Today we take our first “likely voter” look at the presidential election in New Jersey. We find Obama doing well, up 14 points over Romney. But for you to assess this you need to know a few things, such as HOW do we determine “likely voters” and how and where did we ask the vote question in our survey.
Here’s what we describe in the disclosure statement attached to our full press release:
Within this sample 710 respondents were identified as likely voters by scoring responses to questions about interest in politics, in the presidential election, plans to vote, and vote history. Approximately 78 percent of registered voters were identified as likely voters by this measure. In 2008, 73 percent of registered New Jersey voters actually voted.
“This sample” refers to the 916 registered voters we surveyed this time around. Among them, 710 passed our likely voter screen, which combines vote intention, interest in the campaign, interest in politics generally, and whether the respondent voted in 2010. We take these four questions and create an index from 0 to 9. Respondents who score 7, 8, or 9 make it into this likely voter sample. This results in about 77.5% of our respondents being considered “likely voters”, a pretty decent result. In fact, in a sample like this we probably should have a few more – after all people who really hate the politics and don’t want to talk to us are not included, so our sample is more disposed to voting than the statewide set of registered voters. But we’re trying to be conservative here.
On the second issue, what about the question, you can see that in the PDF of the release as well. We give voters several options – “if the election were today…” – they can choose Obama, Romney (which are rotated to neither is always first), “Someone else” (to reflect that there are third parties on the ballot), or Don’t Know. They can also say they won’t vote, in which case they are not included as a likely voter in any case.
We placed the question AFTER we asked about issues and candidate qualities, as well as favorability and Obama job performance. Political science research has suggested that the vote intention is more stable when the question is asked after people have time to think about the election, which our earlier questions give them. We might have a different response had we asked the question at the very beginning, but probably not a lot different.
Following is the text of today’s release. Again, a PDF of the release with questions and tables is available here.
OBAMA HOLDS DOUBLE-DIGIT LEAD AMONG NEW JERSEY LIKELY VOTERS IN RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – As the Republican National Convention begins in Tampa, New Jersey voters give President Barack Obama a 14-point lead over former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Among likely voters polled just before the GOP convention, 51 percent say they would vote for Obama while 37 percent support Romney. Another 6 percent prefer someone else, and 5 percent are not sure.
Obama holds his lead despite the fact that a majority of likely voters (57 percent) thinks the country is on the wrong track; 36 percent say it is going in the right direction. The key for Obama is that voters are much more positive about him personally: 54 percent hold a favorable impression while 39 percent view him unfavorably. Voters dislike Romney – only 38 percent view him favorably, while 49 percent are unfavorable.
Easily the most important issue in the election is the economy and jobs, named by 62 percent of likely voters. The president leads Romney as the candidate who can best address this issue. The federal budget deficit is a distant second at 10 percent, followed by Social Security and Medicare at 8 percent. Voters see Obama as better able to handle the economy by 46 percent to 42 percent, but Romney has a strong edge on the budget, 68 percent to 12 percent. Obama is favored on Social Security and Medicare, 73 percent to 14 percent.
Voters’ most important candidate quality is leadership (29 percent), followed by “shares my values” (18 percent) and “cares about people like me” (17 percent). Voters who care most about leadership say they will vote for Romney over Obama, 54 percent to 34 percent. But Obama wins on values, 49 percent to 39 percent and overwhelms Romney on caring, 82 to 13 percent.
“The president leads in New Jersey primarily because of his personal qualities,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Voters like him better and feel he shares their values and cares about them. While Romney keeps it closer on the hard issue of the economy, and wins easily on leadership, voters generally prefer to support someone they like over someone they don’t.”
Results are from a poll of 916 registered voters conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Aug 23 – 25. Within this sample 710 respondents are identified as likely voters and are the subjects of this release. The likely voter sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Head-to-head it’s Obama by double digits
Obama’s 14-point lead is built on support from women, who prefer the incumbent by a 58 percent to 32 percent margin. Men give Obama a very slight edge, 45 percent to 42 percent. Independents are also in Obama’s camp, 44 percent to 36 percent. The president does better among Democrats, (93 percent support him) than Romney does among Republicans (83 percent support).
