NJ GAS TAX INCREASE OPPOSED; OR IS IT?

Recently state Senator Raymond Lesniak introduced a 5-cents-per-year-over-three-years increase in the NJ state gasoline tax, which is nearly the lowest in the nation and has not been raised in 20+ years. We polled on this back in February, finding limited support for an increase. Overall, the numbers haven’t moved – about two-thirds of New Jerseyans were against it then, and two-third remain opposed now.  Or do they?

The initial question we asked was simply about a proposed gas tax increase dedicated to paying for road maintenance and improvements. No real context and no amount specified. This is what 66 percent oppose.

But we decided to go further. We next asked opponents to make a choice between an increase (again amount unspecified) in the gas tax OR borrowing the necessary money. Opponents split – given the choice, 39 percent would raise the gas tax, while 40 percent would borrow money. The rest were either unsure or denied that either was an appropriate option. Combined with initial supporters, this suggests that given a choice between increasing the gas tax and borrowing, a clear majority would support a higher gas tax.

We added one more twist. We did a little experiment where we varied the information provided about the gas tax increase. Everyone was told it would be a nickel per year over three years and would raise an additional $250 million per year for road and bridge repairs. Then we divided respondents into three groups. Group 1 go the additional information that the tax would increase gas prices by 1.5 percent per year. Group 2 was fold that the increase would double the state’s share of the gas tax. And group 3 was told experts say NJ needs to spend $21 billion over 5 years to fix crumbing roads and bridges.

What happened? All THREE groups become significantly more supportive of the tax increase. Group 1 moves to58 percent support, and group 3 to 57 percent. Group 2 remains less convinced, with 48 percent supporting the gas tax given this additional information.

The takeaway is clear: it’s one thing to just ask New Jerseyans about tax increases. It’s another to give them enough context to understand the impact of those increases.

The full text of the release follows.

Click here for a PDF of the full text, plus questions and tables.

STRONG OPPOSITION TO HIGHER GAS TAX DECREASES AS NEW JERSEYANS LEARN WHY MORE REVENUE IS NEEDED

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While winter weather hammered the state’s already crumbling roads, New Jerseyans appear to remain opposed to raising the gas tax to pay for repairs, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Two-thirds oppose paying more for gas, even with the resulting revenue dedicated to road maintenance. Only 31 percent support an increase.

But all may not be lost for proponents such as Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who last month introduced a gas tax increase in the state Senate. When forced to choose between a higher tax and borrowing money for repairs, 39 percent of initial opponents express a willingness to raise the tax. About as many would prefer continued borrowing to cover costs. Including initial supporters, a majority of all New Jerseyans give some support to a higher gas tax, if borrowing is the only other choice. But 16 percent reject both options, insisting road maintenance and improvements are not needed.

Moreover, opposition to a higher gas tax fades when respondents are given some context around the proposal. To test the role of additional information, the poll placed respondents into three random groups, giving each a different set of details. All groups were told that a five-cent increase raises $250 million per year dedicated to road and bridge repairs.

One group then was told gas costs would increase by only 1.5 percent annually. The effect is dramatic. With this information, support outpaced opposition, 58 percent to 38 percent. When another group was told the state needed $21 billion over five years for to fix crumbling roads and bridges, supporters also topped opponents, 57 percent to 40 percent.

But when informed the proposed increase would double the state’s share of the gas tax over three years, residents were less positive: supporters barely outnumbered opponents, 48 percent to 45 percent.

“Not surprisingly, the first reaction of most New Jerseyans is, ‘Please, no more taxes!’” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “But our experiment shows that if they know more details, residents think the proposed gas tax increase may be a reasonable option, assuming it is dedicated to fixing roads and bridges.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points.

Republicans, younger residents, lower wage-earners strongest opponents

No demographic group gives majority support for a higher gas tax when no context is given: 73 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Democrats are opposed to a higher gas tax generally. Only 24 percent of Republicans, 31 percent of independents and 35 percent of Democrats favor a gas tax hike in general terms.

Respondents whose family budgets would likely be less adversely affected by higher fuel costs are somewhat less opposed. Sixty-one percent of New Jerseyans in households earning $100,000 or more are opposed to an increase, while 37 percent support it. Opposition grows to more than 70 percent for those with lower incomes, with 27 percent of this group supporting an increase.

Opposition also varies by age, with the strongest negativity (76 percent) in the 35 to 49 age group, where only 22 percent support a gas tax increase. Support among seniors is higher at 39 percent, but this still leaves 60 percent opposed.

Perhaps surprisingly, individuals’ daily time behind the wheel has little effect on opposition to a tax increase. Whether rarely venturing out or fighting traffic for 90 minute or more, opposition remains steady.

Higher tax or increased debt?

When initial opponents of a higher gas tax must choose between an increase or borrowing to fund road repairs, even many Republicans – usually the most vehement opponents of tax increases –revise their original position. Republican gas tax opponents split on a tax increase over borrowing, 38 percent to 39 percent, but 19 percent think neither option should be pursued. Among Democrats who first opposed a tax increase, 47 percent prefer to borrow for repairs, 35 percent support a higher tax and 16 percent say neither. Independent opponents are most likely to prefer a higher tax over borrowing, 42 percent to 36 percent, with 14 percent refusing either option.

Overall, by combining initial supporters with those who would prefer a gas tax increase over borrowing, a majority of Democrats (58 percent), independents (60 percent) and even Republicans (53 percent) are found to be supportive of a tax increase.

“Borrowing more money for road repairs appears to be even more distasteful than raising gas taxes for many New Jerseyans,” said Redlawsk. “The choices are not good – pay now or pay more later – and as a result, the usual differences across political parties are washed out. Some people think nothing should be done, but most appear to recognize there is a need to fix roads.”

