Monthly Archives: October 2015

Hurricane Sandy’s Third Anniversary: Some Progress, But Still More to Go

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey exactly three years ago today, so we wanted to revisit some questions about the Superstorm on our most recent poll – specifically some recovery ratings we have been polling at various points throughout the past three years.  Inspired by Gov. Chris Christie’s original comments about rating boardwalk conditions the very first Memorial Day weekend post-Sandy, we have been asking New Jerseyans to rate recovery within a few geographic and socioeconomic areas on a scale from 1 (not at all recovered) to10 (completely recovered).

We see some good news and some bad news in today’s results. On the one hand, a slight majority of voters still think the state is not yet back to normal. On the other hand, this number is down more than 10 points since last polled a year and a half ago. As for recovery progress, ratings are up across the board since last time. The downside? Those areas most desperately still in need – the NJ Shore region and homeowners who sustained Sandy damaged – are rated the lowest on average by New Jerseyans. Bottom line: while residents perceive the state as a whole, tourism, and businesses have all bounced back for the most part, they do not feel the same about those who were most affected. While ratings on Shore and homeowner recovery have increased, they still lag far behind ratings of the other recovery areas.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.


 Recovery seen as progressing but still incomplete, especially for hardest hit

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New Jersey three years ago, but residents continue to feel its effects today and do not believe that the state has fully recovered, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty-four percent of New Jerseyans say life still is not back to normal, while 37 percent say it is and another 9 percent are unsure. While a majority continues to be pessimistic, this is an improvement since the question was last asked 18 months ago, when 67 percent thought normalcy had not yet returned and only 26 percent had a more positive outlook.

The slight increase in residents’ perceptions of normalcy is accompanied by a bump in the ratings they give to recovery progress in certain geographic and socioeconomic areas, but scores still indicate a need for additional work. On a 10-point scale, with 1 meaning “not at all recovered” and 10 meaning “fully recovered,” New Jerseyans rate recovery of the Shore at 5.8 on average, up almost a whole point since April 2014 but still lagging behind other areas. Respondents score recovery for homeowners with damage from Sandy even lower, at 5.3, up a half-point.

Assessments of business and tourism recovery are much more favorable. Residents rate businesses at 6.9, up one point from 18 months ago. Tourism receives the biggest boost and one of the best ratings of all the recovery areas, now at 7.1 on average, up from 5.9.

New Jerseyans rate recovery of the state in general about the same as they did during the first summer post-Sandy, also at 7.1 on average – tying with tourism as one of the two highest scores.

“On the third anniversary of Sandy making landfall in New Jersey, we see a somewhat greater sense of optimism and progress,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “ At the same time, residents know the state has not completely returned to its pre-Sandy days and are very aware of those geographic areas and individuals who continue to need help the most – the Shore and homeowners who suffered storm damage.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Oct. 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Sandy’s original impact, partisanship color Shore and homeowner ratings

While New Jerseyans on average give Shore recovery a so-so rating, there are signs of greater positivity and progress than in April 2014. One-quarter give Shore recovery a 5, while almost half give higher ratings of either a 6 (12 percent), 7 (19 percent), or 8 (15 percent) – quite a switch from 18 months ago. Another quarter of residents rate Shore recovery lower than 5, distributed somewhat evenly among these lowest rankings.

But this overall positive view varies with key factors. Shore residents give progress in their area a 5.5 average rating – slightly less than other regions but still an increase of over half a point since 2014. Those personally affected by Sandy give progress at the Shore an average rating of 5.7, though this is also up almost a point since last time. Those who were not affected give a slightly higher rating, though not by much, at 5.9. Views on the state being back to normal matter greatly here, however: there is almost a two-point disparity between those who believe normalcy has returned and those who do not, with the latter giving a much lower average rating, 5.1 versus 6.9.

Partisanship and approval of Gov. Chris Christie on Sandy also have an impact. Republicans, those who are favorable toward Christie, and those who approve of his efforts on Sandy recovery are all more likely to rate the Shore higher than their counterparts.

Similar patterns emerge in rating recovery progress of homeowners who suffered storm damage. Just over half of New Jerseyans rate homeowner recovery at 5 or lower; while just under half rate it higher, mostly concentrated among scores of 6, 7, or 8. Shore residents are more negative compared to others around the state, giving an average score of 4.9 in this area, compared to exurbanites and suburbanites who give slightly higher ratings – at 5.6 and 5.5, respectively. Those personally affected by Sandy score homeowner recovery similarly to those not directly affected – 5.4 versus 5.2 – but those who say life is not yet back to normal are much more negative than those who say the opposite. While there is no difference by partisanship in scoring this area, those who disapprove of Christie’s recovery efforts give the most negative score of all on average, at 4.5.

