Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Christie wades into the Abortion Issue

Yes, I know that Gov. Chris Christie made his speech supporting a pro-life rally back in late January. However, it wasn't until our recent poll Feb. 24-26 that we were able to ask New Jerseyans what they thought. So we gave them a little information (that Christie spoke at the antiabortion rally) and asked if this made them feel better or worse about the governor. Not surprisingly, a slight majority (54%) says it has no effect, but 31% say it makes them feel worse, and 14% say it makes them feel better. This suggests the governor may have more to lose than gain politically from this move. But of course, it's not just about votes. It is clearly about both strongly held beliefs AND perhaps nailing down the conservative base, not all of whom are convinced of the governor's conservative bona fides.

The most interesting group in this is probably the 35 percent of strongly pro-choice voters who have a favorable impression of Christie when we ask early in the survey. Of these folks. Among these voters, 38% say Christie's rally speech makes them feel worse about the governor, while essentially none feel better (no surprise).

Contrast this to the 36% of voters who support abortion only with conditions who have an unfavorable impression of the governor. Only 8% say the governor's speech makes them feel better about him, while 35% feel worse.

The very small group of pure pro-life voters unfavorable toward Christie is also mostly unmoved. And there are not that many there to move in the first place.

So on a pure political (votes) calculation, speaking at the rally moves many "favorable" Christie folks to feel worse, while moving very few "unfavorables" toward feeling better about him.

Full test of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release with questions and tables.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - A small minority - 10 percent - of registered voters in New Jersey believes abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Just over a third (37 percent) say abortion should be legal under all conditions, and another 50 percent support legal abortion with restrictions.

Gov. Chris Christie brought abortion back into the spotlight when he spoke at an anti-abortion rally in Trenton in January, where he proclaimed himself an "ally" of anti-abortion efforts. While 54 percent of registered voters say his speech did not affect their opinion of the governor, 31 percent say it made them feel worse about Christie, while 14 percent say his participation in the rally made them feel better.

"New Jersey's attitudes on abortion have not changed much since we last asked, seven years ago," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. "Abortion rights continue to have support in the state. It's not surprising that Governor Christie's public entrance into this issue has had somewhat negative consequences for him."

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Most New Jerseyans support legal abortion, at least in some circumstances

Nearly nine-in-10 voters (87 percent) favor legalized abortion under at least some circumstances; 37 percent want no limits on the procedure, but 10 percent want it banned with no exceptions, the poll finds.

When last asked in January 2004, 31 percent supported abortion in all instances, while another 51 percents supported abortion rights only under certain circumstances. At that time, 13 percent opposed abortion in all cases. "Few in New Jersey want to see abortion rights eliminated entirely," said Redlawsk. "We did not ask about the specific limits people support, buy there is clearly little support for a total ban on abortions."

While Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support abortion rights, even the latter generally support access to abortion under some conditions: 52 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of GOP voters say abortion should be legal under any circumstance. Another 38 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. Independents, too, support the procedure: 32 percent under all conditions and 57 percent in certain instances. Only 16 percent of Republicans, 8 percent of Democrats, and 9 percent of independents support banning abortion entirely.

Perhaps surprisingly, nearly equal percentages of New Jersey Catholics and Protestants favor unconditional access to abortion (30 percent and 29 percent, respectively). An additional 55 percent of each group support legal abortion only under limited circumstances. The small sample of Jewish voters, however, strongly supports abortion rights; 71 percent say abortion should be legal in all cases. Only 13 percent of Catholics, 11 percent of Protestants, and 2 percent of Jews think that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances.

Attendance at religious services has some effect on support for abortion rights, according to the poll. Those who attend most often are much less in favor: 23 percent say abortion should be legal under all circumstances, compared to 46 percent of those who attend once a month or less. Only 6 percent who attend services less regularly support banning all abortion, compared to 16 percent who attend more than once a month.

There is a very small gender gap on abortion in the Garden State. Women are slightly more likely than men (40 percent to 34 percent) to support legal abortion under any circumstance. Fifty-two percent of men and 48 percent of women support limited legalized abortion. Another 11 percent of men and 9 percent of women say abortion should be completely banned.

Nearly one-third thinks less of Christie after address to anti-abortion rally

Given the small number of New Jerseyans who support a ban on abortions, the governor's January pro-life speech resulted in a negative reaction from nearly one-third of respondents (31 percent), though most (54 percent) say his remarks had no effect on their opinion of the governor. Only 14 percent say they feel more positive about Christie after the speech.

Of the 10 percent who oppose all abortions, 49 percent have a better opinion of Christie, while 40 percent say their feelings have not changed, and 11 percent say they feel worse. Those in the middle - the majority who believe abortion should be legal with restrictions - were overwhelmingly unaffected by Christie's speech, with 62 percent reporting that it had no effect on their feeling toward him. Seventeen percent of these voters have a better view of Christie following his speech, while 19 percent have a worse opinion.