A similar pattern holds with household income. Initial opponents in households with incomes under $100,000 are slightly more in favor of borrowing than an increased tax bite, 44 percent to 34 percent. Higher-income households say the opposite; 43 percent favor a tax hike, 37 percent want more borrowing. Combined, more than half of residents in all income brackets are inclined to support a higher tax if forced to choose between these alternatives.

A majority of every age group shows combined support as well, even middle-aged New Jerseyans who were originally the strongest opponents. Women, who were initially less in favor of a higher gas tax than men (28 percent to 34 percent), are seven points more likely to support an increase if the only other option is borrowing. As a result, 58 percent of both genders supporting a gas tax increase.

More information has double-digit impact on support

New Jerseyans’ general distaste for taxes comes through loud and clear when asked a simple question about raising the gas tax. However, given a more complete picture, their opposition all but melts away, although the level of support is somewhat dependent on the information provided.

Each of three groups of respondents was told the revenue projection from a nickel increase in the gas tax and also offered additional information. Learning that a five-cent increase results in a 1.5 percent rise in gas prices caused a 27-point increase over this group’s initial support. The other two scenarios had somewhat smaller, but still significant, impacts. Respondents told the state gas tax would double over three years were 21 points more likely to support an increase than they had been. Those who learned that the state needs to spend $21 billion over five years to repair its crumbling infrastructure showed a 19-point increase in support over the initial question.

“In the original question, we did not specify how large an increase, nor how much money it would raise,” noted Redlawsk. “This baseline tells us that New Jerseyans just see dollars flying from their pockets when taxes are mentioned. But explaining the size of the increase – a nickel per gallon each year – changes the game, and increases the chances of support, even if the increase is presented as doubling the tax. And when reminded how bad things really are, many more also see a tax increase as an acceptable option.”

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NJ SUPPORT FOR POT DECRIMINALIZATION AT RECORD HIGH

One great thing about the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is that there is so much history recorded over the past 43 years the poll has been around. Today we tap into that history as we look at current attitudes toward marijuana legalization in New Jersey, looking back to 1972 when we first polled on the issue. We did something similar in 2011, in celebration of our 40th anniversary, but the recent talk about full legalization of pot made us think we should look again. And, to their credit, a group of students in Dave Redlawsk’s Public Opinion Class argued for the topic as well.

Our findings show that support for loosening the reins on recreational marijuana continues to grow, and at the same time, partisan differences on the issue are getting larger. A fascinating aspect of looking back to 1972 is finding that Democrats and Republicans were not very far apart on the issue back then; about 4 points separated the two groups of partisans, and neither was particularly supportive. In fact it was independents who were most supportive of lessened marijuana penalties in 1972. But fast forward to 2014, and the differences are stark, as they are for many other issues. A majority of both Democrats and independents now favors complete legalization, while just 28 percent of Republicans agree. Republican opinions on the issue have changed little over the years, while Democrats and independents have become much more supportive.

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

The text of the release follows.

 SUPPORT FOR MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION AMONG NEW JERSEYANS IS STRONGER THAN EVER, FOUR DECADES OF POLLING REVEALS

Attitudes Increasingly Divided by Partisanship in Recent Years

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – With the 1960s and 70s drug counterculture a hazy memory for most New Jerseyans, voters in the state have become more laid back than ever about marijuana, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. With recreational marijuana legalization becoming a hot topic across the nation, two-thirds of voters here now say penalties for use should be reduced. This compares to 58 percent of voters in a November 2011 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, and 40 percent of adults in a May 1972 report. Only 29 percent now oppose the relaxation of marijuana use penalties.

Attitudes toward marijuana possession show a similar pattern over the past four decades. In 1972, 34 percent of adults supported the elimination of all penalties for the possession of small amounts, while 56 percent were opposed. Today it is reversed: 65 percent of voters now support eliminating marijuana possession penalties, while 33 percent remain opposed.

In light of societal changes and apparent success in Colorado with legalization, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill in the Legislature to legalize the sale and use of marijuana. But despite strong support for reduced penalties, legalization gets much weaker support: 49 percent agree with complete legalization and 48 percent disagree. Even so, this is a 14-point rise from 2011 and a 28-point difference from adults of 42 years ago.

“New Jersey voters reflect the national trend toward less severe attitudes about marijuana,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “During the 1970s and into 1981, there was some movement on the issue, but little policy change, so we didn’t poll on it again for 30 years. When we finally asked again about marijuana in 2011, we saw signs of liberalization, a trend that has only accelerated since then.”

While Colorado appears to have raked in new tax revenue from legalizing pot, New Jersey voters are split over whether the possibility of more money for the state coffers should lead to making the drug legal here. A quarter of voters strongly agree that the potential for significant state revenue is a good reason to legalize the drug, while another quarter somewhat agree. But 19 percent somewhat disagree and 27 percent strongly disagree with this proposition.

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. This release reports on a subsample of 731 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

Support from Democrats grows; Republicans much less so

While support for marijuana decriminalization has increased dramatically, the divide between political partisans has also grown. In 1972, Democrats and Republicans held similar views: about 40 percent of each party agreed with reducing penalties for pot use, while 53 percent of independents were in favor. By 2011, 64 percent of Democratic voters and 58 percent of independents supported penalty reductions, but just only 44 percent of Republicans agreed.

