Eagleton in Iowa: The Countdown to the Caucus is On!!

Since last August, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling Director David Redlawsk has been in Iowa, studying the first in the nation Iowa Caucuses, following up on work he and colleagues did in 2007-08 for the book Why Iowa?. The Iowa Caucuses, which will kick off the actual voting in the presidential nominating campaign will be held February 1, at 7pm CST. The New Hampshire primary follows 8 days later. Historically these two events have been played an outsized role in the success and failure of candidates seeking the nomination

What follows is another in our occasional series of posts from him about his experiences and about the campaigns for president. Some of these posts were originally published on the Drake University Caucus Blog; Dave is in residence as a Fellow at the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement. In addition to these posts, he is tweeting @DavidRedlawsk as he attends events and watches the process unfold. Dave’s time in Iowa is coming to a close; he’ll return to Rutgers after February 2.

Trump, Sanders could be changing Iowa

This post was first published January 27, 2016 in USA Today. In it, Dave ponders how the Iowa caucus may have evolved from the “quaint” process of election cycles past to something more mainstream as Iowans focus on national issues and candidates like Trump and Sanders.


Political junkies from Beijing to Buenos Aires will be turning their attention Monday night to places like Keokuk and Maquoketa. That’s when the lightly populated Midwestern state of Iowa will kick off the 2016 presidential election campaign at neighborhood caucuses.

As in 2008, both parties have wide open contests and intensely competitive campaigns. Iowa voters — who despite their political image are highly unlikely to be farmers — will be the first to start sorting the candidates …

Read the rest of the column here.



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A Closer Look by the ECPIP Staff … The NJ State Legislature

It’s a new semester at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, and as we gear up for our next Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, our student staff continues to take a closer look at some of the data from last semester’s surveys that we have not yet had a chance to fully explore. This time, one of our staff takes a deeper dive into numbers on the state Legislature.

Who Knows? Examining Favorability of the NJ State Legislature

By Robert Cartmell

Robert Cartmell is a senior at Rutgers University. Robert leads the data visualization and graphic representation team for the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.


According to an October 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, the New Jersey state Legislature appears to have a problem – a recognition problem. The Legislature is viewed favorably by only 27 percent of registered voters in the Garden State, but this low rating does not mean the rest of voters are necessarily unfavorable (36 percent express a negative view). Instead, the real issue is that 37 percent of voters either have “no opinion” or “don’t know” enough about the Legislature to form one. Therefore, while voters are more unfavorable than favorable toward the Legislature, a significant portion of the New Jersey electorate simply does not have a clue about the legislative body … or cares.

Certain demographics are less likely to know or have an opinion about the Legislature than others. Breaking down the population into different age groups is particularly illustrative. Most age groups are pretty much just as likely to be favorable toward the Legislature as they are unfavorable. For millennials, 24 percent are favorable versus 24 percent who are unfavorable; among those 30 to 49 years old, 30 percent are favorable versus 32 percent who are unfavorable; and for those 65 and older, 35 percent are favorable versus 32 percent who are unfavorable. But voters 50 to 64 years old tend to feel significantly more negative – 48 percent are unfavorable, compared to 20 percent who are favorable.

Most interesting is the percentage of voters in each age group who say “no opinion” or “don’t know.” There is almost a linear relationship between this response and age, with younger respondents being more likely than older respondents to say that they have no opinion or don’t know: 52 percent of 18 to 29 year olds, 38 percent of 30 to 49 year olds, 32 percent of 50 to 64 year olds, and 33 percent of those 65 or older give this ambivalent response. It appears that younger generations do not pay as much attention to local or state politics as compared to older age groups. Even among older voters, however, the percentage of those who have no opinion is the most frequent response, with the exception of those ages 50 to 64. This suggests that the Legislature should be concerned about its lack of recognition with most voters, but especially those who are the newest to the electorate – and will be sticking around the longest.

Partisanship also reveals some differences in opinions about the New Jersey state Legislature. Among Democrats, 29 percent are favorable toward the Legislature, while 26 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of independents are favorable. Thirty-three percent of Democrats, 38 percent of independents, and 42 percent of Republicans are unfavorable. Thus, we see – unsurprisingly – that New Jersey Republicans feel much less favorably toward the state Legislature than Democrats, while independents fall somewhere in the middle.