Among the 37 percent of voters who support legal abortion in all cases, a majority (54 percent) feels worse about the governor and 45 percent say the speech had no effect. Perhaps more critically, 38 percent of strongly pro-choice voters who initially support Christie say they feel worse about him after his speech.

"Wading into the abortion issue was clearly not about winning additional votes in New Jersey," said Redlawsk. "The governor's expression of solidarity with the pro-life movement hurts him among many of the pro-choice voters who have been Christie supporters. On the other hand, it may be a good way to nail down the base and present conservative credentials nationally. But it comes with some risk here at home."

Predictably, GOP backers are more likely to say the speech improved their opinion of Christie: 29 percent say they feel better after the speech, while 16 percent say the speech made them feel worse. On the other hand, only 4 percent of Democrats say they feel better about the governor, while 39 percent say they feel worse. By about a 2-to-1 margin, independents say they feel worse. But across all parties, 54 percent say the speech had no effect on their feelings about the governor.

Protestants seem least swayed by Christie's speech, with 61 percent reporting it had no effect on their opinion, compared to 55 percent of Catholics and 36 percent of Jewish voters. Among Jewish voters, 58 percent reported feeling worse after the governor's remarks, while 25 percent of Catholics and 21 percent of Protestants say their opinion of the governor worsened. Eighteen percent of Catholics, 15 percent of Protestants, and 6 percent of Jews hold better opinions of the governor in light of his speech.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is it too early to talk 2011 NJ legislative elections? What about 2012 Presidential?

As we wind down the releases from our most recent poll, we turn today to the future. New Jersey holds elections for the state legislature this year, and the battle is likely to be intense. Between Republicans wanting the ability to move Gov. Chris Christie's proposals through, and Democrats who say a check is needed on the governor, both sides will be fighting hard. Add to this that all 40 Senators and 80 Assembly Members will be dealing with redistricting, the voters continuing unsettled mood, and the fact that many will view this as a referendum on Gov. Christie. Seems to us that it's never too early to talk about the next election in New Jersey!

At the same time, it is impossible to poll individual districts (well, not impossible, just impossibly expensive) and it we did that this early, it would be meaningless anyway. So we have chosen to start by looking at preference for control of the legislature among voters. We also want to get a feeling for how much anti-incumbency is out there - appears to be a lot at the moment.

Still plenty of caveats. Hardly anyone is paying attention to the fact that we will have elections this year. I would guess most voters cannot name their legislators and may not even know what party represents them. And of course, for anti-incumbency to play out, there have to be viable challengers for folks to vote for.

In any case, registered voters right now give the contradictory response that they want to retain Democratic control, but they also want to vote for someone new.

As for 2012, well what the heck, we thought we'd get a baseline. Seems that more NJ voters than not want Obama re-elected, but only by 10 points. And more than 4 out of 10 New Jersey Republicans and independents leaning Republican cannot name any Republican they want to see run against Obama. For those who can, it's essentially a three-way tie between Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, and Sarah Palin.

Text of the release follows. For a PDF of the full release with questions and tables, click here.


Favor Obama Re-election in 2012 by nine points

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - With all 120 seats up for grabs in November, a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds that voters prefer to keep Democrats in control of the New Jersey Legislature. A majority (54 percent) want Democrats as a check on Gov. Chris Christie, while 37 percent want Republicans in charge to support their leader's plans for change. However, the poll finds an undercurrent of anti-incumbency: only 30 percent would vote for their "current legislators" while 54 percent would "prefer to vote for someone new."

"Though it's early, voters are quite clear they prefer divided state government," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. "They also show a limited understanding of the current environment, since throwing out incumbents would basically mean giving Republicans control in Trenton."

Looking toward the 2012 presidential election, nearly half the state's registered voters (48 percent) say President Barack Obama deserves re-election, while 39 percent disagree. Republicans are split on an opponent, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 12 percent, Christie at 11 percent, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin receiving 10 percent support. Forty-two percent did not name a candidate.

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

First read on legislative elections

The majority (54 percent) of registered voters prefer a Legislature controlled by Democrats who can act as a check on the governor's plans, while only 37 percent want Republicans to be in control to support Christie, the poll finds. More than 80 percent of partisans want their own party to win in the fall, but independents prefer Democratic control by 48 percent to 38 percent, with 13 percent unsure.

Not surprisingly, a dislike of Christie correlates strongly to wanting to check his power: 80 percent of registered voters with an unfavorable impression want Democrat victories. Among those liking Christie, 66 percent want to help him by turning the Legislature over to the GOP.

"While independents generally favor the governor, their good feelings are tempered by a wish that state government remain divided between the two parties," said Redlawsk. "This seems to reflect a desire for bipartisanship and compromise between Republicans and Democrats, rather than strong endorsement of either side."

Respondents' preference for Democratic control may be offset by a persistent, underlying anti-incumbent feeling, Redlawsk said. Asked to choose their "current legislators" or "someone new," 54 percent chose the latter. Only 30 percent say they would vote for their current legislators if the election was today, while 16 percent are unsure.