Current GOP preferences continue to show little change. Forty-six percent support reduced penalties, 47 percent are opposed. Meanwhile, Democratic and independent support has grown to 75 percent and 69 percent, respectively. “We think of Democrats as liberal on social issues, but 40 years ago they didn’t look much different from Republicans on pot use,” noted Redlawsk. “But as Republicans maintained the status quo, Democrats moved strongly in favor of reducing penalties, increasing the gap between them from four points in 1972 to 28 points today.”

Republicans show more change on eliminating possession penalties (12 points over 42 years), although they remain staunchly opposed and increasingly different from Democrats and independents. In 1972, 29 percent of GOP adults, 38 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents supported decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug. This nine-point gap between the two parties doubled in 2011, when 42 percent of Republican voters and 60 percent of Democrats supported decriminalization. Support among independents grew 11 points stronger.

Today, 74 percent of Democrats voters – nearly double the share in 1972 – want to see possession penalties dropped, versus just 41 percent of Republicans. Only 24 percent of Democrats are opposed, compared to 56 percent of Republicans. Democrats have also caught up to the 71 percent of independent voters who support decriminalization.

In keeping with broader trends, New Jersey voters of all partisan leanings show increased support for completely legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, although to greatly varying degrees. For the first time, more than half of Democratic and independent voters support legalization, with Democratic support almost tripling since 1972, when only 21 percent of Democratic adults agreed with making pot legal. Between 2011 and 2014, support increased by 17 points.

While 30 percent of independent adults supported legalization 1972, by 2011 the number was still only 37 percent of independent voters. Since then, their support has climbed to 53 percent.
Republican support has doubled over four decades from 14 percent to 28 percent. However, 69 percent of GOP voters today remain against legalization, and the gap between the parties on fully legal pot has quadrupled since 1972 to 29 points.

Generation gap on pot has shrunk, except for legalization

The large generation gap on marijuana decriminalization and penalties from 40 years ago has all but disappeared, except on the question of full legalization. In 1972, two-thirds of adults in their twenties supported reduced penalties for marijuana use versus 24 percent of those 60 and older. That under-30 cohort – now in their 60s and 70s – is even more supportive now, at 72 percent of voters. Meanwhile, 70 percent of today’s millennial voters (18- to 34-years-old) approve decreased penalties, about the same share as their long-ago peers. What was once a 42-point gap between younger and older generations has all but vanished.

More than 60 percent of voters in nearly all age groups support removing possession penalties today, closing age differences that were still apparent in 2011, and were even larger in 1972. But those who were over age 30 in 1972 and are now at least 72 are far less supportive.

Full legalization is a somewhat different story. In 1972, New Jerseyans under age 30 were more likely to favor full legalization than those over 60 that year, 44 percent to 10 percent. Some of this generation gap remains visible today. As 1972’s under youngest residents have aged, their cohort’s opinions have changed very little: 48 percent of today’s voters, 60 to 72, support full legal access to marijuana. Meanwhile the youngest 2014 voters are even stronger supporters, 61 percent to 39 percent. The result is a 13-point generation gap, less than half of what it was 42 years ago.

Mimicking younger voters, more than half of 50 to 64-year olds support legalization. But more in line with today’s seniors, voters who mostly came of age in the Reagan-Bush years (now ages 35 to 49) are more likely to oppose (52 percent) than support (44 percent) legalization of recreational marijuana. “It is pretty clear that the changes we are seeing on marijuana attitudes are less about changing minds than about changing times,” said Redlawsk. “As younger cohorts became adults, they have simply had more liberal attitudes than the older voters they replaced.”

Marijuana sales as tax revenue

Despite support for decriminalization, voters here are clearly split on following in Colorado’s footsteps and fully legalizing the drug with an eye toward the potential for increased state revenue from taxes on its sales. Six in 10 Democrats say they at least somewhat agree with the financial rationale for legalization, as do more than half of independents. Two-thirds of Republicans disagree; most feel strongly. Millennials are much more likely than older voters to agree with legalizing marijuana for tax revenue. More than two-thirds who support reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana also support legalizing the drug for revenue purposes. Among all those favoring complete legalization, 86 percent support the financial rationale for doing so.

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NEW JERSEYANS SPLIT ON OBAMACARE: BUT 24 PERCENT OF OPPONENTS THINK ‘LAW DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH’

Today we release our latest polling on the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare. We find that a majority of New Jerseyans “supports” the ACA, while 40 percent “oppose” it. Opponents are generally more strongly opposed than supporters are strong in support. More importantly, we drill down to ask about the reason for opposition in terms of government involvement in health care.   Not surprisingly, most (71 percent) opponents say they are against Obamacare because it gets the government too involved in health care.  But 24 percent of opponents say they don’t like it because it does NOT go far enough in ensuring access to health care for all. This is not trivial. We tend to think all of those opposed are upset about government overreach. Instead, a significant portion has a very different view – the law did not do enough. Taken as a whole, this suggests only about one in three New Jersayans actually oppose Obamacare as a government overreach.

One other interesting note. The Monmouth Polling Institute released their polling on Obamacare yesterday and they found only a minority of New Jerseyans had a “favorable” view of Obamacare.  How can that square with our finding that 55 percent support the law? This is a classic case of where question wording can make a difference in how we should interpret results. The Monmouth question is:

Given what you know about the health reform law, do you have a generally favorable or generally unfavorable opinion of it? [PROBE: Is that a very or somewhat (favorable/unfavorable) opinion?]

Our question is:

Now let’s talk about health care. From what you have seen or heard about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, do you strongly support it, somewhat support it, somewhat oppose it, or strongly oppose it?

