Friday, April 29, 2011

Quality of Life: New Monmouth Poll is Useful, but NOT Unique in Some Findings

We’re always interested in other polls, but we don’t talk much about them here, since we’re normally pretty busy just trying to make sense of our own data! But the new release by the Monmouth University Poll gives us pause. The poll, run by Patrick Murray, a graduate school colleague here at Rutgers back in the 1990’s, and former key staffer with the Eagleton Poll, reported an ambitious project to understand “quality of life” issues in our state.

Quality of life is definitely worth looking at, and it’s something Eagleton has done regularly over the years. In fact, we did this in a December 2010 release which was headlined “Garden Staters Like Their Communities Better than Their State”. This release showed both new (December) data and reviewed the past 30 years of Eagleton Polls on the question. This followed up on our release from April 2010 which also asked some quality of life questions. Both polls showed that New Jersey residents like their neighborhoods, and as we reported at the time, the December one showed we like our local communities better than our state.

So we were a bit surprised to see the following in the Star-Ledger’s reporting of the Monmouth Poll:

“Overall, 73 percent had a positive opinion of their home towns. But significantly fewer, 63 percent, thought the state was a good place to live. While still a majority, it was the lowest positive reading in 30 years of polling on the question and the first time residents gave the state lower grades than the towns in which they reside.” [Italics added]

We went back and checked – this comes from the Monmouth Poll press release.

Two things are wrong here. First, Monmouth’s numbers are NOT the lowest in 30 years of polling, as the first italicized part suggests. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll release of December 16, 2010 showed 53% rated the state as an excellent (14%) or good (39%) place to live, 10 points lower than Monmouth’s numbers. And since Monmouth used the same question and historical Rutgers-Eagleton Polls for their trend data, we would have thought they would notice this. While the data are not yet in our archive, the December press release and all details are on our website. Moreover, we know Patrick saw the earlier March/April 2010 poll (where 52% said NJ was an excellent or good place to live) since he took us to task for our analysis of that poll in his blog. Those data are in our archive. The issue here is not about trends, it's about the point estimates on this particular question.

The second claim is also incorrect, since our December poll also explicitly noted – in its title! – that NJ residents like their communities better than their state.

In any case, we are really glad to see that Patrick’s data both tracks with our own AND makes extensive (albeit uncredited in their press release) use of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll archive, available to anyone who wishes to use it. We would, however have appreciated a shout out in the release. (The full report does note the use of the archive, in a general acknowledgments, but it is not explicit about which Eagleton data was used for showing historical trends for each question.)

Having multiple survey research organizations interested in the same issues is valuable. It keeps us all on the top of our game, and gives the public multiple perspectives on the politics and issues that permeate our state. So cheers to Patrick for the extensive quality of life study, but next time it would be good to be a little more careful about the claims made for the press.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gov. Christie and National Attention

Well, continuing on what seems to be our all Gov. Chris Christie, all the time, binge, today we release results of questions about whether the governor should run for president in 2012 (NJ voters overwhelmingly say "no"), and how Garden Staters view the national attention the governor gets.

We do seem to spend a lot of time on our governor, but partly that's because he has had such an impact on our state, and partly that's simply because he is an incredibly interesting politician. Not only did he win his office in a state that is pretty Democratic, but he did it a year before the Republican sweep of 2010. Moreover, the governor continues in his efforts to make over the state, both in terms of policy, but also in terms of a highly visible, highly active, knows-what-he-wants-image kind of governor. This seems to me to be something pretty new for New Jersey, whose last few governors have certainly not been the kind of strong personality that Gov. Christie is.

So he's interesting, and we think it's worth asking a wide range of questions about how our fellow Garden Staters feel in the second year of his term.

Text of the release follows.

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

New Jersey Voters Say No to a Gov. Christie Presidential Bid in 2012

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - Gov. Chris Christie has been adamant that he has no plans to run for president in 2012, and results from a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll suggest that if he did, New Jersey voters would not be pleased. Only 22 percent of registered voters support a 2012 presidential bid by Christie, while 65 percent oppose and 12 percent are unsure. Moreover, while 36 percent of voters think having a governor on the national stage helps New Jersey's image, 42 percent say it makes no difference and 21 percent say it hurts the state's image.