"Voters often don't know their legislators names or even party affiliation, leading to this apparently contradictory result," said Redlawsk. "They do know they want change of some sort, but they also don't want to give the governor carte blanche." He added that even among voters who want someone new, 52 percent want Democrats to retain control of the Legislature. Only 39 percent of anti-incumbents want to see the GOP in charge. Among supporters of their current lawmakers, 60 percent prefer a Democratic majority compared to 36 percent pro-Republicans.

Obama re-election favored

Nearly half (48 percent) New Jersey's registered voters believe President Obama deserves to be re-elected in 2012, while 39 percent say one term is enough, the poll finds. Thirteen percent are unsure. Today, 81 percent of Democrats support a second term, while only 14 percent of Republicans agree. Among independents, opinion is split: 40 percent say Obama deserves re-election, 42 percent say he does not. Eighteen percent are unsure.

"The president is strongly supported by the state's Democrats and given their edge in voter registration, Obama can be in good shape, even if independents split down the middle," said Redlawsk. "Still, for a 'blue' state, these numbers seem pretty tight."

Women, by 53 percent to 43 percent, are more likely than men to support a second term for Obama. Members of public employee unions also are strongly in favor of re-election, with 57 percent saying Obama deserves a second term.

No clear Republican preference for a 2012 challenger

More than four-in-10 registered Republicans and independents leaning Republican could not name a preferred challenger to Obama. Among those who could, Romney (13 percent) edges Christie (12 percent) and Palin (11 percent), while only 6 percent name former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty all receive minimal support.

Among the 46 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners with a favorable impression of the Tea Party movement, Romney is the preferred candidate, at 17 percent. Christie and Palin follow at 13 percent support each. The 56 percent not favorably disposed toward the Tea Party movement split support among Palin (11 percent), Christie (10 percent) and Romney (9 percent).

GOP men favor Romney (18 percent) and Christie (16 percent). Women choose Palin (13 percent) and Huckabee (10 percent). Only 7 percent of female Republicans name Romney or Christie as their candidate of choice. Among GOP men, Palin receives 9 percent and Huckabee, 3 percent.

Among those with a favorable impression of Christie, New Jersey's governor edges Romney as their preferred candidate by one percentage point, 16 percent to 15 percent. Huckabee gets 8 percent and Palin trails with 7 percent. The former GOP vice presidential nominee gets support from 20 percent of the small number of Republicans who dislike Christie.

"November is far off, but it is clear Christie is not the default choice of New Jersey Republicans," Redlawsk said. "This is probably due mostly to his continuing denial of interest in running. But were he running, I suspect many would line up behind him."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Christie and Obama Evaluations Update

Here's our latest release from the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. We are continuing to analyze our results from our February 24-26 survey of New Jerseyans. This latest is on evaluations of Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama, with a quickie about Senator Robert Menendez thrown in as well.

Click here for a PDF of the release and questions and tables. Following is the text of the release.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - Following his Feb. 22 budget speech, New Jersey's registered voters are nearly evenly split on their feelings about Gov. Chris Christie: 46 percent have a favorable impression, another 44 do not, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today.

Voters were 10 points more positive than negative about Christie in a poll last December. They have also become slightly less positive about the governor's job performance since then.

"While some polls showed Gov. Christie's support increasing before the budget speech, reaction to the budget itself is mixed, which appears to be reflected in a decline in his post-speech favorability and job performance ratings," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University.

At the same time, the poll finds President Barack Obama's favorability rating among voters has remained consistently better than the governor's since December, at 57 percent favorable and 36 percent unfavorable.

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

New Jerseyans remain polarized over Christie

By a slim margin (48 percent to 45 percent), more registered voters say they are displeased than pleased with Christie' proposed budget. One result may be a decline in Christie's overall favorability and job performance ratings to a nearly even split, 46 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable, down significantly from December 2010, Redlawsk said.

Republicans are three time more likely than Democrats to have positive impressions of Christie (76 percent to 24 percent). Independents also feel more favorable than unfavorable, 50 percent to 37 percent.

The trend for Christie's job performance rating is similar. Half the respondents were asked to rate the governor on an "excellent to poor scale"; half graded him from A to F. The margin of error on these subsamples is +/-4.8 percentage points.

Forty-two percent rate the governor at least good, down only two points from December, but far fewer rate his performance excellent now, 14 percent compared to 21 percent. More rate his performance as fair (30 percent now versus 23 percent), while 29 percent say he is doing a poor job, mostly unchanged from December.

Republicans are somewhat less positive about the governor's job performance following his budget speech: Christie's 39 percent excellent rating among GOP voters after last November's election falls to 27 percent. Another 38 percent rate his performance as fair or poor compared to 26 percent in December.

Independents also are less likely to rate Christie excellent: 14 percent now compared to 21 percent in December. At the same time, they also are less likely to rate the governor poor: 19 percent now compared to 23 percent in December. Since the budget address, independents are less polarized about the governor's job performance, and registered Democrats also are somewhat less extreme. More than half of Democratic voters in November rated Christie's performance as poor. Forty-two percent rate him poor now.

