Today we look back at the midterm elections. While little changed in New Jersey, the election of course resulted in Democrats losing control of the U.S. Senate. That word got out pretty far and wide – 8 in 10 New Jerseyans know Republicans are taking over (far more than the 30-something percent that actually voted in November). There is some expectation that the new Republican-led Congress will change the country’s direction and limit Obama’s ability to get things done (although, since the poll was done we have seen Obama flex his muscles in areas he can direct). New Jerseyans, however, do not expect a rise of bipartisan compromise, as much as they would like to see it.
We also asked people to tell us in a word or two the most important issue they would like the new Congress to “fix” and whether they expect a fix to happen. At the top is the economy (22%) and people are surprisingly optimistic something will get done. Many other topics came up, but for the most part those raising them do not expect much to happen on their most important issue.
The text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF with text, tables, and questions.
NEW JERSEYANS SEE NEW CONGRESS CHANGING COUNTRY’S DIRECTION
Rutgers Poll: Nearly half of Garden Staters say GOP majority will limit Obama agenda
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As 2014 winds down, New Jerseyans see both change and continuity for Congress, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. More than half of the state’s residents believe Republican control of the Senate will change the country’s direction, with 19 percent saying things will change a lot, and 38 percent seeing some change coming. About a quarter think GOP control will not make much difference and 16 percent think nothing will change.
The poll, completed before the president’s announcement on normalizing relations with Cuba, also shows limited expectations for the Obama administration’s final two years. Nearly half think Obama will not be able to accomplish much of his agenda in the remainder of his term, while 16 percent expect him to get nothing done at all. Some are more optimistic: 32 percent see Obama getting some things done over the next two years, and 5 percent say he will get a lot done.
“The vast majority of New Jerseyans know control of the Senate is flipping to the Republicans next year, so their expectations are informed by that,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Despite the president’s recent flexing of his executive muscles, it is not unreasonable to think he will have a hard time accomplishing his goals.”
Asked to name their top priority for the new Congress, respondents say the economy and jobs. The 22 percent who want Congress to fix the economy first are somewhat hopeful it might happen. Only two percent say a fix for the economy is “very likely” and another 62 percent say it is somewhat likely Congress will make progress here.
However, 32 percent are dubious, and think action on the economy is not at all likely. But across a full range of issues named by New Jerseyans they are less hopeful: just three percent think it is very likely their most important issue will be addressed, while 43 percent see it as somewhat likely. A plurality, 48 percent, expects no real action on their key issue.
New Jerseyans strongly endorse the idea that compromise is needed in Congress. Two-thirds think compromise is more important than for lawmakers to stick to their individual beliefs. Having said that, residents simultaneously predict there will be little improvement in relations between the parties. Fifty-seven percent say relations will stay the same, 29 percent think they will get even worse, and just 12 percent believe they will get better.
Slightly more registered voters say they voted for a Democrat over a Republican in November’s congressional elections, but they are negative about both parties. Thirty-five percent of all residents hold a positive view of Democrats compared with 28 percent toward Republicans.
Results are from a statewide poll of 750 adults, including 646 registered voters, contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Dec. 3-10, 2014, with a margin of error of +/-4.0 percentage points. The registered voter subsample has a margin of error of +/-4.3 percentage points.
Residents give GOP upper hand, question Obama’s effectiveness
After November’s GOP tidal wave, Democrats, Republicans, and independents agree that the Republican takeover of the Senate will “change the way things are going in this country.” Most Republicans predict at least some change, with 23 percent expecting “a lot” of change and 55 percent expecting “some” change.
A quarter of Democrats also expect a lot of change, while 30 percent think there will be some change. Independents are slightly less certain of the impact of GOP control of the Senate: just 12 percent say it will have a lot of impact on the country, while another 38 percent say some impact.
The same pattern occurs regardless of views about Obama, the parties in Congress, respondent ideology or the midterm congressional vote; across all of about half or more New Jerseyans say that GOP Senate control will change things in the country, at least to some extent.
Views on Obama’s effectiveness during his remaining time in office are more directly tied to political preferences. Among Democrats, 40 percent think the president will be able to accomplish some of his agenda, but only 7 percent say he will be able to do a lot. Republicans are far more negative: only a quarter expect Obama to accomplish even some of what he wants in his last two years. Half expect little to happen, and another 20 percent see none of Obama’s preferences being implemented. Independents resemble Republicans: one-third think Obama will get at least something done – four percent say “a lot” – while two-thirds believe he will not get much, if anything, accomplished.
Those favorable towards Obama and Democrats in Congress, as well as those who voted for Democrats this past election, are also more likely to believe the president will get something done in the next two years. Surprisingly, those who say GOP control of the Senate will have an impact are slightly more likely than those who feel the opposite to say Obama will have some impact as well.
Doubt about congressional ability to fix top concerns
New Jerseyans say the most important issues for a GOP-led Congress to fix are a blend of perennial and more recent concerns. The economy and jobs is the most frequently mentioned, at 22 percent. Second – probably due to Obama’s executive order just as the poll was taken – is immigration at 12 percent. Health care and taxes tie for third, at nine percent each. Eight percent mention something about bipartisanship or compromise, but only two percent mention gun and crime-related issues. Another two percent name social issues, including race relations.
The economy is tops for all New Jerseyans, but Democrats (at 28 percent) are more likely to name the issue as the top concern compared to Republicans and independents, by eight and nine points, respectively. On the other hand, Republicans and independents are more likely to mention taxes, immigration and Obamacare as their top concern, compared to Democrats.
Those for whom a congressional fix of the economy is most important are somewhat optimistic that it will actually get done, but New Jerseyans with other top concerns do not agree. While the heavy focus on the economy means relatively small numbers of respondents named other issues, among those who did, the trend is toward much less optimism. One-third of immigration advocates doubt anything will happen, while about six in 10 who care about taxes expect nothing to get done. Similarly, half of those who mention health care anticipate no progress on the issue.
“While the small subsamples focused on issues other than the economy mean that we are much less certain of the results, the trends seem pretty clear,” noted Redlawsk. “There is simply more optimism among those who care most about economic issues than anyone else. This may reflect recent news that the economy is, in fact, improving.”
Little expectation for bipartisanship despite desire for compromise
Though many New Jerseyans see change on the horizon, most do not foresee a new era of bipartisanship being ushered in with GOP control of Congress. This is not for lack of desire for lawmakers to work together. Solid majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents think it is more important for legislators to compromise to get laws passed than to stick to their own beliefs. Democrats, probably mindful of the new political landscape, however, are more likely to want comprise, 74 percent compared with 65 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans.
More than half of Democrats, Republicans and independents are pessimistic about improved relations in the coming year. But Republicans and, to some extent, independents are about twice as likely as Democrats to say relations will improve. Democrats, instead, believe relations between the two sides will grow even worse; 38 percent say this, compared to about 25 percent of Republicans and independents.
“Things may be changing in Congress in January, but overall, New Jerseyans are uncertain what to expect,” said Redlawsk. “They believe some things may change, but they also remain uncertain about the basic underlying dynamics of Washington getting any better.”