"The governor continues to deny any interest in running for president in 2012," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. "Given these numbers, that's a pretty good thing. Every time we've asked about a presidential run, New Jersey voters have overwhelmingly opposed the idea."

Results are from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 773 registered voters conducted with both landline and cell phone households from March 28 to April 4, with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

New Jersey to Christie: Stay Put

While Republicans, at 44 percent, are most supportive of a 2012 Christie presidential run, no majority of any group supports the idea. Eight percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents are sympathetic to the proposal. And while only about a third of Republicans oppose the idea, two-thirds of independents do not support a Christie bid, along with 80 percent of Democrats.

Those with a favorable impression of the governor more strongly support a 2012 presidential bid, but even among this group, only a plurality (45 percent) back Christie, while 35 percent oppose and 20 percent are not sure. Virtually all (95 percent) with an unfavorable impression would oppose Christie for president in 2012. Those who feel more neutral about Christie also oppose a candidacy, with only 11 percent in favor and 69 percent opposed.

"Given that about as many people feel unfavorable as favorable toward the governor right now, there is simply no place outside his Republican base to find support for a Christie run," said Redlawsk. "This does not mean a future try would be opposed, just that New Jerseyans aren't joining the national media's storyline that Christie could take the nomination in 2012 if he wanted it."

Christie national presence not all that helpful to New Jersey

Most respondents say that having a governor on the national stage has no effect on New Jersey's image. While 36 percent think Christie's national presence helps the state, 42 percent say it makes "no difference." Twenty-one percent believe Christie's national presence actually hurts. Political leanings color responses.

Two-thirds of Republicans say New Jersey's image is helped by Christie's national attention; only 36 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats agree. Most Democrats (47 percent) and independents (46 percent) simply think Christie's national notoriety does not affect New Jersey's image. A third of Democrats think the state is hurt by Christie, but only 17 percent of independents and 10 percent of Republicans agree. Men believe the governor helps the state's image by about a 4-to-3 margin.

The 80 percent of voters who talk about Christie to friends and family have stronger opinions on this question: 38 percent say Christie's national attention helps, but 23 percent say it hurts. Thirty-eight percent say publicity about Christie makes no difference. A majority (58 percent) of those who do not talk about the governor says he makes no difference on how New Jersey is perceived

Thirty percent of respondent say they have watched an internet video of the governor. By a 3-to-2 margin, they believe the national attention helps New Jersey, although nearly 30 percent say it makes no difference. Those who have never seen the governor on the internet are less positive: 33 percent say the state's image is improved, 19 percent say it is hurt, and 48 percent say it makes no difference.

How respondents get news about Christie, and how he affects state image, matters in only one instance. The small group of voters (7 percent) who get most of their news about Christie from radio are much more positive: 54 percent say his national presence improves the state's image, while 20 percent say it hurts and 26 percent say it makes no difference.

Majority says Christie national attention does not make them proud

When asked to set aside personal beliefs about the governor and evaluate if his national attention makes them proud to be from New Jersey, only 40 percent say the attention makes them proud. More than half (52 percent) disagree. About two-thirds of GOP backers are proud. Roughly one-third of both independents (37 percent) and Democrats (31 percent) feel the same.

Men and women feel the same on this point: about 40 percent of both genders are proud, though slightly more women (54 percent) then men (50 percent) say the national attention does not make them proud. Men are slightly more likely than women to say they are not sure.

Even when personal feelings are ignored, Christie is still a polarizing figure. Not surprisingly, households with public union members were most unhappy with the governor's national attention: only 25 percent of voters in public employee union households feel proud to be from New Jersey because of Christie's national attention compared to 44 percent of non-union households.

Governor's "issue coattails" seem short

Knowing that Gov. Christie supports any particular plan "to make New Jersey better" has little effect on respondents: 55 percent say his support for a plan would make no difference in their own opinion. Christie's backing of a plan increases support among 22 percent and decreases support among 17 percent. Independent voters are most likely to assert their independence, with 63 percent reporting Christie's support for a plan would make no difference. Even 41 percent of Republicans take this position, as do 55 percent of Democrats. A plurality of Republicans (48 percent) would take their cue from the governor and be more supportive, but only 20 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats would do so.