Among registered voters asked to grade Christie's job performance with a letter, 14 percent give him an "A" while 24 percent give him a "B," very similar to his "excellent" and "good" ratings. Another 26 percent rate him "C," while 15 percent give a "D" and 19 percent give an "F".

"Looking at job performance with letter grades lets us examine negative feelings more closely," said Redlawsk. "While 59 percent say the governor has done a fair or poor job, the letter grades show that many would probably give a 'C' if they had that option, while only about a third give truly negative ratings. This more nuanced evaluation helps us understand why Christie's overall favorable rating is more positive than negative."

Obama favorable rating higher than Christie's; job performance similar

While New Jerseyans are split on Christie, a strong majority (57 percent) holds a favorable view of President Obama, while only 36 percent view him unfavorably. The president's favorable rating remains largely unchanged from December.

Concurrently and in a trend similar to Christie, registered voters are less happy with the president's job performance than they are with him personally. Only 11 percent say Obama is doing an excellent job as president, while 38 percent think he is doing a good job. Another 30 percent call his performance fair, and 20 percent perceive it as poor.

As with Christie, half of respondents were asked to use letter grades for Obama's job performance. Among these registered voters, 11 percent give him an "A" and another 32 percent, a "B." Both of these reflect the same responses as the excellent and good ratings. In the letter grading, 30 percent assigned a "C," again similar to the 30 percent rating Obama as "fair". Finally, 14 percent give Obama a "D" and 12 percent an "F."

"The president is doing a little better overall than the governor, according to voters," said Redlawsk. "The biggest difference is that more give Christie very negative - D or F - ratings than do for Obama. We also learn that interpreting 'excellent' and 'good' ratings is pretty straightforward, but 'fair' might not be as negative as we usually say it is, since it seems to correspond with a 'C' rating."

Menendez becoming better known; evaluation more positive than negative

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is viewed favorably by 34 percent of registered voters, and unfavorably by 28 percent. At the same time, 38 percent have no opinion on Menendez. In a December poll, 29 percent of voters had a favorable view of Menendez, while 27 percent viewed him negatively. Forty-four percent were neutral. In the span two months, Garden Staters have become more aware of Menendez, and are slightly more likely to view him favorably than unfavorably as they learn more about him.

While Democrats were more likely than Republicans to have a favorable view of Menendez (55 percent to 17 percent), even a third of Democrats still have no opinion, while 39 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents offer no impression of the senator.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tenure and Pay Reform Package Popular

Governor Chris Christie may have hit the sweet spot with his package of tenure and pay reforms for K-12 teachers in New Jersey, according to our latest polling numbers here at Eagleton. While last fall voters told us they did not think teacher pay should be linked solely to student test scores. But Garden Staters are for the most part happy with the idea of tying pay to more holistic evaluations, that include test scores as part of the rubric.

Voters do not like tenure itself, though if it exists they want it tied directly to teacher evaluations.

The full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release along with questions and tables.

OK with using test scores as part of teacher evaluation

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - New Jersey voters generally support key planks in Gov. Chris Christie's proposals to reform teacher tenure and pay, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Families with school-age children and those without support reforms that would eliminate lifetime tenure, change how teachers are evaluated and tie pay to performance. While public employee union households want no change, others strongly disagree.

"While some voters, especially those who feel negatively toward the governor are dubious about the proposals, for the most part New Jerseyans seem to embrace his ideas," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University.

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Strong opposition to current teacher tenure policies

After being briefed on the current K-12 teacher tenure system, 58 percent of registered voters disapprove of the tenure policies while only 40 percent approve. In a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll last October, just 28 percent approved tenure when told some believe it prevents bad teachers from being removed, rejecting the idea that it is necessary for academic freedom.

"Taken together, these results tell us that New Jerseyans are nuanced in their response to tenure," said Redlawsk. "When tenure is presented as providing due process, it gains more support than when it is described as a choice between academic freedom and protection of bad teachers. But in either case, a majority of voters doesn't like it."

Public employee union households are stronger supporters of tenure: two-thirds approve the status quo. Private union members disagree, however, with only 40 percent approving and 55 percent disapproving. Among nonunion households, 34 percent approve and 64 percent disapprove.

There are no differences between households with school-age children and those without, but partisan differences loom large, the poll found. Democrats, by a 2-to-1 margin over Republicans (53 percent to 26 percent), support current tenure policies. Independents are closer to Republicans on tenure, with only 36 percent in favor.

Personal feelings about Christie also strongly predict opposition to tenure: 21 percent of respondents who approve of the governor agree with the current tenure system versus 56 percent of those who disapprove of Christie.

"The governor's tenure reform package is closely connected to him, since he is not only its most visible cheerleader, but has been vocal in attacking the current system," said Redlawsk.

Comprehensive teacher evaluations including test scores welcomed

The administration's proposed changes to tenure include evaluating teachers on such indicators as standardized test scores, classroom observations and schoolwide student performance. Six-in-10 voters call this a fair approach, while 37 percent say it is unfair.