Catholics (by four percentage points) and white voters (eight percentage points) are among the few demographic groups to favor the Republican. Romney’s support among whites is completely offset by nonwhite voters who overwhelmingly prefer Obama and comprise a quarter of the electorate. Romney also holds a very slight lead among likely voters making more than $100,000. Regionally, voters in the shore and exurban counties of New Jersey are Romney supporters; he holds an 18-point lead in the former. Urban, suburban, and south Jersey voters are equally strong for Obama, however. Young voters remain with Obama as they were in 2008: 58 percent of those under 35 say they will vote for Obama, while 26 percent support Romney.
“As long as women here are overwhelming supporters of Obama, Romney has little chance of winning,” said Redlawsk. “While he does OK among men, and very well among white men, this is not enough of a base in a state as diverse as this one.”
The likeability factor
Likely voters are generally positive about Obama personally, while negative about Romney. Much of this is driven by independents, who like the president (49 percent favorable) more than they do Romney (36 percent favorable.) But Romney suffers within his own party in comparison to Obama; 94 percent of Democrats like Obama, while just 78 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of Romney. Few Democrats (4 percent) dislike Obama, but 12 percent of Republicans are unfavorable toward their nominee, while another 10 percent are neutral.
A huge gender gap is evident in favorability ratings for both candidates. While 62 percent of women hold a favorable impression of Obama, only 47 percent of men agree. Forty-four percent of men feel favorably toward Romney, but only 32 percent of women agree. As a result, women are twice as positive about Obama as Romney. Men feel equally favorable toward both candidates.
“As Election Day approaches, Obama’s margin in New Jersey will be readily traceable to how positive women feel about him, more than anything else,” Redlawsk said.
Whites are far more favorable toward Romney (46 percent) than are black voters (11 percent favorable). Romney also does much better among senior citizens than with voters under 35 (44 percent favorable to 34 percent). Even so, Obama fairs better among every age group, gaining a 50 percent favorable rating from seniors and a 62 percent favorable rating from those under 35.
Wealthier voters also are much more likely to feel positive about Romney compared to those with lower incomes, although he still trails Obama in favorability at all income levels.
U.S. on wrong track; Voters prefer Obama on the economy
By a 21-point margin, the state’s likely voters think America is on the wrong track. At the same time, they say Obama would do a better job fixing their strongest concern, the economy. Two-thirds of Democrats believe things are going in the right direction, but only 27 percent of independents and 10 percent of Republicans agree. Voters with household incomes under $50,000 comprise the only group with a positive outlook, as 43 percent say the country is going in the right direction while 40 percent disagree. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters at all other income levels are convinced things are on the wrong track.
Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of likely voters name the economy as their most important issue in the election. Among these, 46 percent say Obama is the right candidate to handle the issue, while 42 percent say Romney would do the better job. When it comes to the election, however, voters who care most about the economy give the president a 51 to 40 percent edge.
More voters (29 percent) say “strong leader” is the quality they want most in a presidential candidate; among these voters Romney is preferred 54 percent to 34 percent. But the next two qualities – “shares my values” (18 percent) and “cares about me” (17 percent) clearly play into Obama’s strengths, as voters who want those qualities strongly support Obama. These voters eliminate any advantage Romney has on leadership.
“The right direction-wrong track numbers, especially among independents, would normally point to a clear opportunity for a challenge to a sitting president,” said Redlawsk. “Yet Obama seems immune to these numbers here in New Jersey. Garden State voters may or may not be pinning the blame for the economy on him, but they still think the president will do a better job than Romney. That, coupled with his likeability and the fact that this remains a Democratic state, suggests New Jersey is squarely in his corner.”