Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: Debt Ceiling Agreement Has New Jersey Voters Split; Frustrated at Washington

Well, summer is nearly over, and we’re back with a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. We will have a number of releases on this poll over the next week and a half. Our first release takes a look at the recent debt ceiling crisis/debate/compromise/agreement and what New Jersey voters think about it. For the most part, they are not particularly happy – opinion on the agreement itself is evenly split, and those who paid the most attention are the most negative about how things are going in Washington. In fact, the level of anger and frustration with Washington is extraordinarily high, and it’s likely the debt crisis simply made that worse.

As usual, the text of the release is below. For a PDF of the release with questions and tables related to this topic, click here.

Debt Ceiling Agreement Has New Jersey Voters Split; Frustrated at Washington

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – New Jersey Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing: voters of both parties are evenly split over the debt limit agreement recently reached in Washington, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. While Democrats narrowly support the agreement, 40 percent to 38 percent, Republicans are also split, with 36 percent supporting and 41 percent opposing the agreement. New Jersey independents are also slightly opposed, with 39 percent in favor and 43 percent against. Overall, 39 percent of New Jersey voters support the agreement and 41 percent oppose it, while 20 percent are not sure. Those who paid the most attention to the debate also reported the most anger with Washington and the strongest belief that Washington “no longer works.”

“The agreement seems to have made few New Jersey voters happy,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Maybe it’s the sign of a good compromise that partisans on both sides are disappointed, or perhaps it simply reflects that the contentious process really didn’t solve anything.”

Results are from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 615 registered voters conducted among both landline and cell phone households from August 9 – 15, with a margin of error for the full sample of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

More NJ Voters Blame Republicans for Crisis

While voters of both parties are less than thrilled about the debt ceiling compromise, they differ completely in where they place the blame for the crisis. More than a third (34 percent) of Republicans says President Barack Obama was most to blame and another19 percent blame Democrats in Congress.

Only a few Republicans place blame on their own party in Congress (8 percent) or on Tea Party Republicans specifically (3 percent). Another 24 percent say “someone else” is to blame, and 13 percent don’t know. Democrats, not surprisingly, have different take, with 39 percent blaming Republicans in Congress and an additional 29 percent blaming Tea Party Republicans specifically. Only about 2 percent places the blame on either Obama or Democrats in Congress, while 19 percent say someone else is to blame, and 11 percent don’t know.

Independents are more likely to blame Republicans, with 20 percent naming Tea Party Republicans and 15 percent Republicans in Congress, while 15 percent blame Obama and 13 percent blame Democrats in Congress. Twenty-three percent of independents blame “someone else” and 14 percent don’t know whom to blame.

“For the most part, Republicans in Washington emerge from the debate in somewhat worse shape than do Democrats, at least among New Jersey voters,” said Redlawsk. “There are, of course, more Democrats in New Jersey, which accounts for part of it, but by a 35 to 28 percent margin, independents lay more blame on Republicans than on Democrats.”

NJ Voters Want Revenues and Spending Cuts

When asked to choose from a set of three options for getting the federal budget “under control,” Garden Staters strongly support increased tax revenues, while opposing across-the-board cuts with no tax increases. Among all voters, 42 percent support a balance of tax increases on higher earners with some cuts in programs like Medicare, while another 19 percent support tax increases that would avoid any cuts. Only 22 percent want cuts and no tax increases, while 12 percent opt for none of these choices.

Democrats and Republicans have different views on how to fix the federal budget, though independents lean toward Democratic preferences. While 42 percent of Republicans call for across-the- board cuts and no tax increases, only 12 percent of Democrats agree. Only about 1 in 5 independents agrees that getting the budget under control should be done this way. Democrats prefer a mix of tax increases on the wealthy and small program cuts, with 53 percent of Democrats choosing this approach, compared to only 29 percent of Republicans. Independents side mostly with Democrats here, with 42 percent preferring a mix of tax increases and budget cuts. Nearly equal percentages of Democrats (24 percent) and independents (20 percent) would like to see tax increases and no budget cuts used to solve the problem, while few Republicans (11 percent) agree with this position.

The 22 percent of New Jerseyans who want across the board cuts are partly a reflection of stronger Tea Party support for this position. About 42 percent of those who have a favorable impression of the Tea Party support only budget cuts, while only 10 percent of those with an unfavorable view of the Tea Party movement agree. At the same time, 31 percent of Tea Party supporters in New Jersey support a mix of tax increases and budget cuts, while 53 percent of those unfavorable to the movement take this position. Those unsure of their feelings toward the Tea Party are much more evenly split, with 35 percent favoring across-the-board spending cuts and 29 percent preferring a mix of cuts and tax increases. Another 15 percent of these voters wants taxes raised to avoid spending cuts, compared to only 7 percent with a positive view of the Tea Party and 24 percent viewing the movement negatively.

“These differences reflect the core beliefs of each party,” said Redlawsk,. “But independents lean strongly in the direction of the Democrats on a preferred solution. Yet with the parties so far apart, there may be little hope of meeting in the middle, where most New Jersey voters seem to want them.”

Attention to the Debate May Have Increased Frustration with Washington

Many New Jersey voters paid careful attention to the debt ceiling debate, with 36 percent saying they followed the debate “very closely” and another 41 percent saying they followed it “somewhat closely.” Only 23 percent say they did not follow it closely at all. Members of both parties and independents were about equally likely to say they followed the debate closely.
Men were much more likely to say they followed the debate very closely – 47 percent of men, compared to 25 percent of women, paid very close attention. While only 17 percent of men said they did not follow it at all closely, nearly a third of women – 30 percent – did not pay close attention.

Following the debate very closely seems to have led to greater opposition to the agreement. A majority (57 percent) of those who paid close attention oppose the outcome, while only 39 percent support it. On the other hand, those following “somewhat closely” are in favor of the compromise, 46 percent to 39 percent. Voters not following it at all are also more in favor, 26 percent to 22 percent, but a majority (52 percent) of those not paying attention are not sure what they think.

Those paying the most attention were also more likely than others to place blame for the crisis on Tea Party Republicans, at 26 percent of close followers, while another 20 percent blame Republicans in Congress. Fewer blame Obama (17 percent) or Democrats in Congress (14 percent).

Policy preferences differ depending on how closely voters followed the debate. Among those following it most closely, 48 percent prefer a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, while 27 percent want across the board cuts and 13 percent support tax increases with no cuts. Preferences are similar among those following the debate “somewhat closely” but are very different among those not following the debate closely at all. Among the latter group, 32 percent would prefer only tax increases with no spending cuts, and 28 percent want a balanced approach, while 20 percent support across the board cuts.

Those who followed the debate very closely were much more likely to also say that Washington “no longer works,” with 78 percent of those who paid the most attention agreeing. Far fewer – 56 percent – of those who did not pay close attention to the debate feel the same way. At the same time 76 percent of voters who paid close attention say thinking about the government in Washington makes them angry, compared to 67 percent of those who did not follow the debate closely.

“For the most part, the debate in Washington engaged Garden Staters,” said Redlawsk. “But it may also have increased already high levels of anger and frustration with politics. Voters are split on the outcome, angry with Washington, and probably frustrated that they did not get what they wanted.”

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