As with tenure itself, party identification helps predict support for the policy. Republicans are 12 points more likely to say the proposal is fair, though even 55 percent of Democrats support the idea. But respondents' impression of Christie is an even stronger predictor once again. Three-quarters of voters who like the governor say these changes in evaluation standards would be fair. But support drops precipitously among those who view Christie negatively. These voters are distinctly opposed to the plan: 44 percent see it as fair while 53 percent say it is unfair. And among public employee union households, only 36 percent see the proposal as fair.

Voters want tenure tied to teacher evaluations

New Jersey voters also support the administration's proposal to make it harder for teachers to gain tenure and easier to lose it. Nearly two-thirds want tenure linked directly to positive or negative teacher evaluations. Again, liking Christie drives support even higher, to 81 percent, while those who dislike the governor are evenly split, 48 percent approving to 50 percent disapproving.

Concurrently, voters recognize that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to evaluations. More than eight-in-10 agree adjustments should be made for teachers who teach where "children struggle and may not perform well" on state tests. Neither partisanship nor personal feelings about Christie change this response.

"New Jerseyans clearly accept Governor Christie's claims that the current system is broken, and thus needs to be reformed," said Redlawsk. "At the same time, they want these reforms to be fairly applied, recognizing that some teachers have a tougher time than others."

Pay should be tied to scores and other indicators

Garden Staters strongly believe teachers' pay should be tied to new standards. The towns in which they teach as well as their subjects or areas of specialization also should be considered. Sixty percent of respondents approve linking pay to evaluations, while 35 percent disapprove. Almost three-quarters of Christie supporters back the measure, while only half of those with an unfavorable impression of the governor agree.

The findings are substantially different from reactions to using only test scores to determine teacher pay. Last October's Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found that only 32 percent of respondents would support a proposal to link teacher pay solely to student test scores.

"Last time, we found little support for basing pay directly on test scores," said Redlawsk. "Now a more holistic approach is clearly supported, allowing tests to play a role, but not be the only basis for rewarding teachers."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Jerseyans warming to cuts to services

We have a treasure-trove of data in this latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Today we release our findings on how voters are responding to possible budget cuts in specific areas and how little they want to raise revenue. This release talks a lot about last year - that poll was done a couple weeks after Gov. Chris Christie's first budget speech. The 2010 release can be read here.

In a nutshell what we find is that fewer New Jerseyans oppose cutting across all of the budget areas we mentioned, though they remain most supportive of their schools and services for the poor. And, not surprisingly, they still don't want to raise taxes or tolls, except on the wealthy. (Our initial budget release for this year discusses this as well.)

Full text of the release follows. A PDF of the text and tables for this release can be found here.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - Despite divided opinions on Gov. Chris Christie's budget, New Jersey voters are warming to the idea of budget cutting, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Following last week's budget address, Garden Staters are less likely to want to protect a wide range of program areas than they were in March 2010.

Specifically, voters are 8 points less likely to say no cuts should be made to municipal aid, 10 points less likely to want to protect environmental programs and 12 points less likely to oppose cuts to colleges and universities than they were after the governor's first budget address. At the same time, voters continue to oppose increasing revenue through higher taxes and tools.

"Governor Christie talked about the 'new normal' in his budget speech. For voters, the new normal appears to be greater acceptance of budget cuts," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. "While Democrats still resist many cuts and are more likely to support revenue increases, independents are looking more like Republicans in their support for budget cutting."

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Budget cuts: more protection for schools and programs for the poor

New Jersey voters are split in their reaction to the governor's budget, with 45 percent pleased and 48 percent displeased. But when asked about specific services, support varies significantly.

For the second straight year, New Jersey voters are most supportive of their schools and programs for the poor. Half say there should be no cuts at all to state aid to schools while 13 percent want school aid cut more deeply.

In his budget, Christie's proposed an increase in state aid to local school districts, though aid will remain far below pre-2010 levels. Last year, 57 percent said they wanted no cuts to school aid, while 15 percent wanted deep cuts.

Likewise, there remains significant support for programs to help less well off New Jerseyans, though support has also declined: 42 percent want no cuts in such programs, compared to 51 percent a year ago, while 16 percent want these programs cut more deeply, a 2 percent bump from 2010.

"New Jerseyans have warmed to program cuts - even to the most supported programs - to close the budget deficit," said Redlawsk. "And while most still oppose deep cuts to education and assistance to the poor, more are willing to cut at least something."

Two-thirds of Democrats are much more likely to oppose cuts in aid to school districts compared to 38 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents. More than half are against poverty assistance program cuts, versus about one-third of Republicans and independents. Last year, the latter were much closer to Democrats in their support of these programs.

Retired and unemployed voters see government programs for the poor more as much more important than those who are employed: 50 percent of retirees and 49 percent of unemployed New Jerseyans think that these programs should not be cut at all, compared to 39 percent of those employed full-time, and 34 percent of those employed part-time.