Partisans of all stripes, however, are roughly equally likely to respond that they have no opinion or don’t know about the state Legislature: 38 percent of Democrats, 33 percent of Republicans, and 42 percent of independents say this. Again, we see that Democrats and independents are more likely to have no opinion or not know, while Republicans are only slightly more likely to say they are unfavorable than express uncertainty. The Legislature’s recognition problem therefore reaches across party lines. While Republicans are the most negative and independents are the most unaware, lack of opinion on the Legislature does not completely boil down to a simple matter of partisan identification. Instead, the issue is much more widespread.

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Eagleton in Iowa: Presidential Candidate 1st Day Promises Doom Voters to Disappointment

Since last August, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling Director David Redlawsk has been in Iowa, studying the first in the nation Iowa Caucuses, following up on work he and colleagues did in 2007-08 for the book Why Iowa?. The Iowa Caucuses, which will kick off the actual voting in the presidential nominating campaign will be held February 1, at 7pm CST. The New Hampshire primary follows 8 days later. Historically these two events have been played an outsized role in the success and failure of candidates seeking the nomination

What follows is another in our occasional series of posts from him about his experiences and about the campaigns for president. Some of these posts were originally published on the Drake University Caucus Blog; Dave is in residence as a Fellow at the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement. In addition to these posts, he is tweeting @DavidRedlawsk as he attends events and watches the process unfold. Dave’s time in Iowa is coming to a close; he’ll return to Rutgers after February 2.

Candidate’s first-day promises? Doomed to disappoint

This post was first published January 13, 2016 in the Des Moines Register newspaper. In it, Dave writes about the claims candidates make about what they are going to do – apparently all by themselves – once they win.

The story goes that, as delegates were leaving the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government its members had designed. Franklin is reported to have said, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

And so they had. The Constitution did not create a system where one ruler can govern by fiat. Nor did it create a pure democracy, where the masses decide everything. Instead, we got a republic designed to ensure the passions of the people at any given time do not override either good policy or minority rights. We got a government designed to work slowly and incrementally, responsive to the results of elections, but not so responsive as to be whipsawed any time “the people” changed their minds…

Read the rest of the column here.


A few weeks ago Dave also wrote a column on the nature of the Iowa caucuses as more broad based than most think, they are not creatures of the extremes as one candidate has claimed.


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Happy New Year from the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll!

It’s been another whirlwind year here at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, which culminated in our 200th Rutgers-Eagleton Poll this past month. In the spirit of tradition as we near the end of this holiday season, we are continuing our own tradition of reflecting on our top results of the past twelve months.

2015 proved to be an unprecedented year for politics in New Jersey and nationwide, but conversation was not necessarily focused on politics in the present; instead, the 2016 presidential election took center stage, as Donald Trump soared to the top as the GOP frontrunner. The 2016 election has hit especially close to home for Garden Staters as our own Gov. Chris Christie officially took to the campaign trail this past summer and has battled his way to become a top tier contender in New Hampshire.

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll explored several topics about 2016, Gov. Christie, and more this past year, so with another year coming to a close, and as we raise a toast to 2016, here is a look back at five of what we consider to be our top New Jersey polling stories of 2015 …


5.) Life in the great Garden State: a lot of pride, but a lot of room for improvement

New Jerseyans had mixed feelings about their home state in 2015: when bullied, residents stood up for New Jersey and took a lot of pride in living here (56 percent said “a lot” of pride back in August), citing the state’s location, proximity, and convenience to major cities, and of course the famous Jersey shore, as the features they love most. About six in ten New Jerseyans called the state a good or excellent place to live, in general. But residents were far more negative about other aspects of the state than they had been in a long time. Assessments of the state’s direction have been more negative than positive since March 2014: about six in 10 have consistently said the Garden State has been off on the wrong track this past year, with the gap between right direction and wrong track widening within the last months of 2015. This is a complete reversal from two years ago, with this kind of negativity on state direction not felt since October 2009. And while majorities believed New Jersey was a good or excellent place to raise a family, get an education, or enjoy entertainment and recreation, 63 percent said job prospects were fair or poor, 55 percent said the same about running a business, and 79 percent rated the state fair or poor when it came to retirement. Overall, New Jerseyans believed that the state had either become a worse place to live (41 percent) or had not changed at all (37 percent) in the last five or ten years; only 17 percent said it had gotten better. Nevertheless, residents were somewhat optimistic when asked about New Jersey’s future: 32 percent thought the state would become a better place to live in the next five or 10 years, while another 38 percent said it would stay the same, and 20 percent said life here would become worse.




