Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time to Tea Party in NJ? Latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll

Tea Parties are all the rage right now. Presumably disaffected Americans are banding together to express their frustration with the government, with large corporations, with bankers and Wall Street barons and pretty much anything else that comes their way. These groups have the potential to disrupt politics as we know it, at least if you read the various media accounts of their potential influence. Tea Partiers appear to have had an effect in the NY 23 special election, pushing out the mainstream Republican and allowing the Democrat to win. On the other hand, some think the Tea Party movement was part of the key to victory for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. And here in good old New Jersey there is a movement afoot to try to recall US Senator Robert Menendez, with a petitioning effort planned by Tea Party leaders. (This effort is on hold right now until the courts decide if a recall can be mounted against a federal elected official in New Jersey.)

Obviously it seems worth knowing more about who these folks are. So our most recent Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is trying to do exactly that. Today we are releasing results of a survey of 953 New Jersey adults (886 registered voters) in which we asked a number of questions related to the Tea Party. In this release we focus on who the Tea Partiers are and the extent to which the movement is supported in New Jersey. The full press release is below (and tables are available online at my Rutgers website). The short story is that 27% of NJ voters have a favorable impression of the Tea Party Movement, while 29% have an unfavorable impression. The rest have no opinion or don't know.

In this release we look more closely at the 27% with a favorable impression and we find they are heavily Republican (no surprise). Independents however are much less taken with the group here in New Jersey. The upshot is that this looks much more like a branch of the Republican Party than any real attempt to form a sustainable third party movement. In fact, Tea Party supporters in New Jersey are more likely to support the current two party system than are those who do not have a favorable view of the movement. Go figure!

Next week we will release more on this group, including their sense of anger, trust, and efficacy towards various institutions. Stay tuned for that.



NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – New Jersey registered voters have a less favorable impression of the Tea Party movement than other states as shown in recent national polls, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll. While CNN recently reported that more than one-third of American voters support the Tea Party movement, only 27 percent of New Jersey voters have a favorable impression of the group. While it is no surprise that Democrats do not view the movement favorably, New Jersey independent voters are not very supportive as well, with 29 percent expressing a favorable opinion, compared to 49 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats.

The poll of 953 New Jersey adults was conducted February 19-22, 2010 and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points. The registered voter sample of 886 has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points.

“The Tea Party movement has become somewhat of a force in American politics over the last year,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Our polling shows that in New Jersey, this force is primarily coming from Republicans, with independents significantly less favorable towards it.”

Not surprisingly, given its origins in opposition to President Barack Obama and the Democratic health care plan, the poll shows that 50 percent of voters who view the Tea Party favorably are Republicans even though Republicans make up only 27 percent of the registered voter sample. Independents comprise 35 percent of tea party supporters, while 15 percent are Democrats.

Many Tea Party supporters not active

A favorable impression of the Tea Party does not necessarily mean that voters plan to be active in the movement. Only 19 percent of those with a favorable view say they are very likely to volunteer or attend a rally, with another 33 percent saying they are somewhat likely to do so. But nearly half say they are not at all likely to be active in the movement.

“The effect of Tea Party supporters on the political system will be at least partly dependent on how active individual voters are,” said Redlawsk. “Our results suggest that while organizers of Tea Party events can count on some very dedicated supporters, many who say they support the Tea Party do so in name only.”

Concerns about Republican Party

While Tea Party support is strongly related to support for the Republican Party, Tea Party supporters also have their concerns with Republicans. Only 45 percent of those who view the Tea Party favorably also have a favorable view of Republicans in Congress, 53 percent say they mostly trust Republicans generally and 34 percent say Republican actions have made them angry. Even so, this is a much more positive view than those who do not support the Tea Party have of Republicans, with only 17 percent holding a favorable view, 25 percent expressing trust, and 50 percent expressing anger.

“The Tea Party movement in New Jersey is primarily Republican, but not in lockstep with establishment Republicans,” said Redlawsk. “It’s significant that more than one-third express anger at Republicans generally, and less than half view Republicans in Congress favorably. This suggests that Tea Party supporters are more of a risk to incumbent Republicans in a primary than to Democrats, who they would be unlikely to support in a general election whether or not there was a Tea Party movement.”

