>The Logic of Voters: Personal Financial Situation and Vote Choice

>A few late thoughts on the election and voters’ perceptions of their financial condition. This is not one of our regular press releases; rather it is just something I find interesting.

Many have argued that this month’s election in which Republicans took the majority in the House of Representatives (winning one Democratic-held seat in NJ), was a referendum on the state of the economy. Though economists have officially proclaimed that the recession is over, our polling just before the election shows that New Jerseyans are still feeling the pinch.

When asked about their current financial situation, 44% of registered New Jersey voters said that they were worse off than they were a year ago, while 42% said that they were getting along “about the same” (and this is compared to the depths of the recession LAST year!) Only 14% of registered New Jersey voters said that they are better off financially than they were a year ago.

On our generic ballot test (vote for Republican or Democrat for Congress) the results are not surprising: among registered voters statewide who reported that they were worse off financially than a year ago, 42% chose the Republican versus 32% who chose the Democrat. On the other hand, those who said they were doing better were MUCH more likely to support a Democrat: 51% to 24%. Clearly, New Jerseyans who are feeling the pinch were more likely to want to elect Republicans, in repudiation (refudiation?) of the Democrats who were in charge.

We also saw that those who were worse off were more likely to say they would vote against their incumbent representative than those who were not doing so badly. (We asked half our respondents the generic ballot test and the other half an incumbent/challenger test.)

Those who said they are worse off now than they were this time last year were pretty evenly split, with 32% for their current congressman and 27% for a challenger. But, 42 percent of those doing “about the same” said they supported their incumbent, while 29% favored a challenger. And those who are doing better supported their current representative even more: 41% to 14%, a 27 point margin.

These results coincide with favorability ratings of the parties in Congress. Among those who report being worse off, 55% had an unfavorable view of Republicans, and 52% had an unfavorable view of Democrats. Essentially it’s a pox on both their houses – but given a two party system they had to vote for someone (if they voted) and as noted above, it was against Democrats.

Among those who report being better off financially than they were a year ago, an overwhelming 76% had an unfavorable view of Republicans, while only 42% were unfavorable towards Democrats. And for those doing about the same as last year, 61% were unfavorable toward Congressional Republicans and 52% were unfavorable toward Democrats.

This all seems very logical to me and suggests that voters do not just cast votes without any sense behind them. If you know Democrats are in charge and things aren’t getting better, than disliking them and voting against them makes sense. And if you are actually somehow doing better in this environment, you should want to reward those in charge. And that’s what we see, with the folks doing no better, no worse, solidly in the middle. Actually gives you some hope that voters (sort of) know what they are doing.

(Thanks to Virginia Tangel, of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll staff for this analysis.)

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