4.) At a crossroads with transportation: the gas tax, a depleted Transportation Trust Fund, and crumbling bridges and tunnels

The Transportation Trust Fund in New Jersey is about to go broke, and a gas tax increase seems all but inevitable as the primary funding solution. But a gas tax hike continued to be a “non-starter” with New Jerseyans throughout 2015, despite being aware of how badly road repairs and maintenance are needed. As of October 2015, 37 percent of New Jerseyans supported a gas tax increase, compared with 57 percent who did not, a slightly more negative turn since the issue was previously polled in February. There was virtually no change when residents were told the revenue would be dedicated entirely to paying for road maintenance and improvement and other transportation costs: 36 percent supported an increase, while 58 percent did not. When respondents were told a gas tax hike would cost the average driver about 50 cents more per day – or $180 annually – their opposition grew even stronger. Not even a proposed corresponding cut in estate and inheritance taxes made the gas tax hike any more appealing. Yet 54 percent believed not enough money has been spent on road, highway, and bridge maintenance. Similar feelings existed regarding spending on mass transit and the existing (poor) state of the Hudson River rail tunnels, though New Jerseyans did not want to immediately act on these repairs due to cost concerns.





3.) What 2015 election? New Jerseyans unaware of 2015 state legislative elections and legislators

With our 200th ever poll approaching this past semester, we decided to do a throwback in October by re-asking some of the very first poll questions the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll (then known as the New Jersey Poll) ever asked back in 1971. Forty-four years after the first press release from the Eagleton Institute of Politics’ inaugural poll reported little awareness of the then upcoming 1971 state legislative elections, New Jerseyans remained just as uninformed about the state Legislature in our October 2015 pre-election poll. Three-quarters of Garden State residents were completely unaware that any elections would be held this past November, just slightly better than the 85 percent who were ignorant in 1971. Residents actually did worse than four decades ago when taking into account whether those who named a specific office(s) on the ballot were correct: just 6 percent rightly said that the state Assembly was on the ballot, and 3 percent mentioned the Legislature in general. Even fewer residents correctly named their own state senators. Among all Garden Staters, 8 percent gave some name, but only 5 percent actually got it right. Forty-four years and many state legislative elections later, it appears the more things change, sometimes the more they stay the same.



2.) New Jerseyans say “no” to President Christie

A presidential bid for Gov. Christie went from a probability to a reality this past summer, but the governor has had little support for his run back home in the Garden State. A month after Christie’s official 2016 announcement, seven in 10 New Jersey registered voters said he would not make a good president, and 55 percent thought Christie’s best chances for getting the GOP nomination had already come and gone. Only about one-third of New Jersey voters said he still had a shot at that point, while 6 percent said he never had one in the first place. Fifty-four percent said “presidential” did not describe Christie at all, versus 29 percent who thought it described the governor somewhat well and just 14 percent who said “very well.” In October, 67 percent wanted him to end his campaign. This post-announcement sentiment was nothing new: New Jerseyans never thought Christie was a good fit for president, even before he officially threw his hat into the ring. Even support for a Christie presidency from his own party base has waned in recent months, as Republican and Republican-leaning voters in the Garden State have consistently picked businessman Donald Trump as their top choice ever since he officially entered the race.