Tea Party supporters more favorable towards two-party system

Reinforcing the idea that Tea Party supporters are not necessarily looking outside the two-party system, these voters are more likely to favor the existing two-party system than are those who do not view the Tea Party favorably. While about 38 percent of both groups of voters say they would like nonpartisan elections, 39 percent of Tea Party supporters think the current two-party system works reasonably well, compared to only 26 percent of nonsupporters. Only 23 percent of those viewing the Tea Party favorably see a need for more than two political parties.

“The fact that voters who like the Tea Party movement are even more supportive of the two-party system than those who do not should give the media pause in how they represent this group, at least in New Jersey” said Redlawsk. “This is not a breakaway movement as much as it seems like an effort to define the direction of the Republican Party.”

Demographics of New Jersey Tea Party supporters

The Tea Party movement in New Jersey is viewed most favorably in the exurban northwest of the state and much less likely to come from urban New Jersey. While 27 percent of all New Jersey voters have a favorable impression of the Tea Party, this rises to 31 percent of exurban residents, compared to only 21 percent of urban dwellers. Very few blacks (only 5 percent) have a favorable impression of the Tea Party movement, but more than half (54 percent) of the very small sample of Asian voters express a favorable view, compared to 29 percent of all whites and 24 percent of Latino voters. Tea Party supporters are more likely to be male, with 31 percent of men favorable, compared to 24 percent of women. Higher income also defines those who view the Tea Party movement favorably. While only 18 percent of voters making less than $50,000 have a favorable view, 30 percent of those making more than $50,000 do.

Monday, February 1, 2010

After a break for the Holidays

Welcome back! Well, you might have not gone anywhere, but I did - at least in the sense that the academic cycle with it semester break in December and early January meant I spent most of my time getting ready for the classes I am teaching this semester at Rutgers. After teaching 10 years at the University of Iowa, I should be an old hand at this, but it is always different adjusting to a new place.

The result is not a lot of work on polling here at Eagleton since our post election survey. But we did spend a lot of time looking at the results on Gay Marriage in particular, given the debacle in the NJ Legislature over the issue. Our polling (and other polling over the past few years) makes clear that the Democrats failed a major constituency by not moving the issue forward before the election. While New Jerseyans are split pretty evenly on support for gay marriage overall, a small plurality appears to be in favor. More importantly, as we showed, for most New Jerseyans this is not a burning issue. For some on both sides, of course, it is, and we saw that in the intensity of those at the statehouse during the debate. But it seems pretty clear that despite the intensity of a relatively small group of opponents, had the bill passed, I suspect there would have been no long term political consequences for those who supported it.

With the bill's defeat it will be interesting to see if there now are consequences, in the form of primary challenges or withdrawal of financial support against some of the Democrats who refused to support it. There are certainly deep frustrations on the part of supporters who clearly would have had the votes to pass this in the legislature before the election of Chris Christie as governor.

The funny thing is that we mostly heard two reasons for opposing the bill from those who might have voted in favor originally. One was that the election of Christie signaled that voters wanted more conservative government and that somehow this was a sign against social issues like gay marriage. There is, of course, no support whatsoever for this position. Marriage equality was never an issue in the election and I would venture to say no one really voted on that issue. Christie's election says nothing about support for this issue. In fact, our Rutgers-Eagleton Poll showing plurality support was done AFTER the election. And our numbers were not much different from those of polls over the past couple years. The election of Christie did nothing to change attitudes on this issue.

The other thing we heard a lot was that Catholics - who represent the largest single religious denomination in the state - oppose gay marriage and therefore legislators with large Catholic populations felt they had to represent the wishes of their constituents. But the reality is that Catholic voters support marriage equality in our poll, 48% - 40%. Ironically, perhaps, it is protestant voters who oppose, 55% - 34%, driven by heavy opposition among evangelical protestants. Legislators may have been agreeing with the position of the Catholic Church hierarchy, but their Catholic constituents are a different matter.

In any case, the question seems likely to head back to the courts. When the NJ Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality and sent it to the legislature, it made clear that it expected true equality. Given the testimony of many at the Senate hearing, it may well be that the Court will ultimately do like the Iowa Supreme Court and simply rule the civil unions are not equal enough.

We are now working on another Eagleton Poll for later this semester, focusing of course on the new Christie administration and what should be done to address the challenges the state faces. More on that in the coming weeks.