As we have routinely seen with questions about Gov. Christie’s job performance and favorability, asking about a “favorable or unfavorable” opinion is different from asking about “support”, just as it is different than asking about the governor’s job performance. People bring different ideas into their heads depending on how a question is asked. It is very possible that some of the people who told us they “support” the ACA would also say they have a “somewhat unfavorable” opinion of it. That is, one can think it does not do everything you would like, and feel it could have been better, and still “support” it over some unspecified alternative.

So we should not see our two polls as at odds, but instead should see them a complementary, asking about the same issues, but from different perspectives. That’s how we really get a read on public opinion.

Click here for a PDF of the full text, questions, and tables for this release.

NEW JERSEYANS SPLIT ON OBAMACARE: BUT 24 PERCENT OF OPPONENTS THINK ‘LAW DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH’

 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – More New Jerseyans now support the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, than are opposed, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. With the first open enrollment period now ended, 26 percent strongly support the ACA, while another 29 percent somewhat support it. Detractors are more intense in their opposition: 28 percent strongly oppose the law while 12 percent are somewhat opposed.

Opposition is not monolithic; 24 percent of opponents believe the law “does not go far enough” in ensuring health care access for all while 71 percent oppose the ACA because they think it “goes too far” in involving government in health care decisions.

“Polls examining support for Obamacare tend not to ask why opponents feel that way,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “When we do, we find that a substantial share of opponents want more, not less, from a government health care program. Only about 30 percent of all New Jersey residents actually object to the law because it goes too far, suggesting a strong base for the goals of Obamacare, even if for some the current law fails to reach those goals.”

Most New Jerseyans, including half of strong Obamacare opponents, think the March 31 open enrollment deadline should have been extended to allow for more enrollments: 74 percent would have liked more time, while 22 percent say an extension was not needed.

Perhaps reflecting a combination of political opposition and a lack of awareness of its details, most respondents said they have personally seen little to no effect from the new health care law.

At the same time, the number who reported having no health insurance has declined from 14 percent to 6 percent since a January Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Still, only 3 percent of respondents said they have bought their health insurance from the online Health Care Exchange.

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points, contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6.

Partisanship, race divide support for Affordable Care Act

Mirroring the longstanding, bitter partisan battle in Congress over the ACA, the law generates polar opposite views from Democrats and Republicans. Eighty-four percent of Democrats back Obamacare at some level, with half saying they strongly support it. Fourteen percent of Democrats oppose the law, split between somewhat and strongly opposed. Republicans, on the other hand, are almost wholly in the opposite camp. Reflecting GOP opposition to Obamacare in Congress, 79 percent of Republicans are against the law, with 63 percent strongly opposed.

About half of independents support Obamacare, but that support is lukewarm; only 16 percent are strong supporters, while 33 percent are somewhat supportive. Opponents are more intense in their distaste: 30 percent strongly oppose the law and 14 percent somewhat oppose it.

Support for Obamacare also shows a significant racial divide. Half of whites they oppose the act, with 35 percent strongly opposed. Only 19 percent strongly support the law, while 27 percent somewhat support it. In contrast, nearly all black New Jerseyans offer some support: 57 percent are strong supporters and 35 percent are somewhat supportive.

Education also makes a difference in ACA support. Respondents with graduate level work are 16 to 18 points more likely to support the law than those with a high school education or some college. They are also nine points more likely than those with a college degree to support the ACA.

Senior citizens oppose the law, 50 percent to 44 percent who support it. While those 18-34 years old are more supportive of President Obama in general, they are less passionate proponents of the law: just 19 percent give it strong support, compared to 28 percent of seniors. But 40 percent of these millennials somewhat support Obamacare, bringing their overall level of support to 59 percent.

Attitudes towards President Obama also play a large role in ACA acceptance. Eighty-three percent of the president’s supporters favor the law, but the opposite is true is among Obama’s detractors, 65 percent of whom strongly oppose Obamacare. Those favorable toward Obama are more evenly split between somewhat and strongly supporting the law.

But whether for or against the ACA, most say the enrollment deadline should have been extended past March 31: 84 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 57 percent of Republicans feel an extension was called for. Even more than half of the law’s strongest opponents agree that individuals should have been given more time to apply.

Obamacare detractors split on why they are opposed        

While the media focuses on Obamacare opponents who see the law as an example of government overreach, in New Jersey 24 percent of opponents actually want more from a health care program, including 21 percent of independents and 14 percent of Republicans.

While there is no gender gap in general support of the ACA, women opponents are more likely than men (28 percent to 21 percent) to think the law does not do enough to ensure healthcare access for all, while men (77 percent to 66 percent) are more likely to say the law goes too far. Also, better educated respondents are more likely to support Obamacare in general, but less educated opponents think the law does not do enough.

“The widespread belief that the public does not want health care reform fails to account for the many opponents who are actually unhappy because Obamacare doesn’t go far enough,” noted Redlawsk. “I suspect many supporters would also like to see more, but are willing to take what is available as a first step. Together, these two groups – opponents who want more and supporters of the current law – make up a broad-based majority of New Jersey residents.”

New Jerseyans see little effect so far

Supporters and opponents alike say they have so far personally experienced few, if any, effects from the new health care law. Only 9 percent of New Jerseyans say the Affordable Care Act has mostly helped them so far and 17 percent say the law has hurt them. Most, 71 percent, say the law has not made much of a difference in their lives.

This finding cuts across partisan lines, Redlawsk said; 76 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents say they have experienced little difference. Sixty percent of Republicans say the same, but a sizeable portion, 31 percent, also says the law has hurt them thus far.

While virtually no white residents say Obamacare has thus far made a positive difference in their lives, black residents are five times more likely to report positive effects. Even so, only a quarter of blacks have been positively affected, while the majority of both blacks and whites say they have seen little change. While the consensus is that the ACA has had little effect, lower income and urban residents are more likely to say the law has helped. While all age groups mostly say the ACA has made no difference, senior citizens are most likely to feel this way, at 80 percent.

