A Closer Look by the ECPIP Staff … Senator Cory Booker: On the Rise to 2016?

As we gear up for our next Rutgers-Eagleton Poll – the big 200th in 44 years of polling New Jersey! – our student staff takes a closer look at some of the data from our October survey that we have not yet had a chance to fully explore.

Senator Cory Booker: On the Rise to 2016?

By Evan Covello

Evan Covello is a sophomore at Rutgers University. Evan is a research assistant with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.


With only a few months to go until the primaries are underway, speculation regarding potential running mates will be heating up as the parties narrow down their fields. New Jersey’s own U.S. Senator Cory Booker, has emerged as a potential 2016 running mate for Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who currently leads the national polls for the Democratic nomination. As such, it is a good time for us to revisit Sen. Booker’s numbers – at least within his home state.

In his home state of New Jersey, 54 percent of registered voters have a favorable opinion of Senator Booker, with only 21 percent unfavorable toward him. Race influences Booker’s high favorability; Booker’s favorability is higher among those who identify as being non-white (59 percent) as opposed to those who identify as white (52 percent). Specifically, 80 percent of those who identify as black are favorable of Senator Booker, with only 8 percent saying they are unfavorable.

Age is also a large factor in Booker’s high favorability. Those who fall between the ages of 18-29 are favorable of Senator Booker at 51 percent, with 13 percent unfavorable, and 36 percent responding that they have no opinion or do not know. Although Booker’s favorability rises with age, so do negative feelings toward him, and the gap between those who view him favorably and unfavorably decreases. For example, those 50-64 years old have a higher favorability of Senator Booker (54 percent), but 26 percent are unfavorable – a 28-point gap, compared to a 38-point gap among millennials. Millennials – who, just like the Senator, are know for their tech savvy ways – have been a key demographic for Sen. Booker during his time in New Jersey.

Another demographic that one would normally expect to be a large support base for Democratic candidates would be women. The Center for American Women and Politics addresses the issue of the gender gap between the two political parties, showing that women are more likely to register as Democrats than as Republicans and are more likely to register as Democrats than men. With Booker being a Democrat, we would expect support among women to be a strong factor in his high level of favorability. Gender is not statistically significant for Sen. Booker, however, as there is very little difference between men (53 percent) and women (54 percent) who are favorable toward him.

With strong ratings throughout New Jersey – especially among those groups that make up a large portion of the Democratic base – Sen. Booker may be a great addition to a Clinton presidential ticket for 2016, especially with key demographics.

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Leading Up to our 200th Poll Ever … A Look back at the 1980s

Celebrating the 200th

A Look Back at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: The 1980s

By Abigail Orr

Abigail Orr is a junior at Rutgers University. Abigail is a research assistant with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Here at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, we are about to approach our 200th poll ever – quite a milestone and a marker of just how long we have been polling New Jersey politics. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was the nation’s first university-based state survey when it was established with funding from the Wallace-Eljabar Fund in October 1971. It has been called many different names and has had many different directors over the past 44 years, but what has remained constant is its dedication to contributing to the public dialogue in the state; to access our over four decades of data, you can visit our extensive data archive. For more information on the poll’s history, check out our website: http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/rutgers-eagleton-poll/

This is our second decade-by-decade analysis as we gear up for our 200th poll; you can see our first decade-by-decade analysis from last week here on our blog. We have an amazing team of interns who have been working very hard on researching our past and analyzing old questionnaires, press releases, and data. Special thanks to Sonni Waknin, Natalie DeAngelo, and Abigail Orr on this project.  


The 1980s marked a new ‘morning in America,” with high spirits and economic prosperity, often attributed to President Ronald Reagan. Throughout this decade, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll asked questions about such topics as education, the president, elections, political figures, and safety within the Garden State.

Education has always been an important topic in New Jersey and was especially prevalent in the 1980s. One question during this decade read: “Suppose the local public schools said they need more money. Would you vote for or against raising taxes for this purpose?” Fifty-two percent of New Jerseyans said they would vote for more taxes for local schools, while 34 percent said they would vote against more taxes. Eight percent said it would depend, and 6 percent did not know what they would do in this situation.

Another question asked during the 1980s was about culture: “Some people feel the state should support the arts in New Jersey, saying that beyond running the government, the state should try to enrich peoples lives. Others feel the state should give no support to the arts, saying this is not something the state should or needs to be involved in – which view comes closest to your own?” 58 percent of respondents said the state should support the arts, while 29 percent said the state should not support the arts. Four percent said it depends and 10 percent did not know.