"Several months ago we asked about making public employees pay more for benefits and found the plan supported by State Senate President Steve Sweeney more popular than Governor Christie's plan or even a plan supported by both party leaders," said Redlawsk. "This new question shows that while more Republicans would tend to support a generic program from the governor, support from even Republicans is not automatic.

"Moreover, few independents say knowing the governor supports something makes them more likely to support it as well. So while the governor's job performance and favorability ratings are not bad, voters want to at least think they would make up their own minds about issues, no matter what the governor supports."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Let's Look at How People Describe Governor Christie

Back last August, we did a poll in which we asked people to tell us whether a series of 8 traits describe Gov. Chris Christie "very well," "somewhat well", or "not at all." That was a fun poll, and so we decided to do it again, but expand it quite a lot. So this time we asked 14 trait words (adjectives) including the original 8 plus 6 more. In addition, we added 5 emotions words: Proud, Enthusiastic, Worried, Angry, and Hopeless.

The results are in today's release, details of which are below. The short summary - Democrats and Republicans are increasingly diverging in the words they think describe the governor "very well" and most New Jerseyans do NOT feel enthusiastic or proud when they read or hear about Christie. In fact, nearly half say they feel "worried." And some 40 percent of Democrats say Christie makes them feel "hopeless."

Overall, New Jerseyans do think the governor is stubborn, with even 52 percent of Republicans saying this word describes him very well. But for Republicans, I suspect "stubborn" is a positive trait, while for the 70 percent of Democrats who ascribe it to him, stubborn is no doubt a negative thing.

The governor gets high marks for being smart and a strong leader, but low marks for effective, trustworthy, or fair.

Full text of the release is below.

For full text, questions, and tables, please click here.

NJ Voters Show Sharply Diverging Views of Gov. Chris Christie; Independents say Christie Smart but Stubborn; Many Worry about Him

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Ask a Republican, and NJ Gov. Chris Christie is a strong leader and a smart, independent reformer. But ask a Democrat, and the governor is a stubborn, arrogant, self-centered bully. Independents are more mixed: they see Gov. Christie as stubborn, but also as a smart, independent strong leader. Even so, about half of all New Jersey voters are worried about the governor, while only 38 percent say he makes them feel enthusiastic, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today.

“Since last August when we first asked people to tell us which traits describe Gov. Christie, voters have become more extreme in their positions, with nearly all positive and negative traits seeing double digit increases,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “The largest increase has been ‘stubborn,’ which 70 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents and even 52 percent of Republicans now say describes the governor ‘very well.’”

Results are from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 773 registered voters conducted with both landline and cell phone households from March 28 to April 4, with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

“Stubborn” best describes Gov. Christie, followed by “smart” and “independent”

“Stubborn” is the adjective voters agree best describes Gov. Christie with 62 percent saying it describes him “very well,” up 20 points from August 2010. Only 13 percent say stubborn does not describe Christie at all. Closely following is “smart” which 56 percent of voters now say describes Christie very well, while 12 percent say it does not describe him at all. In August, only 39 percent said smart was a very good descriptor. A majority of voters also say “independent” (54 percent, up 14 points) and “strong leader” (52 percent, up 16 points) describe Christie, while 43 percent say “reformer” is a good descriptor, up 13 points from August.

Many negative adjectives are up as well, with 48 percent now saying “arrogant” describes the governor very well, an increase of 14 points. Bully has increased by 13 points to 38 percent of all voters. The only adjective from August relatively unchanged is “uncaring” which only 26 percent say describes the governor very well, compared to 22 percent in August.

“As voters get to know Gov. Christie better, their opinions of him become stronger, with Democrats and Republicans both more likely to say positive and negative traits describe the governor ‘very well’ and fewer saying they don’t know.” said Redlawsk. “This makes sense: voters have learned how the Governor operates, and they are responding accordingly.”