The president’s backers, unsurprisingly, are more likely to say the ACA has helped (15 percent), while his detractors are more likely to say it has been a detriment (38 percent).

“Obamacare remains a polarizing law, even as most people say they’ve seen few effects from it so far,” said Redlawsk. “Opposition is not tied to personal experience. Rather, it is clearly an ideological litmus test for many. Even though the law carries both benefits and costs, most New Jerseyans so far seem to think Obamacare has relatively little to do with them personally, even as they stake out a position on either side.”

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CHRISTIE RATINGS STABILIZE; MOST NEW JERSEYANS SEE SCANDAL AS SERIOUS

Today we begin releasing results from our latest poll. We start with what’s now become a regular feature – polling on Bridgegate and its releated issues. The quick story is that Gov. Christie appears to have stemmed the decline in his favorability and job approval ratings, but that there has been no rebound. NJ voters remains skeptical of the explanation given by the governor and do not see the recently released internal report as objective. They also believe former staffers who are withholding materials from the legislative committee investigating the scandal should be required to provide them, despite 5th Amendment claims.

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

 

CHRISTIE RATINGS STABILIZE, BUT MOST NEW JERSEYANS SEE SCANDAL AS A SERIOUS ISSUE FOR GOVERNOR

Large majorities negative about internal review’s objectivity, Port Authority 9/11 controversies, and administration officials withholding records

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Nearly three months into the George Washington Bridge lane closing controversy, New Jersey registered voters remain skeptical of the response by Gov. Chris Christie and his administration to the burgeoning scandals, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While Christie has stemmed the fall in his personal ratings after a double-digit drop in the wake of “Bridgegate”, voters are generally negative about Christie’s truthfulness and recent developments in the investigation.

Half of voters have a favorable impression of the governor while 42 percent feel unfavorable, essentially unchanged since February. Job performance numbers also show little change: 55 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove. But, just 22 percent fully believe Christie’s explanation regarding the lane closures while 26 percent say they somewhat believe him. The largest group, 49 percent, says they do not believe him at all. As for the recent taxpayer-funded report commissioned by the governor’s office that cleared Christie of all wrongdoing, nearly two-thirds say the internal review does not offer an objective assessment, versus three in ten who say it does.

In addition, a large majority says former Christie administration officials who are refusing to respond to a state legislative committee subpoena should be required to do so despite invoking their Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate themselves. Two-thirds say they should be required to provide the records anyway, while 27 percent believe they should be allowed to withhold them.

Voters overwhelmingly condemn the Port Authority’s alleged use of September 11 artifacts, including steel from the twin towers, as gifts to towns with mayors whose endorsement Christie wanted to win for his 2013 re-election, as reported by The New York Times. Three-quarters say this was not appropriate, while only 14 percent say it was and another 10 percent are unsure.

Taken altogether, almost seven in ten voters see the set of issues surrounding the developing investigations as serious: 26 percent say they are extremely serious for Gov. Christie, while another 41 percent sees them as very serious. Only a quarter of voters say the allegations are not very serious, and just 7 percent say they are not serious at all.

“Governor Christie appears to have stemmed the decline in his personal and job performance ratings, following their precipitous drop with Bridgegate, but he is not out of the woods yet,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Not only has he failed to regain any lost ground, but the news that the U.S. Attorney has convened a grand jury investigation ramps up the stakes. Given the underlying skepticism about the administration’s actions, Christie’s continued positive ratings may not hold up for the long term.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. This release reports on a subsample of 731 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

Republicans back the governor on scandals; Democrats and independents less so

For the most part, Republicans continue to stick by their fellow GOP governor as the scandals plaguing Christie’s administration continue to develop. Just under half of GOP voters say they fully believe Christie’s explanation for the lane closures while another 31 percent say they somewhat believe him. Only18 percent of Republicans do not believe Christie at all.

This is in stark contrast to the three-quarters of Democrats and 41 percent of independents who do not believe the governor at all. Only 9 percent of Democrats say they believe him fully, and another 13 percent say somewhat. Independents are somewhat more positive, with 22 percent fully and 34 percent somewhat believing.

“Republicans remain fairly convinced the governor has not done anything wrong,” noted Redlawsk. “Even so, they are not nearly as upbeat about Christie as they were before Bridgegate. Democrats are completely dubious about all of this; whatever reservoir of good will Christie once had with them is simply gone.”

A majority of Republicans back Christie’s recently released internal review, with 56 percent seeing the report as an objective assessment of the events and the governor’s role compared to 34 percent who do not. The numbers flip for both Democrats and independents, with 78 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents saying the report is not objective.

Even Republicans condemn alleged political use of 9/11 artifacts

Republicans are not so much on Christie’s side when it comes to some past actions of the Port Authority and refusals by former Christie officials to hand over documents to the legislative committee investigating the scandals, joining Democrats and independents in condemning both, though to differing degrees. Half of GOP voters say it was inappropriate if Port Authority officials used 9/11 artifacts as gifts to help Christie’s reelection, while 34 percent find it permissible and 16 percent are unsure. Democrats and independents overwhelmingly see such an action as improper – at 87 percent and 78 percent, respectively.

Results are similar regarding former Christie staff members who are claiming their Fifth Amendment right to be able to withhold documents. Seventy-six percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents, and even 57 percent of Republicans say that these officials should be required to provide records anyway.