Other question topics during the 1980s included: the close 1981 gubernatorial race between Kean and Florio, state tourism slogans, casino gambling, toxic waste, crime, Iran-Contra, drinking and driving, the right to die, and – believe it or not – how home computers are not a trend but rather here to stay.

1980s Word Cloud

Word Cloud of All Press Release Topics: 1980-1989

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Eagleton in Iowa Series: Trump in Iowa

For the last few months, 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 frontrunner Donald Trump.

Donald Trump: Superman with a Super Will

I think I get it now. I mean, I got it intellectually before. People are angry, frustrated, looking for something. But after attending a Donald Trump event in Burlington recently, I get it emotionally. At least I can see what the feeling of Trump means to the true-believer Trumpites.

Trump is about a future that is much better than today and more importantly about the force of will to make it so. Most candidates have some future-looking aspect to their campaign which they claim they will pursue if elected. But Trump really seems different, so bombastic in his praise of himself and his abilities that you almost have to believe it could be true.

Trump1The rally is being held in Burlington, Iowa’s Memorial Auditorium, which hulks along the Mississippi River. The Auditorium was opened nearly 80 years ago, and according to its website was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the depression-era agency that was responsible for massive public works projects around the country. Inside, the space is perfect for this kind of rally. Big open space in front of the stage, surrounded by seating on multiple levels for those of us who did not want to stand for hours.

Ironically, perhaps, the WPA was a government effort to rebuild America, physically, while putting people to work. It succeeded at least in terms of the schools, libraries, auditoriums, and the like it left behind. It was a previous era’s attempt to recover from malaise and make America great again. But it was an effort that required hard work and sacrifice. Not so the make it great again of Donald Trump.Trump2

Waiting for the main event, the nearly overflowing crowd – 2,000+ people – is excited and anticipatory, waiting on the man that many see as a potential savior of our country, of our future. What fascinates me, and challenges logic, is that this savior is not one of them, did not rise out of the masses to come to save us, but instead is himself part of the moneyed elite that candidates on both sides are spending a great deal of time attacking of the aisle spend attacking. Somehow, the fact that Trump is not one of us adds to his power; it is plausible to think since he’s traveled in those rarefied circles he fully understands how to make the world do what he wants.

Tana Goertz, Trump’s Iowa co-chair gives a short warm up speech reminding folks that they have to caucus for anything to happen. Given the location, many of those at the event were from Illinois rather than Iowa, so the pitch made for filling out Trump commitment cards was lost on them. But both the call for committing to caucus and an additional enticement of a Trump T-shirt for signing up as a precinct leader provided some evidence that the Trump campaign in Iowa has pivoted to the necessary ground game. But that’s neither here nor there right now.

Goertz closes by calling out to the crowd in a way that almost felt chilling to me: The Trump train will steamroll anything in its way to the White House. While this may or may not be the case – the day after the rally the first poll showing Ben Carson ahead of Trump was released, and more have come since – the crowd responds with a roar.

What I feel in that roaring crowd is a palpable sense of desire for something, anything, that will somehow change things. What things? Well, that’s not so clear. In many cases people have specifics on their mind. And Trump himself, once he gets past the first 20+ minutes reading his poll results, does address a few issues. But for the most part, that’s not what people are excited about. Oh, sure, they cheer Trumps’ claim that he will lower taxes and simplify the tax code (“It will be beautiful,” he says.) And they seem to like the other policies he touches on. The crowd also appreciates the idea that, as Trump says, “Nobody controls me.” And they really go wild when he says “I’m a good Christian, when I’m president we will say Merry Christmas again.

But they aren’t really there for all that.

What they are there for is to see Trump as Trump, the ultimate salesman, who tells us that he is running because he’s tired of others failing. In particular he calls out Mitt Romney, saying Romney failed, so I have to do it myself. Trump, who no matter how much is spent against him will prevail because he is literally superman. He knows how it all works, and he will cut through it all by the force of his outsized will.

Trump3As Trump goes on with an hour-long stream-of-consciousness speech, I decide that the crowd basically just likes the language. They like the superlatives, the self-referential ego-driven commentary, and yes, the demagoguery. It touches them emotionally and in the end, the effect seems to be to make people feel good about themselves just because they were there to hear it all. The rhetoric hits home. American is losing, and keeps losing.

It is a depressing message and one other candidates use as well. I’m thinking here particularly of Bobby Jindal’s talk about the loss of the “idea of America.” But in Trump’s world that losing will end. Not might end, not might be fixed a little, but, as simply put by Trump, “We won’t lose any more. I will make us great. Hillary won’t have a clue about what’s happening with jobs going to other countries. Hillary would say we don’t like it, but would be hit by lobbyists. I’ll be hit, but they won’t have a chance, it’s over.” He goes on to say that he has the best people, and the best people can fix it. And the crowd continues to cheer. All that is needed to make this happen is the best people, and the best of the best is Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is superman. And like Star Trek’s Captain Picard, Donald Trump just has to say it to “make it so.” The will to make it happen is the power to make it happen. All that’s missing in Washington and America is someone who has the will to just fix it, and Donald Trump tells us he has it. Who wouldn’t want that?