1.) Gov. Christie hits rock bottom in the Garden State

After riding a post-Sandy high throughout the entirety of 2013, Gov. Christie’s numbers in the Garden State began to drop precipitously in January 2014 in the wake of Bridgegate and other scandal-related allegations. But it was not until one year later, in 2015, when Christie’s ratings completely turned upside down. In our February poll, a clear majority of New Jersey voters (53 percent) felt unfavorable toward the governor for the first time ever. A majority also disapproved of his job as governor overall for the first time – 52 percent disapprove to 42 percent approve. His numbers continued to spiral throughout the year, as New Jerseyans cited his character, attitude, and untrustworthiness, as well as his 2016 aspirations and lingering Bridgegate accusations, as top reasons for their dislike and his declining ratings. By December, just 33 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Christie, the second lowest rating he has ever received. Christie’s unfavorable rating jumped back to its all-time high of 59 percent after a small improvement in October. Christie’s overall job approval likewise slipped to its lowest point yet in December: 33 percent of New Jersey voters approved of his performance, and 62 percent disapproved, representing voters’ strongest disapproval of Christie’s job performance to date. Christie has fared no better regarding his job approval on individual issues. His rating on the perennial top issue in the state – taxes – hit an all-time low in December, 23 percent approve to 71 percent disapprove. He also reached new lows on the economy and jobs (30 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove), the state budget (25 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove), the state pension fund situation (21 percent approve, 66 percent disapprove) and education (33 percent approve, 59 percent disapprove) to close out 2015. As Gov. Christie continues his campaign for president, and as the primary season officially gets underway, there is no telling what kind of ratings 2016 may bring for the governor back home.









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Eagleton in Iowa: Electing Delegates through the Iowa Caucuses

Since August, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling Director David Redlawsk has been in Iowa, studying the first in the nation Iowa Caucuses, following up on work he and colleagues did in 2007-08 for the book Why Iowa?.

What follows is another in our occasional series of blog posts from him about his experiences and about the campaigns for president. These posts were originally published on the Drake University Caucus Blog; Dave is in residence as a Fellow at the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement. In addition to these posts, he is tweeting @DavidRedlawsk as he attends events and watches the process unfold.

Read below for Dave’s take on how Iowans tend to make up their minds late.


Delegates: They’re What It’s Really About

Since 1972 for the Democrats, and this year for the Republicans, the Iowa Precinct Caucuses have not really been primarily about voting for presidential candidates.

Well they have (and are) but the real goal is to win delegates (ultimately) to the respective national conventions. Precinct Caucuses do NOT elect delegates to the national convention, but they do elect them to the county conventions, and the process continues from there through district and state conventions, then to the national convention.

The stakes then, are not just the media bump that generally comes from exceeding expectations on caucus night, but also ultimately claiming a share of the delegates Iowa will elect to the national conventions. No one gets nominated to be their party’s standard-bearer without having 50%+1 of all the delegates to the national convention. To be sure, Iowa’s share of those delegates is quite small (see here [GOP | Democrats] for details on every state’s delegate counts) but at least for the Republicans, every delegate may well count given the fractured nature of the field.

Historically, there was no connection between the vote in Republican Precinct Caucuses and the national convention delegates won. It was strictly a beauty contest. This year, however, for the first time GOP convention delegates will be bound on the first ballot. What does this mean for the Iowa GOP? It would either mean electing individual delegates based on whom they support – something they have never done – or coming up with an alternative. The latter is what Iowa has done. Individual delegates will still be elected at large, starting at the Precinct Caucuses, without respect to which candidate they support. But if there is a contested nomination at the national convention, on the first round Iowa’s vote will be reported based on caucus night results. So if Rick Santorum gets 10% of the caucus vote, Iowa will announce that he gets 3 votes on the first ballot (10% of the state’s 30 GOP delegates.) This will be regardless of whether he is still in the race by then. If the nomination is uncontested, Iowa GOP will announce 100% for the nominee. This represents a major change for the GOP; for the first time the vote at the caucuses will correspond directly to the vote on the national convention floor. Now, if the nomination goes to a second ballot, those individual delegates are free to vote for whomever they want.

Turning to the Democrats, the story is completely different and has been since the modern process was put in place in 1972. Democrats have never announced the actual vote counts in their caucuses. Instead, because they publicly divide into groups supporting candidates, the election of county convention delegates is done within those groups, which means that supporters of Martin O’Malley (and any candidate, subject to threshold requirements) will elect members of their own group as county convention delegates.  Thus, while Democratic delegates are not bound in any subsequent convention, because they are almost always activist supporters of the candidate, they stick with her or him until told otherwise.