Large majorities OK other cuts

Garden Staters are significantly more willing to see cuts in other areas. Twenty-three percent oppose cuts to municipal aid, 29 percent to cuts in environmental programs, and 34 percent to cuts to public transportation funding. Another 37 percent oppose any cuts to colleges and universities. Voters especially seem more willing to see cuts to higher education than in March 2010, when nearly half said higher education should suffer "no cuts at all." More than a quarter of voters want aid to local government and environmental programs to be cut "more deeply" for budget balancing purposes. Overall, voters are now more likely to support budget cuts in all programs presented in the poll.

GOP voters overwhelmingly favor cuts to environmental programs (80 percent) compared to independents (71 percent) and Democrats (62 percent). They favor "deeper cuts" to environmental programs to balance the state budget by a 42 percent to 13 percent margin over Democrats.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that state aid to local government should be cut, but Republicans and independents prefer deeper reductions. One-third of each group believes state aid to local government should be cut "more deeply" than other programs, compared to one-fifth of Democrats. Democrats also are more likely to oppose any cuts to funding colleges and universities (50 percent) compared to Republicans (28 percent) and Independents (29 percent).

Retired voters are more likely to oppose cuts to public transportation spending (42 percent), while other voters, even unemployed New Jerseyans, are more likely to support transit budget cuts.

Little support for tax and toll hikes

New Jerseyans overwhelmingly are against raising taxes or tolls to balance the budget, with the exception of a sales tax on "luxury goods," supported by 75 percent of respondents. High earners (more than $150,000 per year) are more likely to support a luxury tax than those making under $50,000 per year by 81 percent to 64 percent.

"With consistent strong support for a tax increase on 'millionaires,' and now this, New Jerseyans seem happy to ask the rich to pay more," said Redlawsk. "It is interesting that high-income voters are even more supportive. Maybe they also recognize the need to share the pain of the state's financial troubles."

In contrast, a majority of those polled oppose raising the gas tax (70 percent), the state income tax (73 percent), adding the sales tax to clothing (61 percent), higher highway tolls (57 percent), and increased business taxes (56 percent).

Looking at specific groups, high-income voters are less likely to support tax increases than those who are retired, unemployed or earning less than $50,000 per year.

"The take-home is a little different from last year," said Redlawsk. "After a year of hearing how bad things are, voters are more willing to accept program cuts to balance the budget. But for the most part they are still completely uninterested in paying more."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wordle on Responses to Christie's Budget

Just for fun, we ran the open ended responses to Gov. Christie's budget from the respondents in our latest poll through Wordle, which creates nifty pictures from text data. After asking if they were pleased or displeased with the budget, we then asked people to tell us "in their own words" why. The responses "look" very different between those who like the budget and those who don't.

First, those who are pleased with the budget:

Now those who are displeased:

Those pleased with the budget focus on how Christie is TRYING to deal with BUDGET and SPENDING CUTS. Those who are displeased on the other hand use words like EDUCATION, WORKERS, TEACHERS, while also referring to budget CUTS. Given the emphasis on budget cutting and closing the deficit, not surprising that both sides use those words, but I find it fascinating how many of the "pleased" respondents used the word TRYING, as in "Christie is trying to cut..."

I should also note those pleased with the budget use far fewer different words to describe why, compared to those who are displeased!

Just a little fun; more details on the poll itself are in the full press release.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Jersey likes Wisconsin - or at least NJ Voters support the protests

We don't usually stomp on our own poll releases with another one so quickly. However, given the timeliness of the issue, we can't help but do so. The national media has been reporting that Americans are very supportive of the public worker protests in Wisconsin. By a wide margin, Americans do not support removing the right to collective bargaining, which is at the core of the debate in Wisconsin.

We decided in our polling last week to ask our own question of NJ voters. We phrased it a bit differently: "As you may know teachers and state workers in Wisconsin have been protesting proposed cuts to benefits and bargaining rights with large rallies at their state capitol. Do you think these workers are right to protest, or should they accept the cuts and changes that are being proposed?"

The results surprised me: 65% of NJ voters say the Wisconsin workers are right to protest, while only 28% say they should accept the cuts and changes. Now NJ is of course a Democrat-leaning state, so we should probably expect support for labor, at least in general. But in this case, support runs pretty wide - even Republicans are nearly evenly split on the question.

See the text of the release below. The full release with tables is available here.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – While New Jersey voters generally support cutting pension and health benefits for public workers to save money, these same voters strongly back state workers who are protesting in Wisconsin, according to results of a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today.

While more than half of voters want to see significant changes to pension and health benefits in New Jersey, 65 percent also say that workers in Wisconsin are “right to protest” against benefits cuts and changes to collective bargaining. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed to cut public worker pay and benefits and to eliminate most collective bargaining rights. A bill implementing this proposal has passed the Wisconsin Assembly and is awaiting action in the state Senate.

“The big difference between New Jersey and Wisconsin is that Governor Chris Christie is not proposing to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “New Jersey voters may be drawing the line. They support Christie on benefits cuts but disapprove eliminating unions’ basic reason for being.”

