Redlawsk. “Voters who focus on taxes prefer Republican approaches, but those focused specifically on jobs lean Democratic. The problem for Democrats is that voters in New Jersey are more worried about taxes than they are jobs.”

More prefer Republican approach to job creation

The greater concern about taxes results in a preference for a Republican-oriented approach to job creation across all likely voters. Asked whether tax cuts or government spending would create jobs more effectively, the majority (51 percent) of likely voters say the former will help more. Only 38 percent favor government spending for creating jobs. Of those preferring tax cuts, almost three times as many say they will vote Republican as Democratic (63 percent to 23 percent). Among those who prefer government spending, likely Democratic voters far outstrip Republics by nearly 5-to-1 (71 percent to 15 percent).

Likely voters like Christie, dislike Pelosi, are split on Obama

Preference for a Republican approach to jobs is reflected in likely voters’ evaluations of elected officials. They view Gov. Chris Christie favorably, are divided on President Obama and appear decidedly negative toward Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Half hold a favorable impression of the governor, while 38 percent hold an unfavorable impression, a significant improvement since a September Rutgers-Eagleton Poll showed that 46 percent or all registered voters were favorable, and 42 percent unfavorable toward Christie. Sixty-six percent holding a favorable opinion of Christie will vote Republican, and 19 percent will vote Democratic. Of those who hold an unfavorable opinion of the governor, 79 percent will vote Democratic and only 10 percent will vote Republican.

Pelosi is evaluated much less favorably: by a 2-to-1 margin, likely voters hold an unfavorable impression of the speaker. Of these, 67 percent will vote GOP and 18 percent will vote Democratic.

Likely voters are evenly divided on Obama. Forty-four percent have a favorable impression, 45 percent unfavorable. Eighty-four percent who hold Obama in esteem will vote Democratic tomorrow, 75 percent with a negative opinion of the president will vote for the GOP hopeful.

More likely voters approve of Christie’s job performance than Obama’s

Job approval ratings for Obama and Christie show even more clearly how dissatisfied likely voters are with Democrats. Christie enjoys a 12 percentage point lead in positive job approval ratings over Obama. A majority think Christie is doing an excellent (19 percent) or good job (32 percent) job, a six-point gain since September. Fewer than 40 percent believe that Obama is doing an excellent or good job (14 and 25 percent, respectively). Almost half say Christie is doing a fair or poor job, while nearly six-in-10 say the same of Obama.

More Obama voters will defect

While 77 percent of those who voted for Obama in 2008 plan to vote for Democrats for Congress, 10 percent plan to vote for Republicans, 6 percent say they would prefer a third party candidate and 6 percent are unsure who they will support. John McCain voters are more likely to stay loyal to the GOP: 84 percent say they will vote a Republican for Congress, 6 percent support a Democrat and 9 percent say they don’t know.

Obama: Stay home and do your job

Just as last month’s poll found that New Jerseyans preferred Christie to work on issues affecting the state rather than campaigning across the country, the new poll offered similar results for Obama. Almost two-thirds think he should remain in Washington rather than support candidates out of town. Only those who believe Obama is doing an excellent job say he should campaign, with 66 percent of this group happy to have him support other candidates