My own experience in 2008 illustrates this. At the time I was an active Democrat in Johnson County, IA, home of the University of Iowa where I was teaching at the time. (I should note that I left partisan politics when I moved to Rutgers to run the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.) The night before the 2004 caucus I announced my support for John Edwards. Obviously he did not win that year, but his strong showing beat expectations and ultimately he became John Kerry’s running mate. Fast forward to 2007, and I was on the Edwards bandwagon again, joining his statewide advisory team. When the January 3 caucus rolled around, I wanted to be sure I was elected as an Edwards delegate to the county convention from my precinct, Iowa City 8. Our precinct was allocated 6 delegates; for me to be elected the Edwards group would have to be viable and its members would have to elect me as a delegate. As I was chairing the caucus, I was not organizing the Edwards folks; others were doing that.

As it turned out, our group was not viable initially. Had that continued, I could not have been elected to the county convention as an Edwards delegate. Fortunately for me, some second-round politicking enabled us to viability, and we were awarded one of the six county convention delegates. First hurdle, done.

Next step, getting elected as a delegate. Fortunately, I was well known by Edwards folks in the precinct and was probably the one who wanted the position most. It was also the case that anyone not elected as a delegate could be designated an alternate, and if some elected Edwards delegates failed to show to the county convention, they would have the opportunity to be seated. My recollection is that no one else ended up running for the slot, so I had it.

The county convention came next, in March 2008. Before that, Edwards had suspended his campaign, so we Edwards delegates no longer had a candidate, although he had not yet endorsed anyone else. So our group of county convention delegates worked hard to maintain our viability as our own group at that convention. We managed to do so, which meant even if our candidate was no longer running, we elected Edwards delegates to the district and state conventions. We had enough delegates that I had no problem being one of those elected to move on.

By the time of the district conventions in April (each of Iowa’s congressional districts holds its own convention) things were still uncertain, with no instructions from Edwards about what to do. As we canvassed Edwards delegates from all of the counties in the 2nd District, it became clear it would be touch and go as to whether we could retain viability at the district. Some delegates were already committing to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama; others said they just might not bother showing up.

To keep a too long story from getting even longer, I won’t go into the details, but we managed in the end to maintain our viability at the 2nd District. The district convention was allocated 6 national convention delegates, and I really wanted to be one of them. However, Democrats have a strict gender quota rule: the state delegation must be evenly divided between men and women. To accomplish this, there is a procedure for determining the gender of each delegate slot won by a candidate at district and state conventions, and the election for delegates is separated by gender (everyone votes on all delegates for their preference group, but female and male delegates are elected in separate votes.)

So the question was, would the sole Edwards delegate from the 2nd District be male or female? The answer had been pre-determined some time before in Des Moines. Of the six delegates to be elected, the order was MFMFMF. The genders were allocated in order of the vote. Since Obama has the most delegates, his first delegate would be male. Clinton had the second most delegates; her first delegate would be female. Edwards, the only other viable candidate, came in third, so his first (and only delegate) would be male. This closed the door on any female Edwards supporter who wanted to be a national convention delegate from my district, and opened it for men.

My recollection at this point is a little hazy, but I know a large number of men submitted petitions to be the Edwards national convention delegate from our district; perhaps as many as 10 or more. I was one of them. I had to get a certain number of signatures and file with the convention before I knew if we were going to win any delegates; fortunately I had done so.

To win any delegate position for the Democrats, one must get 50% + 1 of the votes. Given the large field, it took hours to complete our process. Preference groups members cast their vote for delegate on a ballot paper that is numbered; this creates a record of the vote, since all votes in Democratic conventions are actually public. After each round, the ballots were taken to be counted, and eventually results announced. On the first (and several subsequent ballots) no one got 50%+1; the decision was made to drop candidates below a threshold for the next ballot. I seem to recall at least four rounds, and at least three hours going by. I survived each round; in the final one it was me and one other gentleman still standing.

