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.
IN NEW JERSEY POLITICS, VOTERS PREFER CHECKS AND BALANCES; WANT DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATURE PAIRED WITH GOP GOVERNOR
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."