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Leading Up to our 200th Poll Ever … A Look back at the 1970s

Celebrating the 200th

A Look Back at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: The 1970s

By Sonni Waknin

Sonni Waknin is a junior at Rutgers University. Sonni is the lead poll historian and a research associate with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Here at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, we are about to approach our 200th poll ever – quite a milestone and a marker of just how long we have been polling New Jersey politics. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was the nation’s first university-based state survey when it was established with funding from the Wallace-Eljabar Fund in October 1971. It has been called many different names and has had many different directors over the past 44 years, but what has remained constant is its dedication to contributing to the public dialogue in the state; to access our over four decades of data, you can visit our extensive data archive. For more information on the poll’s history, check out our website: http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/rutgers-eagleton-poll/

This is our first decade-by-decade analysis as we gear up for our 200th poll. We have an amazing team of interns who have been working very hard on researching our past and analyzing old questionnaires, press releases, and data. Special thanks to Sonni Waknin, Natalie DeAngelo, and Abigail Orr on this project.  


In American history, the 1970s is marked as a tumultuous decade. Filled with war, protests, and reform, the 1970s culture and counterculture was a driving force in changing the political atmosphere. Founded in 1971, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll cataloged the shift in public perception and opinion throughout the decade. Recurring themes in poll questions during this decade included education local government knowledge, reform, taxes, and drug use.

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was founded as the nation’s first university based public opinion poll. One of the first major releases for the poll pertained to New Jersey state elections. The center’s major finding was that, with elections for State Senate and General Assembly only two weeks off, 85 percent of adults did not know which members of the two bodies were even up for election. The poll also asked a variety of questions on the public’s perception of New Jersey politics. Questions centered around government’s place in protecting the citizen from corruption and abuse by corporations.

Education appears to be a major theme throughout the ‘70s. Questions primarily asked during this decade focused on how states should fund school districts. One question asked respondents, “Local schools must be supported by some sort of tax money. If you had to choose, would you prefer paying for schools through the income tax or through property taxes?” 55 percent of respondents answered that they thought schools should be supported through income tax, while 33 percent of respondents believed that property taxes were the best method. In New Jersey, schools are funded through local property taxes, as well as funding from the state.

Another question asked was, “There are a number of ways to tell how well a student is doing in school. The student can be compared to other students, or the student can be evaluated on how much individual progress has been made during the course of the year. Finally, the student could be compared with some objective standards measuring the learning of important skills. Which one of these–comparison with others, individual progress, or objective standards–do you feel is the best way to tell how much a student has learned?” Sixty-five percent of respondents believed that students should be measured against their own individual achievement, and 20 percent supported objective standards. Only 10 percent of New Jerseyans supported other measures, such as being compared with others. Questions of how to measure schools’ effectiveness or how much children are achieving are questions still being asked today. The common core curriculum was recently put in place as a remedy and a standard to measure student performance; much debate has occurred over its implementation and impact, however.

Many of the questions asked in the 1970s are questions that are very applicable today. Education and taxes are two issues that have not lessened in importance by the public’s perception. Also, questions of how active one is in government or knowing about local elections are important to how political entities interact with citizens; in fact, in our latest poll over four decades later, we see very similar results. Today, many people do not know when state elections are held or even who their state representatives are. I guess we can say that even though a lot has changed since the 1970s, other things have certainly stayed the same.

Word Cloud of All Press Release Topics: 1971-1979

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Hurricane Sandy’s Third Anniversary: Some Progress, But Still More to Go

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey exactly three years ago today, so we wanted to revisit some questions about the Superstorm on our most recent poll – specifically some recovery ratings we have been polling at various points throughout the past three years.  Inspired by Gov. Chris Christie’s original comments about rating boardwalk conditions the very first Memorial Day weekend post-Sandy, we have been asking New Jerseyans to rate recovery within a few geographic and socioeconomic areas on a scale from 1 (not at all recovered) to10 (completely recovered).

We see some good news and some bad news in today’s results. On the one hand, a slight majority of voters still think the state is not yet back to normal. On the other hand, this number is down more than 10 points since last polled a year and a half ago. As for recovery progress, ratings are up across the board since last time. The downside? Those areas most desperately still in need – the NJ Shore region and homeowners who sustained Sandy damaged – are rated the lowest on average by New Jerseyans. Bottom line: while residents perceive the state as a whole, tourism, and businesses have all bounced back for the most part, they do not feel the same about those who were most affected. While ratings on Shore and homeowner recovery have increased, they still lag far behind ratings of the other recovery areas.