To this day I am surprised I won that election. It ultimately gave me the opportunity to be one of Iowa’s Democratic National Convention delegates in an historic year. Ultimately, after some wooing, I committed to Obama in early June, some time after Edwards himself had endorsed Obama, and a couple weeks before the Iowa State Convention, where more national convention delegates would be elected. By then, there was no longer a viable Edwards group; but through some negotiations we still managed to get another one or two Edwards activists elected as Obama delegates, to join the 4 of us who had been elected at district conventions around the state. I believe we Edwards delegates all ended up supporting Obama on the floor at the national convention.

But the entire Iowa delegation did not. When it came time to announce our vote to the nation, we split 48 for Obama and 9 for Clinton. Note that this is not what actually happened in the precinct caucuses, where Obama won 38%, Edwards 30%, and Clinton 29%. While critically important in boosting Obama’s campaign, the Democratic precinct results did not in the end drive the national convention vote.

The lesson of this very long story is that for the Democrats the road to becoming a national convention delegate is a story of grassroots politics, starting with your preferred candidate at the precinct caucuses. If your candidate does not make viability in your precinct, you are done, unless you can convince folks in another preference group to elect you to the county convention. And the same is true through the process. It is complex, but it ensures a certain amount of opportunity for grassroots activists.

However, given the change in the GOP rules this year, it will be the Republicans – if their nomination is contested on the floor of the convention – who will better translate the actual Iowa Precinct Caucus vote into national convention delegates. Democrats will reduce their actual vote to delegates and will do this over and over throughout their convention process, so that by the time of the national convention, the actual floor vote (if the nomination is contested) will probably not reflect what happen in caucuses so many months before.

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Some Holiday Fun and Looking Ahead to 2016 on the 200th Rutgers-Eagleton Poll!!

With Christmas right around the corner, we wanted to wrap up our 200th poll press releases with a little bit of holiday fun!  We polled New Jerseyans on the “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” question asked a few times over the years by Pew Research Center, as well as about New Year’s resolutions for 2016 (a topic we ourselves asked back in 2012). Turns out, NJers mostly do not care which seasonal greeting is used, and resolutions center around health, wealth, and success.

So enjoy some holiday statistics, and Happy Holidays (or Merry Christmas or Season’s Greetings – take your pick!) from the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll!

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


 Health tops residents’ New Year’s resolutions for 2016 

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – ‘Tis the season in the Garden State, and as New Jerseyans fit in last-minute holiday shopping, 49 percent do not care how they are greeted by merchants, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

But about one-third still prefer hearing “Merry Christmas,” while 19 percent want something less religious, like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

“Almost nine in 10 New Jerseyans celebrate Christmas, but residents without a preference or who want a more generic greeting outnumber those who want ‘Merry Christmas’ by more than 2 to 1,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “And though Garden Staters mostly resemble the rest of the country on holiday greeting preferences as we see in national polling, they are slightly less likely than other Americans to choose ‘Merry Christmas’ and are more likely to opt for something less religious.”

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, one third of New Jerseyans are procrastinators and have not made a resolution yet. Among those who have, health- and fitness-related promises top the list. Eleven percent mention staying or getting healthy, another 8 percent specify something about losing weight, and 3 percent want to strive for good health, in general. Three percent also hope to quit smoking.

Five percent have made a resolution about money – spending less, as well as saving or making more – while another 5 percent say something about becoming more successful. Other resolutions include becoming a better person (7 percent) and achieving peace and happiness (3 percent).

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Politicizing Christmas

Much like the larger debate about a “war on Christmas,” preferences on seasonal greetings become entangled in politics during the holidays each year. Unlike New Jerseyans as a whole, most Republicans prefer the more religious greeting of “Merry Christmas,” at 49 percent. Just 10 percent of this group chooses “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” Democrats and independents feel just the opposite. Among Democrats, 22 percent prefer “Merry Christmas” and 29 percent want something less religious. Independents feel similarly, though a bit more likely than Democrats to choose “Merry Christmas” (at 32 percent) and less likely to choose “Happy Holidays” (at 15 percent).

Above all, Democrats and independents say it does not matter (49 percent and 52 percent, respectively); even 41 percent of Republicans say this.

Ideological conservatives are the most likely of all demographics to prefer “Merry Christmas” and the only group that reaches a majority: 55 percent side with this greeting, while only 9 percent choose “Happy Holidays” and 36 percent have no strong feeling either way. They are more than three times as likely as liberals and almost twice as likely as moderates to prefer the more religious phrase. Liberals and moderates, on the other hand, look much like Democrats and independents.