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. This sample, weighted to match the demographics of adult New Jerseyans, includes 811 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points for the subsample.

Cutting public worker benefits in New Jersey

As reported earlier [http://eagletonpoll.blogspot.com], New Jersey voters generally support proposals to cut public worker pension benefits and increase their share of health costs. Depending on the details, Garden Staters support increasing the cost of health insurance for public workers with a plan presented as bipartisan by a 53 percent to 44 percent margin. Similar numbers (54 percent to 40 percent) support Christie’s pension reform.

“While not wildly popular, and distinctly unpopular among Democrats and public workers, more New Jerseyans than not think the governor is on the right track with his proposals to reform pension and health benefits,” said Redlawsk.

Support for Wisconsin workers

Despite agreeing with Christie on changes to public worker benefits here, voters are not looking for public employee unions to be destroyed in Wisconsin. Nearly two-thirds of Garden State voters support the protests. Only 28 percent say Wisconsin public workers should “accept the cuts and changes.”

“While there has been no serious discussion here of eliminating collective bargaining rights for public workers, these results should give pause,” said Redlawsk. “Though respondents believe that benefits for public workers have become too rich for the state to afford, they do appear to have sympathy for public employees.”

Protest support runs deep in New Jersey

Support for the protestors is weakest among those pleased with Christie’s proposed budget (40 percent supportive versus 52 percent not supportive). Among the plurality of voters displeased with the budget, 86 percent say Wisconsin workers are right to protest. Only 10 percent of these voters say they should accept the cuts and changes.

Not surprisingly, Democrats strongly support the protests rather than the proposed changes, 81 percent to 12 percent. Independents feel likewise, 63 percent to 29 percent. Republicans are more evenly split: 43 percent support and 47 percent do not support protests. Seventy-seven percent of voters under 30 back the workers, but only 52 percent of voters over 65 do so.

Voters in New Jersey union households strongly support the workers in Wisconsin by more than a 5-to-1 margin. The ratio is 2-to-1 in nonunion households, results Redlawsk calls surprising.

New Jerseyans Split Over Gov. Christie’s Proposed Budget

After a long break for the holidays and various academic tasks, we have a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll out. We decided to wait until AFTER the Governor's budget speech last Tuesday so we could gauge reactions to it much as we did last year.

Our first release on this poll follows. Basic finding: People who like Christie like his budget (and vice versa). Those who don't, don't. No great surprise there, I suppose. But it is rather interesting how split New Jersey is over the budget. And while New Jerseyans do support increasing public workers' share of benefit costs and revamping pension, support is not overwhelming - just over half give their support and around 45% oppose the Governor's proposed changes. Oh, and NJ voters still want to increase taxes on those at the top end of the income scale, just as they did last year.

Look through the release for an interesting little experiment on how voters respond to different proposals to have state workers pay more of their health benefits. When the Governor is said to propose it, support is lower than when Senate President Steve Sweeney is the proposer. But a bi-partisan proposal gets the most support.

The text of the release follows. The full release with tables can be read here.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - New Jersey voters are split in their evaluation of Gov. Chris Christie's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. While 45 percent are pleased with the budget, 48 percent are displeased, and 7 percent are not sure. Negative evaluations of Christie's budget appear motivated both by feelings that its proposals are unfair and by a dislike of the governor's leadership style. Positive evaluations originate in the belief Christie is trying to drastically reduce spending and in favorable personal impressions.

"While the national media give the governor plaudits for making tough budget choices, Garden Staters are not completely pleased, showing the same polarized opinions that we've seen all along," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University.

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. This sample, weighted to match the demographics of adult New Jerseyans, includes 811 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points for this subsample, reported on here.

Most voters paying attention; reactions mixed

Nearly 70 percent of registered voters have heard or read something about the budget: 27 percent say they heard "a lot," 42 percent "some," 20 percent "a little" and 10 percent say they heard nothing at all.

"As they did last year, New Jerseyans continue to pay lots of attention to the governor's budget, whether they like it or not," said Redlawsk. "Voters recognize he shapes the debate."

Impressions of the budget are mixed from those who have heard at least a little about it. Only 11 percent say they are "very pleased" while another 34 percent are "somewhat pleased." Displeasure is significantly stronger, with 22 percent of voters "very displeased" and 26 percent "somewhat displeased."

"Reactions to this year's budget are very similar to last year's," noted Redlawsk, adding 13 percent were very pleased with Christie's first budget and 29 percent were very displeased. The extent of the polarization is stark: 87 percent of those pleased with the budget hold a favorable impression of Christie while only 8 percent have an unfavorable impression. Conversely, 8 percent of those displeased with the budget feel favorable toward the governor, while 81 percent hold an unfavorable opinion.

Reactions to the budget

Voters pleased with the budget overwhelmingly point to Christie's budget-cutting decisions (47 percent) and leadership and decision-making style (24 percent) for their favorable views. Ten percent cite his approach to taxes and 9 percent point specifically to the proposal to make state employees contribute more to their benefits packages. Fewer than 5 percent say cuts in schools/education funding is the primary reason for their approval. Three percent say the proposal pleases them because of policies targeting teachers.