Christie “worries” voters, and makes many “angry” with fewer “enthusiastic” or “proud”

For the first time, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll asked voters to say how they feel when they read or hear about Gov. Christie. Nearly half (49 percent) say the governor makes them feel worried, 42 percent are angered, and 24 percent say he makes them feel hopeless. Positive emotions are much less in evidence: only 38 percent say Christie makes them feel enthusiastic and 36 percent say they feel proud.

“Emotions provide an interesting window to views of Gov. Christie,” said Redlawsk. “While people give him high marks for positive traits like leadership and independence, nobody but Republicans is enthusiastic or proud when they hear about the governor. This suggests a real disconnect. The governor is apparently respected for his intelligence and his willingness to stick to what he believes, but many are worried and even angry at what he does.”

While 70 percent of Republicans say they are both proud of and feel enthusiastic about Christie, only one-third of independents and fewer than 20 percent of Democrats express these positive emotions. Democrats are worried (70 percent) and angry (63 percent) and a significant percentage (40 percent) feel hopeless when they read or hear about Gov. Christie. About 20 percent of Republicans say they are angry or worried, while only 8 percent say they feel hopeless about the governor.

Independents, while generally assigning positive adjectives like “strong leader” and “smart” to the governor, are much closer to Democrats in their emotional responses. While 34 percent say they feel proud and 37 percent enthusiastic, 36 percent are angry and nearly half (45 percent) are worried. Few independents (19 percent) feel hopeless about the governor.

“I doubt Gov. Christie spends sleepless nights worrying how Democrats are responding to him,” said Redlawsk. “But independents, who pushed him to victory in 2009, are another story. While independents are favorable toward the governor by a 49 percent to 35 percent margin, the fact that so many are worried about Christie and so few are proud or enthusiastic might be cause for concern. It is hard to motivate voters if they are not enthusiastic about you.”

Fewer than 40 percent see Christie as effective, trustworthy, or fair

While voters say the governor is a strong leader and smart, they are far less likely to say he is “effective,” “trustworthy,” and “fair.” More voters say “arrogant” (48 percent) and “self-centered” (40 percent) describe Christie very well, than say the same about “effective” (39 percent), “moral” (38 percent), “trustworthy” (33 percent) or “fair” (30 percent). But few think that “impulsive” (32 percent) or “uncaring” (26 percent) describe him very well.

“We expanded the list of adjectives compared to August,” said Redlawsk. “Most New Jerseyans – even those who do not support the governor – think he is smart and a strong leader. At the same time they are less sure that he has been effective so far, and many simply do not view him as fair or trustworthy. It’s not surprising that 61 percent of public employee union respondents say Christie is not fair and 53 percent think he is not trustworthy. But only 27 percent of independent voters say fair describes him very well and just one-third say trustworthy does too. There is a real disjuncture for the governor in being viewed as smart but not nearly as trustworthy or fair as he is stubborn and independent.”

Partisan divide – In August and today

In general both Democrats and Republicans have become stronger in their assessments of Christie since August. Even so, the partisan gap between Democratic and Republican assessments varies across adjectives. A majority of Democrats (70 percent) and Republicans (52 percent) say “stubborn” describes Christie very well, a partisan gap of only 18 points, about the same as the 20 point gap in August.

Likewise, the gap in assessing Christie as a strong leader remains at about 40 points. In August, 22 percent of Democrats said “strong leader” described Christie very well versus 62 percent of Republicans. Today, 38 percent of Democrats say “strong leader” describes him, compared to 79 percent of Republicans.

The much wider gap in assessing the governor as smart (49 points in August, with Republicans at 71 percent and Democrats at 22 percent) has closed to 38 points, as 40 percent of Democrats now say “smart” describes Christie very well, along with 78 percent of Republicans.

In August 32 percent of Democrats said “independent” described Christie very well, compared to 49 percent of Republicans, a 17 point partisan gap. Today, 43 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans say Christie is independent, increasing the gap to 31 points.

Partisan gap increases for negative trait words

The gap between parties on negative traits has grown as Democrats ascribe negative words in much greater numbers than in August, while a only a small number of Republicans evaluate him more negatively.