Religion has only a slight impact on preferences. Catholics and Protestants in the state are a bit more likely than New Jerseyans as a whole, and much more likely than residents of other religious affiliations, to want stores to use “Merry Christmas” – 40 percent of Catholics and 42 percent of Protestants do, compared to just 19 percent of those from other religions. Similarly, 42 percent of born-again Christians feel the same. Nevertheless, more than four in 10 of each are indifferent.

Even half of those who celebrate Christmas have no preference; another 35 percent would prefer the more religious greeting, while 17 percent say they would actually prefer something less religious.

White residents are 12 points more likely to prefer “Merry Christmas” than non-white residents, though half of both groups are indifferent. Residents 50 years and older are almost four times as likely (at about 40 percent) to prefer the more religious greeting than millennials (at just 11 percent). Millennials are the most indifferent, with 60 percent saying it does not matter to them which greeting is used.

Eighty-eight percent of New Jerseyans say they celebrate Christmas, 9 percent celebrate Hanukah, 2 percent Kwanza, 1 percent each celebrate Ramadan and Diwali, and 8 percent celebrate something else. Four percent of residents do not celebrate anything.

Wishes for health, wealth, and success in the New Year

New Jerseyans continue to make health, fitness, and finances top priorities, similar to when the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll last asked about resolutions in 2012. While these topics remain most prevalent among New Jerseyans overall, some disparities between groups do emerge.

While gender differences are not significant when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, men are a bit more likely than women to mention something about money and staying or getting healthy, while women are slightly more likely to specify losing weight.

Non-white residents’ resolutions are focused more on money issues and achieving success in the new year compared to white residents.

Age has a definite impact on resolutions. Millennials are most concerned with being successful in 2016 (at 16 percent) – a vast difference from older residents, for which this type of resolution barely registers. New Jerseyans under 50 years old are also much more likely than those over 50 to mention something about money.

Residents of all ages are concerned about getting and staying healthy, though 50-64 year olds are slightly more likely to say this as their resolution and also most likely to specifically have a resolution about losing weight.

New Jerseyans in more affluent households are more likely to mention health and fitness than those in households making less than $50,000 annually. Those in households making $150,000 or more are less likely than others to mention a resolution that involves money.

“Garden Staters mention a wide range of New Year’s resolutions, including uplifting things like ‘creating joy’ and ‘peace on earth,” said Koning. “But not all resolutions are rosy. Others imply a dissatisfaction with life in New Jersey and state politics: a handful of residents mention a desire to move out of the state, and one individual even wished for Gov. Chris Christie to end his presidential campaign and come back home to govern.”

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Some polling about … polling!! NJers think polls matter to democracy and are somewhat trusting of them, but question their accuracy

Our 200th poll has been a whirlwind so far with releases on terrorism, Gov. Christie, and life here in New Jersey.  For this special occasion, we wanted to go a bit “meta” and poll New Jerseyans on what they think about … well, polling itself!

Polls have been in the news a lot lately.  Everyone is doing a poll; every day there is a new one. So it’s easy to get poll fatigue.  Luckily, New Jerseyans still seem to have some faith in the process – even though they do not necessarily think polls are always accurate.  But even with all this polling going on, New Jerseyans recognize that polls are an important part of our democracy and help to get the voice of the people heard by their leaders.

To learn more about polling and how to be a good poll consumer, visit the American Association for Public Opinion Research or the National Council on Public Polls.

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


New Jerseyans think polls matter, are important in influencing policymaking

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While discussion and controversy surround polling’s role in the race to the White House in 2016, New Jerseyans still have some faith in the public opinion polling process, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty percent trust polls a fair amount and another 4 percent, a great deal. On the other hand, 36 percent do not trust polls very much, and 9 percent do not trust them at all.

But whether polls are consistently accurate is up for debate with New Jerseyans. Almost no one thinks they are always accurate, and only 21 percent say polls are mostly accurate. Still, 69 percent believes polls are accurate at least some of the time; only 5 percent discount them all the time.