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


 Recovery seen as progressing but still incomplete, especially for hardest hit

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New Jersey three years ago, but residents continue to feel its effects today and do not believe that the state has fully recovered, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty-four percent of New Jerseyans say life still is not back to normal, while 37 percent say it is and another 9 percent are unsure. While a majority continues to be pessimistic, this is an improvement since the question was last asked 18 months ago, when 67 percent thought normalcy had not yet returned and only 26 percent had a more positive outlook.

The slight increase in residents’ perceptions of normalcy is accompanied by a bump in the ratings they give to recovery progress in certain geographic and socioeconomic areas, but scores still indicate a need for additional work. On a 10-point scale, with 1 meaning “not at all recovered” and 10 meaning “fully recovered,” New Jerseyans rate recovery of the Shore at 5.8 on average, up almost a whole point since April 2014 but still lagging behind other areas. Respondents score recovery for homeowners with damage from Sandy even lower, at 5.3, up a half-point.

Assessments of business and tourism recovery are much more favorable. Residents rate businesses at 6.9, up one point from 18 months ago. Tourism receives the biggest boost and one of the best ratings of all the recovery areas, now at 7.1 on average, up from 5.9.

New Jerseyans rate recovery of the state in general about the same as they did during the first summer post-Sandy, also at 7.1 on average – tying with tourism as one of the two highest scores.

“On the third anniversary of Sandy making landfall in New Jersey, we see a somewhat greater sense of optimism and progress,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “ At the same time, residents know the state has not completely returned to its pre-Sandy days and are very aware of those geographic areas and individuals who continue to need help the most – the Shore and homeowners who suffered storm damage.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Oct. 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Sandy’s original impact, partisanship color Shore and homeowner ratings

While New Jerseyans on average give Shore recovery a so-so rating, there are signs of greater positivity and progress than in April 2014. One-quarter give Shore recovery a 5, while almost half give higher ratings of either a 6 (12 percent), 7 (19 percent), or 8 (15 percent) – quite a switch from 18 months ago. Another quarter of residents rate Shore recovery lower than 5, distributed somewhat evenly among these lowest rankings.

But this overall positive view varies with key factors. Shore residents give progress in their area a 5.5 average rating – slightly less than other regions but still an increase of over half a point since 2014. Those personally affected by Sandy give progress at the Shore an average rating of 5.7, though this is also up almost a point since last time. Those who were not affected give a slightly higher rating, though not by much, at 5.9. Views on the state being back to normal matter greatly here, however: there is almost a two-point disparity between those who believe normalcy has returned and those who do not, with the latter giving a much lower average rating, 5.1 versus 6.9.

Partisanship and approval of Gov. Chris Christie on Sandy also have an impact. Republicans, those who are favorable toward Christie, and those who approve of his efforts on Sandy recovery are all more likely to rate the Shore higher than their counterparts.

Similar patterns emerge in rating recovery progress of homeowners who suffered storm damage. Just over half of New Jerseyans rate homeowner recovery at 5 or lower; while just under half rate it higher, mostly concentrated among scores of 6, 7, or 8. Shore residents are more negative compared to others around the state, giving an average score of 4.9 in this area, compared to exurbanites and suburbanites who give slightly higher ratings – at 5.6 and 5.5, respectively. Those personally affected by Sandy score homeowner recovery similarly to those not directly affected – 5.4 versus 5.2 – but those who say life is not yet back to normal are much more negative than those who say the opposite. While there is no difference by partisanship in scoring this area, those who disapprove of Christie’s recovery efforts give the most negative score of all on average, at 4.5.

Business and tourism much improved across the board

New Jerseyans are much more positive about progress with the recovery of tourism and business in general than about the Shore or homeowners. Residents are most likely to rate tourism recovery rather positively, with 40 percent evenly divided between a score of 7 and 8; 88 percent give it a score of 5 or higher. For business recovery, Garden Staters are most likely to rate it an 8, at 25 percent, and 90 percent rate it at 5 or above.

Even those living down the Shore and those personally affected by Sandy give tourism recovery an average rating of 7.2 – up more than a point for both groups since April 2014. But residents who believe the state is not yet back to normal post-storm rate this area a 6.6, compared to 7.8 among those who believe normalcy has returned.