In August, 49 percent of Democrats thought “arrogant” described Christie very well, but only 15 percent of Republicans agreed. Today, 64 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of Republicans feel this way, widening the partisan gap from 34 to 41 points.

While relatively few Democrats (35 percent) said “bully” described Christie very well in August, that number has climbed to 53 percent. Republicans have also become more likely to say this: 10 percent in August has increased to 16 percent today. The gap between the parties has grown from 25 to 37 points.

Few voters see Christie as uncaring, however there has been a clear partisan shift here as well. While Republicans have shown no change, with 9 percent saying Christie is uncaring in both polls, 37 percent of Democrats now see “uncaring” as a very good descriptor of the governor, compared to 25 percent in August. The partisan gap has thus increased from 21 to 28 points, due to more negative evaluations by Democrats

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gov Christie/Pres Obama Evaluations in NJ

Click here for PDF with Questions and Tables.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – After becoming less positive following introduction of the budget, New Jersey voters remain split on their impression of Gov. Chris Christie, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While 44 percent of registered voters give the governor a favorable rating, 42 percent view him unfavorably and 14 percent have no opinion. In February, 46 percent viewed the governor favorably and 44 percent unfavorably.

“We’re seeing essentially the same numbers we did last month. Christie’s favorability rating has not rebounded to prebudget address numbers.” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “In December, positive views were 10 points higher than negative. Following the budget address, negatives went up and positives went down, where they have stayed.”

President Barack Obama’s favorability rating stands at 55 percent, with 32 percent viewing him unfavorably and 13 percent reporting no opinion. Obama’s position has not changed much either from the 57 percent to 36 percent recorded in late February.

Results are from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 773 registered voters conducted among both landline and cell phone households from March 28 to April 4, with a margin of error for the full sample of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Christie job performance grade improves

Job performance ratings for Gov. Christie remain polarized, but improved, based on a revised question introduced by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in February. To validate the new question, a random half of voters was asked to assign Gov. Christie a job performance letter grade from A to F. The other half used the traditional rating scale of “excellent” to “poor.” Half samples have a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.

More of those grading Gov. Christie give him an “A” (14 percent) or “B” (32 percent) than a “D” (14 percent) or “F” (21 percent); 20 percent place him in the middle at “C”. This 46 percent positive to 35 percent negative is an improvement from the 38 (A, B) to 34 percent (D, F) rating Christie received in February.

Voters asked the traditional question seem more negative about the governor: 16 percent rate him “excellent” and 26 percent “good,” for a 42 percent positive rating. Negative ratings are higher, with 30 percent “fair” and 27 percent “poor,” totaling 57 percent negative. These ratings show little change from February.

“This shows how careful we must be in interpreting what voters are telling us,” said Redlawsk. “Traditionally we have viewed a ‘fair’ rating as bad, making it look like Christie has negative job performance ratings, but (often) positive favorability ratings. Our revised question – using a grading scale everyone understands – shows something different. While “A” and “B” are a good match for “excellent” and “good”, many who say “fair” in one version would give a “C” if they could, which is not a failing grade.”

Redlawsk noted that this changes the interpretation from “New Jerseyans are moderately favorable toward Gov Christie, but unhappy with his job performance” to “voters are moderately favorable both toward Christie himself and the job he is doing” thus creating more consistency.

Much of the polarization in Gov. Christie’s job performance grade is tied to ideology. Liberals are clearly negative about the governor while conservatives are more split than many might expect. About one-third of liberals give the governor an “F” while conservatives (41 percent) and moderates (34 percent) are most likely to give Christie a “B.” Only 27 percent of conservatives give the governor an "A," 17 percent give a “C” and 15 percent give grades of "D" or "F".

Moderates are most polarized. While 46 percent give Christie an “A” or “B”, 31 percent give him a “D” or “F” and 22 percent assign a “C”. Conservatives and Liberals are less split: 68 percent of conservatives assign an “A” or “B” and 60 percent of liberals give a “D” or “F.”

