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.


  1. "Do you think these workers are right to protest, or should they accept the cuts and changes that are being proposed?"

    I'm sorry, but this is a poorly worded question... saying that workers are "right to protest" is not the same as saying they "support the protests" or are "opposed to the governor's plans"... respondents will both confuse this question with (1) Whether they think the protesters have a right to be mad and (2) whether they think the protesters have the right to protest (a free speech question)... It tells us very little about the trade off respondents are willing to make... for example people may think they have a right to protest or are right to be mad, but realize the realities of the fiscal situation, and believe that the governor's proposals are the right thing to do. The proverbial, "you have a right to be mad, but we don't have any other choice"

  2. I can certainly see your point. At the same time the question is not one sided, so people are choosing between the idea that they are "right to protest" OR they should "accept the cuts". That seems to me to balance the question which is different than just asking about the protesting "side" only.

    Also given that these numbers actually track with national results with varying versions of the question, and NJ is a state with somewhat more liberal tendencies than most, the findings don't seem out of line with what we might expect even if the strength of the results is a bit surprising.

    Nonetheless the question perhaps could have been wordsmithed a bit more.

    Thanks for your thoughts.