Republicans are slightly more likely to rate tourism higher than Democrats or independents. Those who disapprove of Christie’s handling of Sandy recovery, in general, show a large disparity compared to their counterparts – an average rating of 6.6 compared to 7.4 among those who approve of Christie’s Sandy-related efforts.

As for the recovery of business in general, ratings among those living down the Shore show quite a boost from 18 months ago, now at 6.8 from 5.5, looking more like the scores given by residents in other regions. New Jerseyans personally affected by the storm now give slightly higher ratings than those who were not, 7.1 compared to 6.7, though both have increased more than half a point since last polled. Once again, those who say life has returned to normal and those in Christie’s corner give higher ratings than those who disagree in each of these areas.

State as a whole seen as “stronger than the storm” across the board

More than nine in 10 residents give post-Sandy progress across all of New Jersey a rating of 5 or higher; half rate the state’s recovery an 8 (28 percent), 9 (16 percent), or 10 (6 percent).

Residents from all areas of the state give similar ratings, not much of a difference from when last asked two and a half years ago. Those affected by Sandy in fact rank state recovery slightly higher than those not affected, 7.2 compared to 6.9, but even back in June 2013, Sandy victims were no more likely to give lower scores in this area, standing virtually on par with those not affected during that first post-Sandy summer. While views differ little by partisanship, those disapproving of the way Christie has handled Sandy score state recovery more than a point lower than those who approve, 6.4 compared to 7.5 on average. Views on post-Sandy normalcy produce the largest gap – an average rating of 8 among those who believe the state is back to normal, versus 6.4 among those who do not.

“We started asking these recovery scales when Gov. Christie rated conditions on the boardwalk during that first Memorial Day Weekend post-Sandy,” said Koning. “We see that views on New Jersey post-Superstorm have really not changed from 2013; residents continue to think the state is doing well. We also see gains in all other recovery areas between April 2014 and today. But whereas business and tourism are now roughly tied with state recovery as a whole, we see the least movement and a continuation of a large rating gap between these aforementioned areas and perceptions of recovery among those most impacted by the storm.”

Widespread sense of Sandy’s lingering disruption despite recovery progress

New Jerseyans across the board still feel the state is not back to normal three years later. Shore residents are most likely to feel this way, compared to those living in other areas: 67 percent take this more negative view, while about half in every other region feel the same. Residents unfavorable toward Christie and especially those who disapprove of the way he is handling Sandy recovery efforts are much more negative than Christie supporters, with 59 percent and 73 percent, respectively, sharing a more negative outlook.

Normalcy is also influenced by gender, age, and income. Women take a more negative view, at 61 percent, than men, who are more split (45 percent to 47 percent). Feelings of a return to normalcy decrease with age; 54 percent of millennials feel the state is back to normal, compared to just 21 percent of senior citizens. Pessimism is greater among all but residents in the most affluent households: while over half of residents in all other income brackets feel normalcy has not yet returned, those in households making $150,000 or more are split at 47 percent.

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Our release today revisits some of the very first ever questions on our very first ever poll (what was then simply called the New Jersey Poll) almost 45 years ago. It being a somewhat special anniversary year for us as we approach our 200th poll ever, we re-asked this series of questions on the state legislature that had made up the Poll’s first ever press release. We can see from the results here that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Four decades later, New Jerseyans are just as likely (if not more so) to not know a legislative election within the state is about to take place … or who is currently representing them in the state legislature.

To see the original releases from 1971:

Release #1 October 20, 1971 (state legislature)

Release #2 November 7, 1971 (most important problem)

A very special thank you to our incredible staff of undergraduate students at Rutgers who assisted with this release: Zach Goldfarb, Evan Covello, Abigail Orr, Natalie DeAngelo, and Carly Frank. An additional very special thank you to ECPIP graduate assistant Kathleen Rogers on this release.

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



NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – 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 today remain uninformed about the Legislature, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Three-quarters of Garden State residents are completely unaware that any elections will be held next week, just slightly better than the 85 percent who were ignorant in 1971, in what was then called the New Jersey Poll.

But residents actually do 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 say that the state Assembly is on the ballot this year, and 3 percent mention the Legislature in general.

Even fewer residents can correctly name their own state senators. Among all Garden Staters, 8 percent give some name, but only 5 percent actually get it right.

Knowledge about control of the Legislature is more widespread: half of residents are aware that Democrats are in charge, slightly better than the 43 percent who knew in 1971 that Republicans ran the show.

Residents’ low levels of political knowledge most likely feed into ambivalence toward the Legislature. Continuing a longstanding trend, 40 percent have no opinion or are unaware of the state Legislature, 28 percent are favorable, and 32 percent are unfavorable. Asked about the parties within the Legislature, about one-quarter feel favorably toward the Republicans and one-third toward the Democrats. Another third of New Jerseyans have no feeling toward either party.