“There is little polarization within ideologues,” said Redlawsk. “Liberals rate the governor quite low, while conservatives give him good – though not great – grades. But moderates really are split, though on balance currently more positive than negative.”

Obama job performance grade mostly unchanged

President Obama’s job performance grade has remained mostly stagnant since late February. Among voters grading the president’s job performance, 14 percent give him an “A,” 32 percent a “B,” 27 percent a “C,” 16 percent a “D,” and 10 percent an “F.” Obama’s 46 percent positive (A, B) and 26 percent negative (D, F) grades compare to 43 percent positive and 26 percent negative in February.

Of voters responding to the standard question, 13 percent say Obama is doing an “excellent” job as president, compared to 11% in February. Thirty-four percent say “good” (38 percent in February) while 31 percent say “fair”—the same as February. Another 22 percent describe Obama’s job performance as “poor,” up two points from February.

On the grading scale, 60 percent of conservatives give Obama a grade of “D” or “F,” while 22 percent of moderates and 4 percent of liberals concur. Liberals are most likely to give the President a grade of “B” (57 percent), with another 20 percent giving him an “A”. Few conservatives give the president marks of “A” or “B” (8 percent total), but 48 percent of moderates do.

New Jerseyans Support Libya Action

Voters were asked if they supported or opposed Obama’s decision to use military attacks to enforce the Libyan no-fly zone: 49 percent support the decision, 38 percent oppose it, and 13 percent are unsure. Support comes men (55 percent vs. 44 percent of women), Democrats (56 percent support vs. 47 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Independents), and liberals (57 percent support, compared to 47 percent from conservatives and 48 percent from moderates.) Among those who feel favorable toward Obama, 58 percent support the decision, while 41 percent of those unfavorable toward him also support the attacks.

“While support for the Libyan attacks is not overwhelming, the decision does not appear to have hurt Obama’s favorability or job performance rating,” said Redlawsk. “What’s interesting is that relatively large shares of those who otherwise don’t like the president are supportive of this particular action on his part.”

Sen. Menendez still relatively unknown, but more favorable than unfavorable

Fewer voters are willing to give an impression of Sen. Robert Menendez now than in late February when 38 percent had no opinion. In the new poll, 32 percent report favorable impressions and 24 percent unfavorable, but 44 percent have no opinion about the Senator. In February, 34 percent were favorable and 28 percent unfavorable.

Placed in context with Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey voters are relatively non-opinionated about senators. While 38 percent of New Jerseyans have a favorable impression of Lautenberg and 28 percent have an unfavorable view, 34 percent have no opinion.

Democrats are most likely to view Menendez favorably, with 52 percent favorable. Only 10 percent of Republicans are favorable, while 25 percent of independents agree. Forty-five percent of Republicans, 8 percent of Democrats, and 28 percent of independents view Menendez unfavorably. More independent voters (46 percent) report having no opinion of Menendez than Democrats (40 percent) and Republicans (44 percent).

“While Sen. Menendez continues to toil in relative anonymity for a U.S. Senator, his overall rating among those who venture an opinion remains positive, and not much less so that Sen. Lautenberg,” said Redlawsk. “Even so, with 2012 on the horizon, Sen. Menendez seems to have some work cut out to re-introduce himself to New Jersey voters. In particular, independents are slightly negative at this time. To win he will need to improve his standing among these voters.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Polling on Charter Schools - Latest from the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll


Click here for PDF of release with questions and tables

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - Voters are split on the continuing growth of charter schools in New Jersey, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Forty-four percent of all Garden State voters support increasing the number of charter schools in the state, while 42 percent oppose adding more charters. Fourteen percent say they don't know if they support or oppose an increase. Black voters are stronger supporters: 52 percent favor more charter schools.

A majority of the state's white voters would prefer to send a child to a public school, but black voters prefer charter schools by a narrow margin. While only 31 percent of whites choose charters, 48 percent of Blacks feel the same. Public schools are favored by whites, 51 percent to 43 percent.

Black voters are also more likely than whites to support school choice vouchers which would allow children to attend private schools using taxpayer funding, 54 percent to 36 percent.

