We’re very busy here at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Last two days it has been same-sex marriage. Today we turn to higher education in New Jersey. While we don’t have a plethora (love that word!) of questions on education this time around, we do have two related to issues in the political/policy environment. The first question we asked was about a higher education bond issue being discussed as a possibility for the November ballot. There hasn’t been a facilities bond for colleges and universities since 1988. The idea is to borrow on a bond to improve existing facilities and construct new ones across the state. Turns out NJ voters are about evenly split on it – it’s a hard question whether to borrow now to help colleges, or to worry that government has simply borrowed too much.
The second question is much more hot button. dealing with the proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University, a merger supported by Gov. Chris Christie. Here there is no ambivalence. Opposition to the proposed merger is wide and deep as we detail in today’s poll release. At least so far, Garden Staters are not convinced that this is the way to go.
We should note that we are not completely innocent bystanders in either of these issues. Obviously, as an academic center at Rutgers University – New Brunswick, we potentially may be affected by either of these issues, though quite indirectly at best. However, we did our best with these questions – as we do with all others – to design balanced questions that would tap public opinion fairly. And we report the numbers as we get them. Given that the other numbers in this poll (both yesterday’s and releases to come) seem to make sense in the context of NJ, we are comfortable that our processes were appropriate for this poll overall. Whether we asked exactly the right questions is a more subjective thing, and reasonable people may disagree. More to the point, asking the same basic question in multiple ways may come up with variations in opinion. However, the reality is that when we do a statewide poll on a number of topics, we are limited as to how many questions we can ask on any one topic. But we publish the exact text of our questions, so feel free to read them by clicking on the fullt ext link below and critique away!
Full text of today’s release follows. For PDF of full release with questions and tables, click here.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL: MAJORITY OF NEW JERSEY VOTERS
OPPOSE RUTGERS-CAMDEN MERGER WITH ROWAN
Potential higher education bond issue evenly divides voters
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – A clear majority of New Jersey’s registered voters – 57 percent – oppose the proposed merger of Rutgers-Camden with Rowan University, recently championed by Gov. Chris Christie, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Only 22 percent support the merger and 21 percent are unsure, the poll found.
Concurrently, voters are split in supporting a higher education facilities bond: 48 percent favor borrowing for improvements at the state’s colleges and universities, and 45 percent do not.
Voters in South Jersey are no more supportive of the merger of the two schools than in the rest of the state. Instead, the highest support is found in northwestern New Jersey and the Shore counties, two areas that are strong backers of Christie. Even in these regions, however, many more voters oppose the merger than support it.
“Governor Christie’s plan to merge Rowan and Rutgers-Camden may be the most unpopular idea he has put forward to date,” said Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. “Generally, he can count on support from a majority of Republicans. We might also expect voters in South Jersey to be in favor, given the benefits Christie says will come from the merger. But in reality, neither of these groups, or any other, comes close to supporting it.”
Results are from a poll of 914 registered voters conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Feb. 9-11. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points.
Opposition to merger plan is broad and deep
While GOP voters usually support Christie’s policies, in this case they clearly do not. Though twice as likely as Democrats to support the merger, only 32 percent favor combining the two universities, while 49 percent oppose the plan. Few Democrats support the merger, with only 16 percent in favor and 67 percent opposed. Nearly 20 percent of both parties are unsure. Independent voters are 2-to-1 opposed, but nearly one-quarter of independents are unsure where they stand.
The merger plan does best among those with a favorable impression of the governor, and among the wealthiest Garden Staters, but even most of these voters are skeptical. While the plan garners 30 percent support from those who like Christie, 44 percent of his supporters oppose it. Not surprisingly, those with an unfavorable opinion of Christie are overwhelmingly opposed, at 14 percent support and 71 percent opposition.
One-third of voters with household incomes over $150,000 support the governor’s plan, while 39 percent oppose it, and 28 percent have no opinion. On the opposite end of the financial spectrum, voters in households with annual incomes under $50,000 are firmly against merging Rowan and Rutgers-Camden: 63 percent are opposed and only 16 percent in favor. About one-quarter of the remaining income groups support the plan and about 60 percent do not.
Despite the potential benefits to South Jersey, voters in the region are not convinced. Mimicking the statewide numbers, 19 percent of those living in Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties support the plan, while 71 percent oppose it. South Jersey voters are much less likely to be unsure, at only 10 percent. Residents of the Shore counties are least opposed, with 44 percent negative, the only region to have less than a majority against the merger, and 27 percent in favor. But 30 percent of these voters are unsure of their position on the issue, the highest in the state.
“The stunning thing about these numbers is simply how negative voters are about the plan,” said Redlawsk. “We thought those living in South Jersey would be more supportive than most, since the proposal is put forward as significant enhancement for the region. But the reality is this is a deeply disliked proposal.”
New Jerseyans split on education bond
While Christie is proposing to remake higher education in South Jersey, leaders of the state’s colleges and universities are considering whether the time is right to put a higher education facilities bond issue on the November ballot. If voted on today, the result would be a toss-up.
Forty-eight percent of respondents would have the state take on more debt to build and refurbish college facilities, thus creating construction jobs, but 45 percent say it is a bad time to take on more debt, and oppose the measure. Only 8 percent are not sure where they stand.
Democrats are stronger supporters of the bond issue than Republicans. Sixty-three percent of Democrats are in support of the bond issue and 27 percent oppose. Only 35 percent of Republicans are in favor, while 59 percent oppose borrowing for college facilities. Independents respond similarly to Republicans: 39 percent are in support of the bond and 53 percent oppose it.
Voters with an unfavorable opinion of Christie are more supportive of the bond: 59 percent support borrowing, while 34 percent think it is a bad time for more debt. Among those who think favorably of Christie, only 37 percent support and 56 percent oppose a bond issue.
There appears to be a limited relationship between support for the bond issue and opposition to the merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University. Half of merger opponents support a higher education bond issue, while 45 percent of supporters also favor borrowing for facilities. This small difference is likely accounted for by partisanship – Republicans are more likely to support the merger, and less likely to support the bond issue proposal.
Whites are weaker supporters of the measure than blacks. Only 45 percent of whites support the bond proposal compared to 56 percent of African-Americans. Forty-seven percent of whites and 35 percent of blacks oppose the bond. Regional differences are minimal: urban voters are more supportive, but there are no differences among other regions of the state.
“Borrowing right now is a tricky business,” said Redlawsk. “While interest rates are at historic lows making borrowing costs as low as they are ever likely to be, voters are generally dubious about governments taking on more debt. At the same time, New Jersey voters seem at least inclined to consider a bond issue, if one is put forward.”