Scandals issues seen as serious for Christie

Between the allegations of Bridgegate, claims about favoritism by the Christie administration in providing Sandy relief funds, the use of the Port Authority to further the administration’s political aims, and conflicts of interest for Christie appointees to the Port Authority, it is unsurprising that most voters see this set of issues as problematic for Christie. Democrats, unsurprisingly, are most likely to believe these allegations are serious: 39 percent say they are extremely serious, while 42 percent see them as very serious. Just 17 percent do not think the issues are particularly serious.

Independents share Democrats’ views for the most part. One quarter says the situation is extremely serious and another 40 percent very serious; 25 percent say not very serious, while just 6 percent say not at all serious. Republicans are not as worried, but almost half still say the allegations are serious, though only 9 percent say extremely so; 35 percent say they are not very serious, and 14 percent say not at all serious.

Christie’s ratings steady; some see a change in his governing tone post-Bridgegate

Christie’s favorability and job numbers have settled back into their pre-Sandy state, with Democrats mostly against and Republicans mostly in support of him. Independents generally continue to support Christie and his performance, though not nearly to the extent that Republicans do. After a large drop in Christie’s Sandy-specific rating, the governor has stabilized at 53 percent approving of his job on Sandy – somewhat better than his now-lukewarm or even negative ratings on other issues like taxes (39 percent approval), education (46 percent approval), the state budget (43 percent approval), and crime and drugs (50 percent approval).

Some observers have suggested that Gov. Christie has become less aggressive in the way he governs now than he was before Bridgegate but most voters see no real change. A quarter of voters say Christie has become less forceful in his tone, while 6 percent say he has become more forceful. But 61 percent say his tone is the same.

The current scandals have also significantly influenced voters’ views of the most important problem facing New Jersey today. While most voters continue to see the economy and jobs (25 percent) or taxes (27 percent) as most important, as usual, 15 percent report that government corruption and abuse of power is the number one issue. In comparison, only 3 percent name Sandy recovery as most important.

“The continuing saga of Bridgegate and its related allegations has become a ‘new normal’ for New Jersey voters,” said Redlawsk. “Christie is weathering this on a personal level, and in the overall perception of his performance. But he has lost Democrats, and overall there has been an increase in disapproval on specific issues. Combined with the fact that Sandy recovery is no longer the positive narrative it was for voters, the governor will likely find getting bipartisan agreement for his agenda harder than it was when he was riding high.”

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A Closer Look by the ECPIP Staff … New Jerseyans and Gun Control

New Jerseyans’ Attitudes on Gun Control and Gun Violence

By Gabriela Perez and Jingying Zeng

Gabriela Perez, a senior at Rutgers University, and Jingying Zeng, a junior at Rutgers University, are data visualization interns at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

These data come from a three-state study by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll that was in the field from February 22-27, 2014 done in conjunction with two other statewide academic polling centers – Siena Research Institute in New York and Roanoke’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research in Virginia. We fielded a large set of the same questions to respondents in our respective states and have previously released the state-by-state results. This blog post takes a closer look at the New Jersey-specific data and the differences that emerge within New Jersey itself for some of the questions we asked in this study.

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After a second tragic shooting at Fort Hood last week, the issue of gun violence has undoubtedly been back in the spotlight. Back at the end of February, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll once again asked New Jerseyans about gun control and causes of mass shootings. While these numbers were asked a few weeks prior to this most recent tragedy, they are still extremely relevant now and show both where New Jerseyans agree and differ regarding gun control and what is most responsible for mass shootings.

Three-quarters of New Jerseyans say they are in favor of establishing a national gun registry – no surprise given the attitudes of residents in recent years has been overwhelmingly in favor of increased gun control. Two-thirds of those who possess guns in their household support the national gun registry, compared to three-quarters of those in non gun-owning households. Interestingly, there is not as much partisan division on this question in New Jersey as we might expect; a majority of partisans of all stripes support the measure: 78 percent of Democrats favor the registry, as do 71 percent of Independents and 67 percent of Republicans.

The perceived benefits of stricter gun laws are a different story, however. Among New Jerseyans overall, residents are split as to whether stricter laws make people more safe or whether they make no difference at all: 44 percent say the former, while 41 percent say the latter, and just 14 percent say stricter laws make them less safe. Perceptions on this have not changed a great deal despite numerous shootings throughout the past year: a February 2013 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll similarly showed that 47 percent of residents claimed they believe that stricter gun laws would reduce violence.

These opinions furthermore vary greatly by partisanship. Just over half of Democrats feel that stricter gun laws would make them “more safe,” and 41 percent say no difference. Just 27 percent of Republicans say such laws would make them safer, on the other hand; they are instead more likely than other partisans to say that stricter gun laws would make them less safe (at 23 percent) and most likely to say the laws would make no difference. Independents are closer to Democrats in their belief about greater safety: 45 percent say stricter laws would make them “more safe.”

Attitudes on safety also vary by gun ownership. Almost half of those in households with a gun say stricter laws would make no difference, while the rest are split between whether such laws would make things more or less safe. Those in households that do not own a gun are instead much more likely to say these laws would make them feel more safe (at 48 percent); another four in ten of these respondents say no difference, and just 9 percent say less safe.

When asked to choose what factor has been most responsible for mass shootings, New Jerseyans are mostly in agreement. Overall, residents are most likely to say that poor policies dealing with mental illness takes the top spot. Over a third mention this as most responsible for mass shootings, while another one in five more grimly believe the fact that we simply cannot stop those who want to kill others is most responsible. Another 16 percent blame weak gun laws, while about one in ten blame violent media (such as movies and video games) and the poor enforcement of gun laws. While all partisans are most likely to mention dealing with mental illness, Democrats are next most likely to mention weak gun laws, while both Independents and Republicans are next most likely to say our inability to stop those who want to kill is most responsible.

