Today we have a quick pre-holiday poll on the 2012 presidential race in New Jersey. We didn’t ask a whole lot – just some straight forward questions on Republican nominee preference (for registered Republicans and independents leaning Republican) and three head-to-heads with Obama and the three national GOP leaders: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul.
The results may seem surprising. First, nearly 40 percent of NJ GOP voters cannot name the candidate they prefer to be their nominee. Now, to be fair, we ask a hard question. We don’t give people a list of candidates, instead we ask them to name the candidate they prefer. Recalling a name is harder than recognizing one, so the high don’t knows/no preference is partly due to that. But it also is a sign that Republicans remain uncertain about where they want to go. Romney continues to lead (28 percent) among those who have a preference, and Gingrich comes in a decent second (20 percent). After that, Ron Paul is third, but so far behind in mentions (5 percent) that he’s barely there. And no other candidate – including Rick Perry – is named by even 3 percent.
More surprising, given how week we have found President Obama’s ratings and re-elect in previous months, is that he easily beats any of the the Republicans in New Jersey. Romney does best, and is down 19 points. The others are even further behind. It’s only in Northwest New Jersey (the “exurbs”) that any of the Republicans beat Obama, everywhere else he holds a strong lead. Is this because he’s so loved in NJ? Don’t think so. It’s mostly due to 1) the unsettled Republican race; Republicans are currently less unified behind Republican candidates than Democrats are behind Obama, and independents are leaning strongly Obama, and 2) no real general election campaign has happened yet, meaning voters are not really focused on the election. This typically gives incumbents some advantage in early polling. We would certainly expect this to tighten up once the Republicans have a nominee and the general election campaign begins. Still, NJ is a pretty Democratic state, and these numbers reflect that.
A PDF of the full release with questions and tables is available here. The full text of the release follows.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: ROMNEY STILL PREFERRED BY NEW JERSEY GOP; OBAMA LOOKS STRONG AGAINST TOP REPUBLICAN CHALLENGERS
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – New Jersey Republican voters continue to make former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney their candidate of choice against President Barack Obama, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has built a following here, registered Republicans and independents leaning Republican prefer Romney by 28 percent to 20 percent over Gingrich.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs a distant third at 5 percent; no other candidate gets more than 3 percent. More than one-third (37 percent) have no preference.
The poll also finds that Obama holds a strong lead in head-to-head matchups with all three GOP front-runners. While Romney does best, Obama leads him by 51 percent to 32 percent. The president doubles Gingrich, 54 percent to 27 percent, while Paul loses, 50 percent to 29 percent.
“New Jersey reflects the rise of Newt Gingrich seen elsewhere, though he has not managed to dethrone Mitt Romney, who has led in every poll we’ve done,” said poll director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “At the same time, Romney has yet to break out of the 20s in our open-ended question and more than a third have no preference at all. Gingrich is just the latest in a series of threats, which included Sarah Palin and Chris Christie early in the year, and Rick Perry and Herman Cain more recently.”
Results are from 823 registered voters drawn from a survey of 907 adult respondents conducted from Dec. 15-18. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points. The subsample of 260 registered Republicans and independents leaning Republican has a margin of error of +/- 6.0 percentage points.
The Republican race in New Jersey
Despite more than a dozen nationally televised GOP debates so far, and extensive news coverage of the campaign, 38 percent of Garden State Republicans are still not sure who to support. Although Romney has led in every Rutgers-Eagleton Poll this year, he has not been able to break away, even with Gov. Chris Christie’s vocal support.
Although Romney leads among Republican voters, Gingrich ties the former Mass. governor among conservatives, at 26 percent. Moderate Republicans prefer Romney to Gingrich by 2 to 1 (28 percent to 14 percent), but are also much more likely to be unable to name any candidate. Almost half (46 percent) are unsure of their final choice compared to 30 percent of conservatives. Women are also more likely than men to be unsure: 49 percent cannot name a preferred candidate, versus 29 percent of men. Twenty-one percent of women support Romney, 15 percent Gingrich, and 8 percent name Paul. Among men, 33 percent prefer Romney, 24 percent Gingrich, and 4 percent Paul.
“While Governor Christie has had success getting New Jersey Republican to line up behind Romney, rank-and-file voters are not really there yet,” said Redlawsk. “In spite of leading throughout 2011, Romney has yet to break 30 percent support. Most Republicans seem to be casting about for alternatives, if they can name any candidate at all.”
Despite lukewarm ratings, Obama strong in head-to-heads
Perhaps benefiting from an unsettled GOP race, Obama appears to have a solid lead about 11 months before Election Day. While a November Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found only 32 percent of New Jersey voters gave Obama’s job performance an “A” or “B,” the president easily leads the top three Republican contenders. Romney does best (losing by 19 points) and Gingrich worst (down 27 points). Paul trails Obama by 21 points.
Two keys to the president’s strength are that Democrats are nearly united behind him and independents are currently swinging his way. More than eight in 10 Democrats support Obama against any of his challengers. Republican voters are less unified, except in the case of a Romney-Obama race. Paul does best among independents in losing to Obama by 13 points. Romney falls 15 points short and Gingrich trails by 24 points among independents.
“Several months ago we asked whether Obama deserves to be re-elected, and just about as many voters said no as yes,” said Redlawsk. “But faced with specific challengers, voters can focus, and they now prefer to re-elect the president. Voters are not very thrilled with Obama’s job performance, but they like him better than the Republican contenders.”
The gender gap is alive and well in New Jersey, Redlawsk noted. Obama does extremely well with women, leading Romney by 30 points, Paul by 36 points and Gingrich by 37 points. The Republicans do much better among men, where Paul trails by four points, Romney by seven points and Gingrich by 15 points.
Romney holds his own among white voters; at 41 percent, he lags Obama by one percentage point. Gingrich and Paul do noticeably worse with whites: Gingrich trails, 46 percent to 35 percent, and Paul trails, 42 percent to 35 percent. Obama continues to win about 90 percent of African-American voters.
Republican candidates do best in the northwestern part of the state, with Romney and Gingrich both leading Obama in exurban New Jersey, while Paul draws even. Obama is strongest in north Jersey urban areas, leading all Republicans by about 40 points or more, though he leads in all parts of the state outside northwestern New Jersey.
“Obama’s strength reflects that New Jersey is still a Democratic state when it comes to presidential elections,” said Redlawsk. “Overcoming that for any Republican may be tough. Of course, the election is nearly year away, and New Jersey voters have yet to become engaged in it. Once the Republicans have a nominee, we should expect to see things tighten.”