“As we approach Rutgers-Eagleton’s 200th poll, we are revisiting some questions from its earliest days. It appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same – at least when it comes to awareness of state government,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “In general, citizens know relatively little about state government, so as the Poll’s first director Stephen Salmore said in 1971, it is ‘depressing but not really surprising.’ In particular, this is an off-year election, and with the General Assembly at the top of the ticket and the only office appearing on every New Jersey ballot, Legislative elections are definitely not on New Jerseyans’ radar this November.”

In another constant in almost a half-century of polling, residents continue to cite taxes and the economy and jobs as the most important problems facing the Garden State; each is named by about one in four residents. They also think the government is making very little progress toward solving anything, no matter their top concern.

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Oct. 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Widespread lack of knowledge of races, individual representatives

When asked to name which state office(s) are on the ballot this November, even the quarter of respondents who claim they know do not necessarily have the correct information. Five percent wrongly guess the state Senate, 3 percent mention another office besides one within the state Legislature, and 12 percent believe there will be no elections held at all next week. Registered voters do little better, with 9 percent correctly mentioning the state Assembly and 4 percent saying the Legislature overall.

Awareness increases steadily with age: senior citizens are most likely to correctly state that the Assembly is up for election, at 10 percent, compared to 1 percent of millennials. The latter group is instead the most likely cohort to say the do not know which office(s) will be on the ballot.

Those from the most affluent households and who are the most educated also reach double digits in accuracy, with 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively, knowing about the state Assembly races. Public union households are in this camp as well, at 15 percent.

In addition, residents with an opinion on state Republicans, state Democrats, and the state legislature as a whole – whether favorable or unfavorable – are more likely to be aware of the state Assembly races.

Similar patterns emerge among those who correctly identify their state senator. Older residents, those from more affluent households, those most educated, and those with an unfavorable opinion of the state Legislature tend to know their representatives slightly better than their counterparts – though these numbers barely reach 10 percent.

“When it comes to races at the state level, the same demographic groups who were most aware when we first polled this topic in 1971 continue that tradition today. Over 40 years later, we still see disparities according to factors such as age and education,” noted Koning. “Nonetheless, even among the most knowledgeable groups, New Jerseyans are still largely uninformed.”

The top three most often correctly identified state senators are Steven V. Oroho (R-24), Thomas H. Kean, Jr. (R-21), and Loretta Weinberg (D-27). State Sens. Sandra B. Cunningham (D-31), Bob Smith (D-17), and Kean, Jr. are the three most likely to be mistakenly named by residents as their own representatives.

More awareness of state parties, control, and overall Legislature       

While New Jerseyans may not know about next week’s election or which state senator is currently representing them, Democratic control of the State House is correctly assumed across the board – though to varying degrees. Those who identify with parties are more likely to do so than others (50 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans). Once again, residents who are older, more affluent, more educated, have a household member in a public union, and who have an impression about the state Legislature tend to answer correctly more than their counterparts.

Many groups are more likely to have no impression of the state Legislature at all than to lean one way or the other. Among those with opinions, Democrats are more favorable than unfavorable toward the Legislature, while independents and Republicans take a more negative view. Views are mainly divided by party support, with those who tend to side more with the Democratic Party in general also more likely to have a positive view of the Democrat-controlled state Legislature. Yet among those aware that the Democrats have control, 42 percent are unfavorable, versus 30 percent who are favorable.

When asked separately about Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature, residents are only slightly more likely to form an opinion. Thirty-seven percent of New Jerseyans are favorable toward Democrats in the state Legislature, while 28 percent are unfavorable; 35 percent remain unsure. Twenty-four percent feel favorably about Republicans, compared to 41 percent who do not, and 36 percent who are unsure.

Typical party allegiances play an especially large role in favorability of the individual parties. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats have a favorable impression of their own party in the Legislature, while 63 percent of Republicans feel the same about the state GOP.

Different decade, same problems

Over four decades ago, 26 percent of New Jerseyans cited taxes as the number one problem in the state, and the same is true today. The economy, including jobs and unemployment, ranks close to taxes, as it has over the past several years, at 23 percent; this is similar to its 1971 showing at 24 percent, when the category also included poverty and welfare. “Education and schools” comes in third at 11 percent, half the proportion citing that problem in the very first poll. “Crime and drugs” took second place in 1971 (at 24 percent), but now has dropped to fourth, at 9 percent. Six percent now mention something related to traffic, transportation, and infrastructure, compared to 11 percent back then. Residents continue to have issues with government as they did 44 years ago, including spending and corruption.