"As education issues continue to make headlines here, voters are mixed on their reactions," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. "While there are traditional party-line differences, what really stands out is the difference between Black and white voters. African-Americans, while not otherwise supportive of Gov. Christie, are generally behind his plans for charter schools and vouchers."

Results are from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 773 registered voters conducted among both landline and cell phone households from March 28 to April 4, with a margin of error for the full sample of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Garden Staters split on increasing charter schools

Among all voters, supporters of charter schools edge opponents, 44 percent to 42 percent. The numbers are essentially the same for those with at least one child under 18 at home: 41 percent in favor and 44 percent against. Black voters are more positive, however, 52 percent supporting the growth of charter schools and 39 percent opposing.

Those with a favorable impression of the governor also are stronger supporters, 57 percent to 29 percent. Voters unfavorable toward Christie strongly oppose more charter schools, 57 percent to 30 percent. Not surprisingly, only a minority of voters in public employee union households support increasing the number of charter schools, 30 percent to 58 percent who oppose. Support for charters is greater among those in non-union households, 46 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.

"These data show an interesting split in traditional Democratic constituencies on this issue," said Redlawsk. "As Governor Christie pushes for more charter schools as a lynchpin in his education plan, public employee union members resist, but African-Americans appear to be on his side."

Charter schools seen equal to or better than public schools

Almost four-in-10 respondents (38 percent) say charter schools do a better job educating children than traditional public schools, while 30 percent say both types are equally good and 9 percent say charters do worse. Twenty-three percent are not sure. Among those with a child under 18, the results are similar: 36 percent say charter schools do better, 34 percent say both types do about the same, 7 percent say charter schools do worse than traditional public schools and 23 percent are unsure. Though supporting charters, Blacks are no more likely than whites to say charter schools do a better job than public schools.

By better than 2 to 1 (54 percent to 24 percent), Christie's supporters are more likely to say charters do a better job than traditional schools at educating students. Twenty-two percent of Christie supporters say the two types of schools are equally good, while 42 percent of Christie detractors believe they are equal. While 14 percent of those unfavorable toward Christie say charter schools do a worse job, only 4 percent of Christie supporters agree. Similarly, among public employee union households, 22 percent prefer charters; 41 percent of non-union households agree.

Seventy-eight percent who say charter schools do a better job, want more in New Jersey. Among those who say both types perform about the same, only 29 percent support more charter schools, while 62 percent are opposed. Most voters do not think the growth in charters has weakened traditional public schools; only 24 percent do so and 45 percent say it has made no difference

Whites prefer to send children to traditional public schools while blacks are split

Though a majority of voters says charter schools are as least as good as public schools, most white respondents would prefer to send a child to a traditional public school, 51 percent to 15 percent; 15 percent are not sure. Black voters have a starkly different view, with 48 percent preferring a charter school and 43 percent preferring a traditional public school, with only 7 percent unsure.

Christie supporters are half as likely as detractors to say they would send a child to public school; 36 percent would send a child to a public school, while 45 percent prefer a charter. However, 64 percent of those not favorable toward Christie prefer a traditional public school, and only 21 percent would use a charter school.

Black voters support school choice vouchers

Fifty-four percent of black voters support school choice vouchers, another key part of the governor's education reform plan. Christie has proposed publicly funded scholarships to enable school children to attend private schools with public funding. While black voters support this idea, only 36 percent of white voters agree. As with other parts of his education plans, those favoring the governor are stronger supporters of vouchers, 51 percent to 44 percent opposed. Among those holding an unfavorable view of the governor, only 30 percent support vouchers, while 65 percent oppose them.

"Vouchers are perceived to be of most benefit to families in failing urban school districts," said Redlawsk. "Since most white voters do not perceive their schools as failing, few seem to support the idea of using tax dollars to allow children to move to private schools where public schools are failing. These results show a clear sense of localism - if my schools are ok, then why use tax dollars for someone else?

"The governor's voucher plan is not overly popular among his core constituency. While conservatives and Republicans strongly support charter schools, they are evenly split of vouchers," said Redlawsk. "Democrats in general strongly oppose vouchers, except for African Americans, who clearly want more choice of schools. The usual political coalitions have a hard time with this issue."