Business and tourism much improved across the board

New Jerseyans are much more positive about progress with the recovery of tourism and business in general than about the Shore or homeowners. Residents are most likely to rate tourism recovery rather positively, with 40 percent evenly divided between a score of 7 and 8; 88 percent give it a score of 5 or higher. For business recovery, Garden Staters are most likely to rate it an 8, at 25 percent, and 90 percent rate it at 5 or above.

Even those living down the Shore and those personally affected by Sandy give tourism recovery an average rating of 7.2 – up more than a point for both groups since April 2014. But residents who believe the state is not yet back to normal post-storm rate this area a 6.6, compared to 7.8 among those who believe normalcy has returned.

Republicans are slightly more likely to rate tourism higher than Democrats or independents. Those who disapprove of Christie’s handling of Sandy recovery, in general, show a large disparity compared to their counterparts – an average rating of 6.6 compared to 7.4 among those who approve of Christie’s Sandy-related efforts.

As for the recovery of business in general, ratings among those living down the Shore show quite a boost from 18 months ago, now at 6.8 from 5.5, looking more like the scores given by residents in other regions. New Jerseyans personally affected by the storm now give slightly higher ratings than those who were not, 7.1 compared to 6.7, though both have increased more than half a point since last polled. Once again, those who say life has returned to normal and those in Christie’s corner give higher ratings than those who disagree in each of these areas.

State as a whole seen as “stronger than the storm” across the board

More than nine in 10 residents give post-Sandy progress across all of New Jersey a rating of 5 or higher; half rate the state’s recovery an 8 (28 percent), 9 (16 percent), or 10 (6 percent).

Residents from all areas of the state give similar ratings, not much of a difference from when last asked two and a half years ago. Those affected by Sandy in fact rank state recovery slightly higher than those not affected, 7.2 compared to 6.9, but even back in June 2013, Sandy victims were no more likely to give lower scores in this area, standing virtually on par with those not affected during that first post-Sandy summer. While views differ little by partisanship, those disapproving of the way Christie has handled Sandy score state recovery more than a point lower than those who approve, 6.4 compared to 7.5 on average. Views on post-Sandy normalcy produce the largest gap – an average rating of 8 among those who believe the state is back to normal, versus 6.4 among those who do not.

“We started asking these recovery scales when Gov. Christie rated conditions on the boardwalk during that first Memorial Day Weekend post-Sandy,” said Koning. “We see that views on New Jersey post-Superstorm have really not changed from 2013; residents continue to think the state is doing well. We also see gains in all other recovery areas between April 2014 and today. But whereas business and tourism are now roughly tied with state recovery as a whole, we see the least movement and a continuation of a large rating gap between these aforementioned areas and perceptions of recovery among those most impacted by the storm.”

Widespread sense of Sandy’s lingering disruption despite recovery progress

New Jerseyans across the board still feel the state is not back to normal three years later. Shore residents are most likely to feel this way, compared to those living in other areas: 67 percent take this more negative view, while about half in every other region feel the same. Residents unfavorable toward Christie and especially those who disapprove of the way he is handling Sandy recovery efforts are much more negative than Christie supporters, with 59 percent and 73 percent, respectively, sharing a more negative outlook.

Normalcy is also influenced by gender, age, and income. Women take a more negative view, at 61 percent, than men, who are more split (45 percent to 47 percent). Feelings of a return to normalcy decrease with age; 54 percent of millennials feel the state is back to normal, compared to just 21 percent of senior citizens. Pessimism is greater among all but residents in the most affluent households: while over half of residents in all other income brackets feel normalcy has not yet returned, those in households making $150,000 or more are split at 47 percent.

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Our release today revisits some of the very first ever questions on our very first ever poll (what was then simply called the New Jersey Poll) almost 45 years ago. It being a somewhat special anniversary year for us as we approach our 200th poll ever, we re-asked this series of questions on the state legislature that had made up the Poll’s first ever press release. We can see from the results here that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Four decades later, New Jerseyans are just as likely (if not more so) to not know a legislative election within the state is about to take place … or who is currently representing them in the state legislature.

To see the original releases from 1971:

Release #1 October 20, 1971 (state legislature)

Release #2 November 7, 1971 (most important problem)

A very special thank you to our incredible staff of undergraduate students at Rutgers who assisted with this release: Zach Goldfarb, Evan Covello, Abigail Orr, Natalie DeAngelo, and Carly Frank. An additional very special thank you to ECPIP graduate assistant Kathleen Rogers on this release.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.



NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Forty-four years after the first press release from the Eagleton Institute of Politics’ inaugural poll reported little awareness of the then upcoming 1971 state legislative elections, New Jerseyans today remain uninformed about the Legislature, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Three-quarters of Garden State residents are completely unaware that any elections will be held next week, just slightly better than the 85 percent who were ignorant in 1971, in what was then called the New Jersey Poll.

But residents actually do worse than four decades ago when taking into account whether those who named a specific office(s) on the ballot were correct: just 6 percent rightly say that the state Assembly is on the ballot this year, and 3 percent mention the Legislature in general.

Even fewer residents can correctly name their own state senators. Among all Garden Staters, 8 percent give some name, but only 5 percent actually get it right.

Knowledge about control of the Legislature is more widespread: half of residents are aware that Democrats are in charge, slightly better than the 43 percent who knew in 1971 that Republicans ran the show.

Residents’ low levels of political knowledge most likely feed into ambivalence toward the Legislature. Continuing a longstanding trend, 40 percent have no opinion or are unaware of the state Legislature, 28 percent are favorable, and 32 percent are unfavorable. Asked about the parties within the Legislature, about one-quarter feel favorably toward the Republicans and one-third toward the Democrats. Another third of New Jerseyans have no feeling toward either party.

“As we approach Rutgers-Eagleton’s 200th poll, we are revisiting some questions from its earliest days. It appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same – at least when it comes to awareness of state government,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “In general, citizens know relatively little about state government, so as the Poll’s first director Stephen Salmore said in 1971, it is ‘depressing but not really surprising.’ In particular, this is an off-year election, and with the General Assembly at the top of the ticket and the only office appearing on every New Jersey ballot, Legislative elections are definitely not on New Jerseyans’ radar this November.”

In another constant in almost a half-century of polling, residents continue to cite taxes and the economy and jobs as the most important problems facing the Garden State; each is named by about one in four residents. They also think the government is making very little progress toward solving anything, no matter their top concern.

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Oct. 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Widespread lack of knowledge of races, individual representatives

When asked to name which state office(s) are on the ballot this November, even the quarter of respondents who claim they know do not necessarily have the correct information. Five percent wrongly guess the state Senate, 3 percent mention another office besides one within the state Legislature, and 12 percent believe there will be no elections held at all next week. Registered voters do little better, with 9 percent correctly mentioning the state Assembly and 4 percent saying the Legislature overall.

Awareness increases steadily with age: senior citizens are most likely to correctly state that the Assembly is up for election, at 10 percent, compared to 1 percent of millennials. The latter group is instead the most likely cohort to say the do not know which office(s) will be on the ballot.

Those from the most affluent households and who are the most educated also reach double digits in accuracy, with 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively, knowing about the state Assembly races. Public union households are in this camp as well, at 15 percent.

In addition, residents with an opinion on state Republicans, state Democrats, and the state legislature as a whole – whether favorable or unfavorable – are more likely to be aware of the state Assembly races.

Similar patterns emerge among those who correctly identify their state senator. Older residents, those from more affluent households, those most educated, and those with an unfavorable opinion of the state Legislature tend to know their representatives slightly better than their counterparts – though these numbers barely reach 10 percent.

“When it comes to races at the state level, the same demographic groups who were most aware when we first polled this topic in 1971 continue that tradition today. Over 40 years later, we still see disparities according to factors such as age and education,” noted Koning. “Nonetheless, even among the most knowledgeable groups, New Jerseyans are still largely uninformed.”

The top three most often correctly identified state senators are Steven V. Oroho (R-24), Thomas H. Kean, Jr. (R-21), and Loretta Weinberg (D-27). State Sens. Sandra B. Cunningham (D-31), Bob Smith (D-17), and Kean, Jr. are the three most likely to be mistakenly named by residents as their own representatives.

More awareness of state parties, control, and overall Legislature       

While New Jerseyans may not know about next week’s election or which state senator is currently representing them, Democratic control of the State House is correctly assumed across the board – though to varying degrees. Those who identify with parties are more likely to do so than others (50 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans). Once again, residents who are older, more affluent, more educated, have a household member in a public union, and who have an impression about the state Legislature tend to answer correctly more than their counterparts.

Many groups are more likely to have no impression of the state Legislature at all than to lean one way or the other. Among those with opinions, Democrats are more favorable than unfavorable toward the Legislature, while independents and Republicans take a more negative view. Views are mainly divided by party support, with those who tend to side more with the Democratic Party in general also more likely to have a positive view of the Democrat-controlled state Legislature. Yet among those aware that the Democrats have control, 42 percent are unfavorable, versus 30 percent who are favorable.