Fairness is the key word for those displeased with the budget, with 29 percent saying the proposal is not fair. These voters argue the budget targets the middle class, working people, the poor, or the elderly. Even though Christie proposes increasing school funding over last year, 25 percent are displeased because of cuts to education, while 18 percent cite general cuts in spending.

Thirteen percent are critical of the governor's leadership style, but only 5 percent specifically note their displeasure with requiring state employees to pay a larger share of their benefits. Finally, 4 percent criticize the budget due to the lack of tax cuts, and another 4 percent say they disapprove because it seems to target teachers.

Voters want Christie to compromise; Legislature to protect some programs

Sixty-five percent of those who have heard about the budget want the Legislature to protect some programs from large cuts, while only 28 percent say they support the governor's budget cutting as is. In addition, only 21 percent believe the governor should stick to his beliefs during the budget debate, but 77 percent say he should be willing to compromise.

Not surprisingly, those pleased with the budget are more likely to support budget cuts and are less likely to want compromise. About 59 percent of these voters support the governor's budget cuts, while 33 percent want the Legislature to protect some programs. Even so, 59 percent of those pleased with the budget also call for compromise, while 38 percent say Christie should stick to his beliefs.

At the same time, 93 percent of those displeased with the budget are looking for compromise, while 94 percent want the Legislature to protect some programs from large cuts, compared to 6 percent who support the large cuts in the governor's budget.

"What's most interesting is how strong the desire for compromise is," said Redlawsk. "We would expect those opposing the budget to want Christie to compromise, but so do those who support his budget cutting efforts. Voters clearly want both sides to come together in making budget decisions."

More support for Sweeney health benefits proposal versus Christie proposal

As the debate over requiring public workers in New Jersey to pay a larger share of their health benefit costs grows, Christie and Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney have unveiled dueling proposals; Christie calls for all public workers to pay 30 percent of health insurance costs and Sweeney proposes a phased-in sliding scale from 12 percent to 30 percent.

About one-third of respondents were asked specifically about Christie's proposal, one-third about Sweeney's, and one-third were told both had proposed similar changes. All were told these changes would triple costs for most public workers.

Among voters learning about Christie's proposal, 42 percent support the idea, while 54 percent oppose it. Sweeney's proposal fares better, with 50 percent in support and 45 percent opposed. Finally, when voters are told about bipartisan support for requiring public workers to pay more, support is highest, with 53 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed.

"New Jersey voters are ready to see public workers pay more for their health care, but the strength of their support depends on who is proposing the plan, and the small differences between them," said Redlawsk. "Christie's plan gets less support, probably because of a combination of partisan effects and his polarizing nature. Sweeney, on the other hand, is less visible and does not get as many hackles up. His proposed sliding scale may also seem a little fairer."

Across all three versions of the question, voters are evenly split, with 48 percent in support of increasing health insurance payments for public workers and 48 percent opposed. Voters' own health care situation influences their position on this issue. Those who pay the full cost of their health care strongly favor asking public employees to contribute more, with 63 percent support. But among those who pay only a portion of their own costs, 53 percent support increasing costs for public workers, while only 27 percent of those whose employer pays the full cost agree. About a third (35 percent) with no health care insurance say the same. Among those on Medicare or Medicaid, 45 percent support increasing worker contributions.

Shared sacrifice: support for public worker benefits cut and millionaire's tax

Besides cuts in health benefits, voters support the outlines of the governor's proposed overhaul of the state pension plan, raising costs and cutting benefits. More than half support his pension overhaul plan, with 28 percent offering strong support and 26 percent saying they somewhat support the overhaul. Of the 40 percent opposed, 17 percent somewhat oppose the plan, and 23 percent strongly oppose it.

At the same time, a strong majority also wants the so-called "millionaire's tax" back on the table. Of the nearly three-quarters who express support for the tax, 52 percent strongly support a legislative attempt to increase taxes on the rich to help close budget gaps. An additional 20 percent say they would somewhat support this tax. Only 27 percent oppose it, 12 percent "somewhat" and 15 percent "strongly."

Voters have become more supportive of taxing high income earners since February 2010, when 62 percent of registered voters opposed eliminating the surtax for those making more than $400,000 annually. Moreover, support for increased taxation of rich Garden Staters remains broad today, with 82 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and even 53 percent of Republicans supporting an increased tax rate for incomes above $1 million.

"While voters are more than willing to have public employees see significant cuts in pension and health benefits, they also strongly believe the sacrifice should be shared," said Redlawsk. "While the governor uses the mantra of shared sacrifice, voters specifically believe that costs should also be paid by those at the top of the income scale."

Most important priority

Asked to pick the most important proposals in Christie's budget speech, reforming the pension system is first (28 percent), followed by increasing property tax rebates (21 percent), eliminating teacher tenure (18 percent), requiring public employees to pay more of their benefits cost (14 percent) and cutting business taxes (12 percent).