No matter the problem mentioned, just 1 percent believes the government is doing a great deal about their particular issue, and 15 percent say a fair amount is being done. More than half – 54 percent – say very little is being accomplished, 26 percent say nothing at all, and 4 percent are unsure.

Those who cite one of the top two concerns drive this negativity on the state government’s progress: on taxes, 53 percent say very little and 33 percent say nothing at all is happening, while 59 percent and 22 percent, respectively, say the same about the economy.

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Hindsight is Always 20/20 … Revisiting the ARC Tunnel, Looking Ahead to the Gateway Project, and the Role Mass Transit Plays in New Jersey

We continue with our mini transportation series this week, now looking at the current status of public transportation in the state – particularly the pending Gateway project aiming to repair and add to the existing Hudson River rail tunnels, as well as a look back on Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC tunnel project in 2010. New Jerseyans are regretting the project’s termination five years ago, now disagreeing with Christie’s handling of it – a sharp contrast to the majority support they showed for his decision back in October and December 2010. Mass transit is integral to New Jersey life, used almost as frequently as the roadways. And after Hurricane Sandy two years ago and a summer of massive delays, New Jerseyans can sense the urgency that something needs to be done.  But just like in 2010, residents continue to be concerned about cost; many even say the state should prioritize road and bridge projects before anything to do with mass transit. It is within these questions where we see New Jerseyans divided into two basic camps – those for whom mass transit is vital to their personal and professional lives, versus those unaffected by trains and buses who most likely stick to driving around Jersey roads.

We once again see that context plays an important role here. While cost concerns were widely cited as the reason for the ARC tunnel’s cancellation, much of the current news about the Gateway project has been framed as a dire need for repairs within the next two decades before the tunnels are forced closed … meaning utter chaos for the mass transit system in the state, running at half its capacity. We look at how these different pieces of information affect residents’ reflections on the ARC tunnel; long story short, context matters, and it is exactly the type of urgency frame currently being used to advocate for the Gateway project that seems to make residents more inclined to support something like it.

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


 Most say tunnels are important but want adequate funding before new building begins

 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As transit and transportation industry leaders and federal and state officials take early steps to make the Hudson River “Gateway” program a reality, New Jersey residents are troubled by the state of the existing rail tunnels and are second-guessing Gov. Chris Christie’s 2010 termination of the ARC tunnel project, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Just over half of New Jersey residents express at least some concern over the current state of the trans-Hudson tunnels. Likewise, 51 percent say Christie should have gone through with the ARC tunnel five years ago, while 27 percent believe he did the right thing by quashing the project. Another 22 percent are unsure.

Reflections on the ARC project’s cancellation vary according to the context provided. When told Christie’s decision was due to concerns about New Jersey’s inability to absorb cost overruns, state residents are split, more likely to side with the governor than before: 41 percent support his decision in this case, versus 42 percent who say he should have gone through with it. Disagreement with Christie’s decision jumps to 60 percent when residents learn about the tunnels’ age and their limited remaining lifespan; just 26 percent take his side when given this information.

“This is a definite departure from 2010, when over half of New Jerseyans supported Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC tunnel because he foresaw cost overruns,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Five years, one Superstorm, and numerous transit delays later, it has become clear to New Jerseyans just how critical functioning tunnels are to the state.”

Despite sensing the urgency of replacing the tunnels, two of every three New Jerseyans want to secure revenue for the Gateway project before starting planning and construction. About one in four wants to start as soon as possible and worry about funding later.

Virtually all believe the rail tunnels are important to New Jersey’s economic development and quality of life: about half take public transportation to get into New York City, and just over half use some part of the state’s mass transit system. The same number rate public transportation in New Jersey as excellent or good, but about four in ten say the state underfunds it.

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from October 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Context of ARC decision causes partisan differences

The poll randomly divided respondents into three groups to ask about the cancelled ARC tunnel. One group was asked for their views on Christie’s 2010 decision with no further context, another was given additional information about Christie’s original concern that New Jersey would be responsible for cost overruns if the project proceeded, and the third was told the current tunnels’ age (105 years old) and expected lifespan before being forced to close (up to 20 years).

Differences must be interpreted with caution due to small group sizes, but divisions by party lines are evident both within and across the different versions. A solid majority of Republicans support their governor’s decision when given no additional context or when told about potential extra costs, but are more split when told about the current tunnels’ condition.

Independents are more mixed than others when given no additional information – 28 percent say Christie was right, 46 percent disagree. When told about the extra cost burden, independents side more with the governor, 47 percent to 38 percent. Information about the tunnels’ current status provokes the most negativity among independents: 61 percent believe Christie made the wrong choice.