Public school budget support unclear

About a month before the annual school elections, Garden State voters are not sure if they will vote for or against their local school budgets. Thirty percent say they will vote yes (34 percent in households with children, 27 percent childless households) while 16 percent say they will vote no (14 percent with children at home; 18 percent without). However, 39 percent say they are not sure how they will vote (38 percent children, 40 percent without.)

Christie backers are less likely to favor their district's budget. Only 24 percent favor their school budget, while another 24 percent plan to vote against it, and 36 percent are not sure. Among those unfavorable toward the governor, 40 percent plan to vote for their budget, 8 percent oppose it, and 41 percent are unsure.

"Signs point to another contentious season for school budgets," said Redlawsk. "As with most other things in New Jersey these days, where the governor comes down on the issue matters. If he makes another effort to defeat school budgets as he did last year, he's likely to motivate his base and see some success."

Monday, April 4, 2011

How Asking about Governor Christie's Decisions Can Change Opinions

(Note: Virginia Tangel of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll staff prepared this post.)

In our December 9, 2010 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll release, we included a question that asked about the public’s support for the proposed ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) tunnel under the Hudson River to Manhattan. Governor Christie had canceled the project in October citing cost overruns, but we still wanted to measure the public’s support or opposition to the project, as well as attitudes on Christie’s decision. In order to do both of these things while attempting to avoid biasing our results, we employed a common methodological tool of the split ballot experiment. In this scenario, a random half of sampled respondents (N=447) first received a question asking their personal view of the importance of the ARC tunnel to economic development in New Jersey, followed by a question measuring their support or opposition to Governor Christie’s cancellation of the project. The other group received the question about their support or opposition to Christie’s decision first (N=436), followed by the question about their own opinions regarding the importance of the tunnel. Setting up question order experiments offers survey researchers ways in which we can see effects of context in a survey.

Here are the results of the question about the importance of the tunnel:

Note that when asked first about the importance of the proposed ARC tunnel under the Hudson River, 37% of New Jerseyans reported that they thought the tunnel was “very important.” But, respondents asked this question after offering their opinion about Governor Christie’s cancellation of the tunnel had significantly different views. In this sample, only 22% -- 15% fewer than those without the Christie context – say the tunnel is very important. Note also that the “Don’t Know’s” go down. Providing information that Christie canceled the tunnel helps people come up with an answer on its importance. Clearly, asking first about Christie’s decision had an effect on respondents’ opinions—a sign that survey respondents are willing to rationalize their own views to get behind the decision of the governor.

This pattern becomes even more interesting when breaking down by political party identification.

For respondents who were not asked first about supporting or opposing Christie’s decision, the tunnel seems pretty important – even more than a third of Republicans say it is very important, and few people say it is not at all important.

But when we ask about Christie’s decision first, the effect is huge for DEMOCRATS! Only 18% who get to think about Christie’s decision first say the tunnel is very important, a drop of 24 points among Democrats. Republicans and independents are also less supportive, but the effect is smaller. In general, opinions of the importance of the transit tunnel drop precipitously when placed in the context of Governor Christie’s decision – especially among Democrats.

Question order effects are the result of what survey researchers call “consistency effects” (Schuman and Presser 1981 in Wilson et al. 2008), in which a norm of reciprocity in responses comes into play. In this case, the comparative context exists when framed in terms of Christie’s cancellation of the ARC tunnel project. If a respondent first learns of Christie’s cancellation and is asked to provide their opinion of that, some adjust their response in the following question about the importance of the ARC tunnel because they feel obligated in light of their previous answer. So, this norm of reciprocity is why we see New Jerseyans’ opinions of the importance of the ARC tunnel decline when placed in the Christie context.


Wilson, David C. et al. 2008. “Affirmative Action Programs for Women and Minorities: Expressed Support Affected by Question Order.” Public Opinion Quarterly 72:514-522.

Schuman, Howard and Stanley Presser. 1981. Questions and Answers in Attitude Surveys: Experiments on Question Form, Wording, and Context. New York: Academic Press.