All in all, it seems opinions on gun control in New Jersey continue to reflect a desire for more protective gun measures like the national gun registry – despite New Jersey already having some of the toughest gun laws in the nation – yet residents are split as to whether or not such stringency actually works. New Jerseyans moreover mostly attribute the violence itself not wholly to weak gun laws but rather more so to poor handling of mental illness. This focus on mental illness coalesces with Gov. Christie’s stance on the topic, who has pushed for mental health reform as a primary way to combat gun violence. It also parallels current conversation around this new Fort Hood shooting, which has concentrated on the shooter’s mental health issues. As more unfolds about this latest tragedy, mental illness policies and reform may now play a bigger role than ever before in the fight against gun violence.

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A Closer Look by the ECPIP Staff … New Jerseyans and Corruption

Is New Jersey’s Corruption Unique? Not Really, According to State Residents

By Liz Kantor and Ian McGeown

Liz Kantor is an Aresty Undergraduate Research Assistant with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and a School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program sophomore at Rutgers University. Ian McGeown is an Aresty Undergraduate Research Assistant with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and is a sophomore at Rutgers University.

These data come from a three-state study by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll that was in the field from February 22-27, 2014 done in conjunction with two other statewide academic polling centers – Siena Research Institute in New York and Roanoke’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research in Virginia. We fielded a large set of the same questions to respondents in our respective states and have previously released the state-by-state results. This blog post takes a closer look at the New Jersey-specific data and the differences that emerge within New Jersey itself for some of the questions we asked in this study.

***

From The Sopranos to Boardwalk Empire to American Hustle, New Jersey is commonly portrayed as being rife with political corruption, bribery, and other less-than-savory activity. The recent Bridgegate controversy has only amplified this narrative in the media, both locally and nationwide. Our most recent Rutgers-Eagleton Poll showed that most New Jerseyans don’t think this corruption is unique to their state, however. When asked if politicians in New Jersey are more corrupt, less corrupt, or no different from politicians in other states, over two-thirds (68 percent) of adults said that there is no difference. Still, about a quarter (23 percent) think that Garden State politicians are indeed more corrupt; very few (5%) think they are less corrupt.

Partisanship does not have a strong effect on attitudes towards New Jersey corruption, which perhaps stems from the fact that politicians from both sides of the aisle in New Jersey have been part of corruption scandals in recent years. Similar to the overall numbers (albeit slightly lower), 21 percent of Democrats believe that New Jersey has more corruption than other states, as do 19 percent of Republicans. Independents are somewhat more skeptical, however, with 27 percent believing that New Jersey politicians are more corrupt. Independents in general are more skeptical about politics, so this result is not that surprising.

More interesting, though, is how perceptions of the scandals that have plagued the Christie administration correspond to views on corruption. While 29 percent of those who find it very unlikely that Gov. Christie was unaware of his officials’ actions regarding Bridgegate believe New Jersey politicians are more corrupt than those in other states, only 19 percent of those who do not think Christie was aware say the same. Thus, those who see Christie as involved are 10 points more likely to think New Jersey politicians are uniquely corrupt. Similarly, those who do not believe Christie’s explanation for Bridgegate at all are 8 points more likely than those who fully believe it to think New Jersey politicians are more corrupt – 26 percent versus 18 percent.

Therefore, while it is clear that most New Jerseyans, regardless of party affiliation, don’t see political corruption as unique to the state, it appears that either the recent scandals have taken their toll on some residents’ views, or residents who are more likely to think NJ politicians are more corrupt see Christie in the same ilk. But given we have data from other states, the former may be the better explanation, since New Jerseyans are slightly more likely than New Yorkers, and almost four times more likely than Virginians, to say their state is more corrupt than others.

But there is some surprisingly good news in these numbers if we look at New Jerseyans’ attitudes on this question over time. Overall perceptions of corruption are actually significantly down in the state since last asked in 2009 – when a whopping 54 percent of respondents said that New Jersey was more corrupt than other states, 40 percent said it was about the same as elsewhere, and only 3 percent believed the state was less corrupt. We must be cautious in seeing a trend here, however, since these 2009 results are from right around the time of some pretty high-profile corruption arrests and convictions in New Jersey.

Nevertheless, despite the Garden State’s connections to corruption featured in real life and both on the small and silver screen, New Jerseyans actually seem to be receding back to pre-2009 levels on this issue (only 16 percent said less corrupt in 1974 and 11 percent said the same in 2002). So even in the face of the ongoing Christie allegations, there is perhaps one very Jersey-esque word that can best sum up residents’ lack of strong belief that New Jersey is more corrupt than other states: “Fuggedaboutit!”

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Additional Analysis from the Report on 2013 Rutgers-Eagleton Final Election Polls

Last week we released a report from Langer Research Associates commissioned by the Eagleton Institute of Politics examining the reasons for our mis-estimates of the U.S. Senate race in October and the gubernatorial race in November 2013. In addition to examining question order priming effects, which were found to be the primary cause of the mis-estimates, Langer Research Associates examined some general operational aspects of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll to assess the degree to which any of them influenced the estimates. None of these items were found to be causes of the mis-estimates, but Langer’s assessment provides useful guidance for the Poll.

This week we provide a brief summary of the operational portions of the report, along with our responses, which in some cases include changes in some of our processes going forward. We do this as part of our commitment to transparency and our educational mission.


Likely Voter Modeling

Issue: Pre-election polls have to estimate who will vote, which is done through likely voter modelling. This means identifying through a series of questions which respondents are likely to turn out to vote and which are not.