Almost three-quarters of Democrats say Christie should have gone through with ARC – both without additional context and when told about the tunnels’ condition – and are only less likely to disagree (at 55 percent) when told about cost concerns.

Residents most familiar with, in need of tunnels most likely to regret ARC

No matter the context, those who have heard at least some news about the aging tunnels are more likely to say Christie should have gone through with the ARC project (about six in ten) than those who have heard little or nothing at all; a plurality of the latter group (48 percent) side with Christie when given the additional information about cost concerns.

Residents at least somewhat concerned about the tunnels’ condition are consistently more negative about Christie’s choice than those who have little or no concern, particularly when reminded of the tunnels’ age and lifespan (70 percent disagree with Christie). Those unconcerned are more split, reaching a bare majority in support of the cancellation when told of costs.

Views on the overall condition of public transportation in the state have a similar effect: those who say mass transit is in fair or poor shape are slightly more likely than those who say excellent or good to disagree with Christie’s ARC decision.

Other groups who are more negative than positive about the governor’s decision, and who are less likely to change their views even when told about cost, include: those who say the tunnels are very important to New Jersey’s economy and overall quality of life, compared to those who say they are somewhat important; those who say not enough is spent on mass transit, compared to those who say spending is just right; those who take public transportation into New York City instead of driving; and those who say the tunnels should be built as soon as possible instead of waiting for funding.

“It is no surprise that we see these divides, especially based on what information residents are given,” said Koning. “Context matters when discussing these issues – and hindsight is always 20/20. Moreover, whatever the question, the answer is colored by personal circumstances. Those who rely on the trans-Hudson tunnels view the ARC cancellation as a big mistake.”

Funding mass transit projects most important to those most impacted

There is widespread caution when it comes to paying for the new Gateway program. While Govs. Christie and Cuomo want to act first and figure out finances later, New Jerseyans want just the opposite. Even Republicans are solidly against the governor’s decision to spend money the state does not yet have (at 76 percent). The opposition to immediate spending is also especially strong among: middle and higher income residents, those who rarely or never use mass transit (69 percent), those who have heard little or nothing about the condition of the current rail tunnels (70 percent), those who say roads and bridges should be a higher funding priority (72 percent), those with no one in the household working in New York City (67 percent), as well as those living in exurban (76 percent), shore (73 percent), and southern counties near Philadelphia (68 percent).

“Residents know something needs to be done, but as in 2010, they are concerned about cost,” noted Koning. “Those not as directly affected by the tunnels want to pay first and build later – something that may prove difficult given the reality of the multi-decade project ahead.”

A plurality of New Jerseyans (43 percent) think the state needs to spend more on public transportation in general; another 33 percent think New Jersey spends just the right amount. The feeling that spending is lacking reaches a majority among those groups most informed and affected: those more concerned about the existing tunnels (51 percent), those who have heard more about the tunnels’ condition (58 percent), those who say the system is in only fair or poor shape (66 percent), those who most often use trains as their mode of transport (52 percent), and those with someone in the household working in New York City (56 percent).

Nonetheless, New Jerseyans rank roads and bridges as a more important concern than mass transit if they had to choose where transportation spending would be used: 65 percent say the former should be prioritized, while 20 percent say the latter, and another 11 percent say both.

Tunnels a big part of Garden State life

Residents recognize the strong impact the rail tunnels have in New Jersey. Fifty-two percent say they are very important and another 34 percent say somewhat important to economic development in the state; just 7 percent say they are not important at all. New Jerseyans feel similarly about the tunnels’ importance to quality of life: 41 percent say very important, 43 percent say somewhat important, and just 9 percent say not important at all.

Eighteen percent are very concerned about the current state of the trans-Hudson rail tunnels, while another 32 percent say they are somewhat concerned; 23 percent are not very concerned, and 20 percent are not concerned at all. Concern is generally greatest among residents whose lives are most impacted by public transportation, those who know more about the tunnels’ current condition, and those who place a higher importance on the tunnels in everyday life.

Eight percent rate public transportation in New Jersey as excellent, another 41 percent say good. Twenty-nine percent say it is in fair condition, 10 percent say poor; 12 percent are unsure.

While not as common as driving in the state, about a quarter of New Jerseyans frequently use the state’s mass transit system, and almost one in five either work in New York City or have someone in their household who does. When going to New York City for any reason, New Jerseyans prefer taking mass transit to driving, 47 percent to 33 percent; 12 percent do some combination of the two.

Fifty-four percent of mass transit users take the train most often, while 33 percent take the bus. Among those who regularly use public transportation, about six in ten say they spend less than an hour on public transportation on any given weekday.

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