Despite some reservations, New Jerseyans believe polling plays an important role in the democratic process, with 55 percent thinking it influences government decisions and policymaking. Reflecting that polls give citizens a chance to have their say, 77 percent feel political leaders should use poll results to help them understand public opinion on issues.

Many respondents moreover cite polling’s connection to democracy when asked why they chose to participate in this Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: one in five mention something about wanting their voice to be heard, the importance of polling in society, or doing their civic duty. But above all, New Jerseyans cite having the time to talk as their number one reason for participating.

“For our 200th poll, we thought we’d turn our sights inward a bit, and ask about some of the big questions currently facing polling, such as public perceptions of accuracy, trust and the whole point of it all,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “It’s refreshing to learn that, even with today’s deluge of polls, Garden State residents still see the importance of this scientific method of understanding public opinion and the vital role it plays in the democratic process.”

A third of New Jerseyans claim to follow the results of polls regularly. Just under half say they had been interviewed in the past for at least one public opinion poll or survey prior to talking with the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Trust and accuracy depend on familiarity, knowledge

Polling is not a partisan issue. Instead, trust and belief in polling’s accuracy is rooted in respondents’ prior knowledge and interaction with public opinion surveys. Those previously interviewed for a poll are much more likely to trust polls overall – 62 percent versus 47 percent among those talking to a pollster for the first time. They are also slightly more likely to say that polls are mostly accurate (24 percent to 19 percent).

Regular followers of polls also have more confidence in them. Seventy-one percent of those who regularly follow polls trust them, compared to 45 percent of those who do not; regular followers are also six points more likely to believe polls are mostly accurate.

Beliefs about polling’s role in a democracy also connect to general views on polling. Those who think polls matter in policymaking and should be used by political leaders are more likely to trust polls and believe them to be accurate.

Education has an influence as well. Individuals with a high school diploma or less are the least likely to trust polls (46 percent), while those who have done graduate work are the most likely (62 percent); the former are also least likely to believe polls are accurate.

Trust and accuracy unsurprisingly have a significant impact on one another: the more Garden Staters trust polls, the more they think they are accurate, and the more accurate they think they are, the more trust there is.

“The mystery and skepticism surrounding polls fades when you know a bit about them and how they work,” Koning. “It can be really hard to see how so few people can represent the entire state. Thus, it becomes important to learn how to be a good consumer of polls and know how to separate the good from the bad. Only then can one understand their benefits and limitations.”

Widespread agreement that polls are important

Even as most New Jersey residents agree that polls matter for policymaking and leaders should use them, there are noticeable differences across some demographic groups. Women are 7 points more likely than men to believe leaders should use polls to help determine what the public wants. However, residents over 65 are more likely to balk at the idea than younger New Jerseyans, who are more supportive of leaders using polls.

Education also makes a difference, probably because those who are more educated are also more trusting of polls. Residents whose education ended with a high school diploma are less likely to think leaders should use polls to understand public sentiment. Those with at least some graduate school are more likely than others to think that polls influence government decisions and policy.

Familiarity with polls themselves also plays a large part in beliefs about them. Regular followers of polls are more likely than others to agree that polling is important in policymaking and to say polls should be used by policymakers. Beliefs about polling’s importance also increase with trust and perceptions of accuracy.

New Jerseyans have the time to talk

Asked why they decided to participate in the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, the most popular answer among respondents had something to do with time: 18 percent cited something about being available, having time, having nothing better to do, or even being bored as their reason for participating. Not far behind is New Jerseyans’ democratic desire for their voice to be heard, at 13 percent.

Twelve percent say something about the interviewer made them decide to go through with the interview – his or her personality, voice, friendliness, or even the fact that the interviewer is a student. Nine percent say they wanted to participate because of either the poll’s Rutgers affiliation or their own connection to the university.

Other reasons mentioned for doing the poll include: wanting to help and be a part of research (9 percent); a general curiosity about polling (8 percent); an interest in politics overall or the specific topics that were asked (7 percent); simply because they were asked to participate (6 percent); because they feel polls are important (4 percent); a sense of civic duty (3 percent); and something to do with New Jersey itself, either because the poll was asking about it or because the respondent wanted to assist their state (2 percent).

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