Summary of Langer Analysis: The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll employed a series of questions including self-reported likelihood of voting, awareness of the election date (for the Special Senate election), reported last time voting, following news of the election, and attention to debates. The calculation of likely voter was applied independently to the Senate and Governor elections. The Poll employed a scoring methodology, which assigned points to each response. The likely voter modeling was conceptually sound. However the cutoff point used greatly overestimated actual turnout. Likely voter models that overstate turnout include non-voters in their vote-preference estimates, which can compromise the accuracy of these estimates.

Likely voter modeling, however, was not the culprit in the discrepancies in the 2013 Rutgers-Eagleton estimates. Constructing three tighter likely voter models with turnout estimates as low as 32 percent in the Senate race and 38 percent in the gubernatorial contest made no substantive difference in vote-preference estimates.

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Response: The LV screens were relatively loose in these reports, due to the size of the original sample, which simply did not allow tightening screens since that would result in too small samples. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll staff did test varying screens and found few differences, as also determined by the Langer analysis. So the looser screens were chosen for reporting. One potential revision for future LV screens would be to use propensity scoring rather than a cutoff approach, which would allow all cases where the likelihood of voting was greater than zero to remain in the sample, weighted to reflect their relative propensity to vote. One attempt to improve the estimates that was employed was an adjustment to reflect the greater likelihood of Republicans turning out, beyond what was appearing in the LV screens. Such an approach is not industry standard and should not be employed in the future. As it turned out, this adjustment made no significant difference in the estimates. But even if it improves an estimate, we agree with the Langer report that this approach departs from best practices and should not be employed.

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is currently involved in a broad research project to reassess the weighting process that we use, and we anticipate the results of that project will begin to be used in polls beginning in the 2014-2015 academic year.


Weighting

Issue: Non-response generally results in variation between the sample that is completed and target population norms which are based on U.S. Census data. One potential problem could be incorrect weighting of the sample prior to reporting the results. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is a random digit dial (RDD) survey, requiring that respondents be asked if they are registered voters in order to determine if they should be included in the sample for the purposes of asking election-related questions. For both the October and November 2013 polls, those who responded that they were not registered to vote were immediately terminated, meaning no additional questions were asked. Thus the samples are of registered voters only and must be weighted to norms for registered voters.

Summary of Langer Analysis: The Langer Report suggests that it is standard practice to weight to demographic variables for the full population, not to the registered voter population. To do so would require not terminating non-registered voters and at least asking them a series of demographic questions. Since the Rutgers-Eagleton Polls analyzed here were of registered voters only, this option was not available. The registered voter sample was weighted to the Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS) from March 2012 using age, gender, race and ethnicity as target demographics. Had the Poll sampled all adults, the all adult sample would have been weighted to the Census’s American Community Survey (ACS), the standard source for weighting population surveys. It is important to note that the CPS registered voter norms were from the 2012 election, making them 11 months old in 2013, which means they do not capture voter registration changes that might occur during the election season.

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Response: The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll will continue to generally weight samples to age, gender, race, and ethnicity targets for the population from which the sample is drawn. We will make sure that we are using the most recent available norms at all times. We may do more “all adult” samples which will include subsamples of registered voters, and will allow the full sample to be weighted to current ACS norms. However, in doing so we will necessarily have smaller samples of registered voters since to increase the overall sample size would require additional financial resources not currently available.


Sampling, including cell phones

Issue: Surveys of NJ residents must be based on a probability sample of landline and cell phone respondents in New Jersey. In this survey, respondents were asked if they were registered voters and were terminated if they were not. A second area of investigation is the relative share of cell phone calls placed as part of the sample. NJ has one of the lowest cell phone-only penetration levels, but nonetheless a significant number of residents cannot be reached without dialing cell phones.

Summary of Langer Analysis: The sampling process appears appropriate for both cell phones and landlines. However, the termination of non-registered voters means the sample must be weighted to norms for registered voters, which are generally less current than adult population norms. As noted above, the Langer report suggests that non-registered respondents should be retained for the collection of demographic data before termination.

Given the increasing use of cell phones and in particular the increasing proportion of cell-phone-only households in the United States, the inclusion of a robust sample of cell phones is a necessary practice. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll uses an overlapping dual frame sample that includes a sample of cell phone respondents regardless of whether or not they have landlines. Estimates from the federal National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicate that, as of December 2011, 16.5 percent of New Jersey adults used cell phones only, and an additional 24.7 percent relied “mostly” on cell phones. These proportions surely have increased since then. The October and November Rutgers-Eagleton polls, using an overlapping dual frame design, included 17 percent and 23 percent cell phone interviews (weighted to 22 and 26 percent, respectively), with 4 and 7 percent cell phone-only respondents (weighted to 6 and 8 percent, respectively), well below available NHIS estimates.

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Response: The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll has increased the cell phone target to 30 percent of the sample and will monitor whether this provides a reasonable share of cell phone-only households. We are also collecting additional information from respondents including the number of adults in the household (for landlines) and the number of adults sharing a cell phone (for cell respondents). These data will help with improving weighting calculations.


Question Wording & Field Dates

Issue: Field dates and question wording are other potential causes of differences in survey estimates.

Summary of Langer Analysis: The review finds no indication that either field dates or wording influenced Senate or gubernatorial vote preference estimates in these surveys. Question wording, while different in each survey, in all cases was balanced and neutral.

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Response: Question wording was slightly different between the Senate and gubernatorial head-to-head questions. The biggest difference was that voters who responded don’t know in the gubernatorial question in October we not asked about which way they leaned. They were asked this in November, and the Senate vote asked about leaners in October.

 

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Filed under 2013 NJ Election, NJ Senate 2013 Special Election