NEW JERSEYANS EXPRESS LIMITED SUPPORT FOR GAS TAX HIKE
Support varies depending on how tax is explained
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – New Jerseyans roundly oppose the idea of a gas tax increase that was floated last month by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Nearly two-thirds of New Jersey adults oppose any hike, while just a third supports paying more. Views are virtually the same among the registered voters surveyed as part of the sample – 34 percent support, to 62 percent oppose.
Levels of support for a higher gas tax, however, depend on how the question is worded. Respondents told only that an increase would help finance road maintenance and improvements were far less supportive than those also told New Jersey has the third lowest tax nationally and has not raised it in over 20 years. Without this extra information, 68 percent oppose the increase, while 27 percent support it and six percent are uncertain. But 38 percent of those told the state tax is low and has been stable support an increase, while 60 percent oppose, and just two percent have no opinion.
“New Jerseyans don’t want to pay higher taxes, period,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “But in this case, the details matter. Knowing the context – that our tax is relatively low and stable – people are somewhat more willing to consider an increase to address road maintenance and improvement. But it’s still not enough to overcome an intense dislike of more taxes.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 842 New Jersey adults with a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points, contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 22 to 28. Within this sample are 729 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.
Gas tax opposition less among Democrats, older residents, top income brackets
Averaging across both versions of the question, there is no demographic group giving majority support for a gas tax increase. Democrats are marginally more likely than independents and Republicans to support a hike: 36 percent, versus 32 percent and 29 percent, respectively. More than six in ten independents and seven in ten Republicans oppose it, compared to 57 percent of Democrats.
Income shows the largest differences. Those in households making $100,000 or over are most likely to support the tax increase – 42 percent in favor and 54 percent opposed. But among the lowest earning households – those under $50,000 –only 24 percent support the proposed increase, versus 72 percent opposed. Support increases steadily with income level.
“Those making the most are more willing to pay this tax than those with lower incomes,” said Redlawsk. “Given the highly regressive nature of the tax where its effect is not based on ability to pay, that makes some sense. Those with the money to spend are likely to see the increase as a minor hit and to trade it off against the benefit of infrastructure maintenance.”
Older residents are slightly more likely to support the tax increase than younger New Jerseyans, while women are slightly less likely to support it than men.
Question Wording has double-digit impact, including on some of those most skeptical
The framing of the question makes a large difference within some demographic groups, even as support increases across the board when respondents are informed the tax has not been raised in 20 years and is relatively low compared to gas taxes in the rest of the country.
In particular, question wording has significant effect on the highest earning households. Those with incomes over $100,000 show a 17-point increase in support when given the additional information. Without it, only 34 percent are supportive, but once told that the tax is among the lowest and has not increased in 20+ years, support increases to 51 percent – the only case in which any group shows majority support. While Garden Staters making $50,000-$100,000 show a similar double-digit increase, they still do not reach a majority with the elaborated frame; those in other income brackets are not affected by the additional information and show little change.
Additional information causes both Democrats and Republicans to increase support: Democrats jump from 29 percent to 44 percent support, while Republicans increase 18 points from 19 percent to 37 percent. Independents are less influenced by the wording with just a 7-point increase in support.
While men are overall more likely than women to support an increase, question wording has an additional effect on them, while having little influence on women. Support for the gas tax increase increases by 18 points for men provided additional context, to 46 percent, while women show only a 6-point increase, with less than one-third supporting the increase even in this case.
While those in the youngest age group were among the most skeptical, 18-34 year olds are actually more affected by the additional information than any other age bracket. Support among this group jumps 18 points to 38 percent. Fifty to 64 year olds also show a double-digit increase, to 44 percent, but 35-49 year olds and those in the oldest cohorts show little change between the two versions.