When asked separately about Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature, residents are only slightly more likely to form an opinion. Thirty-seven percent of New Jerseyans are favorable toward Democrats in the state Legislature, while 28 percent are unfavorable; 35 percent remain unsure. Twenty-four percent feel favorably about Republicans, compared to 41 percent who do not, and 36 percent who are unsure.

Typical party allegiances play an especially large role in favorability of the individual parties. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats have a favorable impression of their own party in the Legislature, while 63 percent of Republicans feel the same about the state GOP.

Different decade, same problems

Over four decades ago, 26 percent of New Jerseyans cited taxes as the number one problem in the state, and the same is true today. The economy, including jobs and unemployment, ranks close to taxes, as it has over the past several years, at 23 percent; this is similar to its 1971 showing at 24 percent, when the category also included poverty and welfare. “Education and schools” comes in third at 11 percent, half the proportion citing that problem in the very first poll. “Crime and drugs” took second place in 1971 (at 24 percent), but now has dropped to fourth, at 9 percent. Six percent now mention something related to traffic, transportation, and infrastructure, compared to 11 percent back then. Residents continue to have issues with government as they did 44 years ago, including spending and corruption.

No matter the problem mentioned, just 1 percent believes the government is doing a great deal about their particular issue, and 15 percent say a fair amount is being done. More than half – 54 percent – say very little is being accomplished, 26 percent say nothing at all, and 4 percent are unsure.

Those who cite one of the top two concerns drive this negativity on the state government’s progress: on taxes, 53 percent say very little and 33 percent say nothing at all is happening, while 59 percent and 22 percent, respectively, say the same about the economy.

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Hindsight is Always 20/20 … Revisiting the ARC Tunnel, Looking Ahead to the Gateway Project, and the Role Mass Transit Plays in New Jersey

We continue with our mini transportation series this week, now looking at the current status of public transportation in the state – particularly the pending Gateway project aiming to repair and add to the existing Hudson River rail tunnels, as well as a look back on Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC tunnel project in 2010. New Jerseyans are regretting the project’s termination five years ago, now disagreeing with Christie’s handling of it – a sharp contrast to the majority support they showed for his decision back in October and December 2010. Mass transit is integral to New Jersey life, used almost as frequently as the roadways. And after Hurricane Sandy two years ago and a summer of massive delays, New Jerseyans can sense the urgency that something needs to be done.  But just like in 2010, residents continue to be concerned about cost; many even say the state should prioritize road and bridge projects before anything to do with mass transit. It is within these questions where we see New Jerseyans divided into two basic camps – those for whom mass transit is vital to their personal and professional lives, versus those unaffected by trains and buses who most likely stick to driving around Jersey roads.

We once again see that context plays an important role here. While cost concerns were widely cited as the reason for the ARC tunnel’s cancellation, much of the current news about the Gateway project has been framed as a dire need for repairs within the next two decades before the tunnels are forced closed … meaning utter chaos for the mass transit system in the state, running at half its capacity. We look at how these different pieces of information affect residents’ reflections on the ARC tunnel; long story short, context matters, and it is exactly the type of urgency frame currently being used to advocate for the Gateway project that seems to make residents more inclined to support something like it.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.


 Most say tunnels are important but want adequate funding before new building begins

 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As transit and transportation industry leaders and federal and state officials take early steps to make the Hudson River “Gateway” program a reality, New Jersey residents are troubled by the state of the existing rail tunnels and are second-guessing Gov. Chris Christie’s 2010 termination of the ARC tunnel project, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Just over half of New Jersey residents express at least some concern over the current state of the trans-Hudson tunnels. Likewise, 51 percent say Christie should have gone through with the ARC tunnel five years ago, while 27 percent believe he did the right thing by quashing the project. Another 22 percent are unsure.

Reflections on the ARC project’s cancellation vary according to the context provided. When told Christie’s decision was due to concerns about New Jersey’s inability to absorb cost overruns, state residents are split, more likely to side with the governor than before: 41 percent support his decision in this case, versus 42 percent who say he should have gone through with it. Disagreement with Christie’s decision jumps to 60 percent when residents learn about the tunnels’ age and their limited remaining lifespan; just 26 percent take his side when given this information.

“This is a definite departure from 2010, when over half of New Jerseyans supported Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC tunnel because he foresaw cost overruns,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Five years, one Superstorm, and numerous transit delays later, it has become clear to New Jerseyans just how critical functioning tunnels are to the state.”

Despite sensing the urgency of replacing the tunnels, two of every three New Jerseyans want to secure revenue for the Gateway project before starting planning and construction. About one in four wants to start as soon as possible and worry about funding later.

Virtually all believe the rail tunnels are important to New Jersey’s economic development and quality of life: about half take public transportation to get into New York City, and just over half use some part of the state’s mass transit system. The same number rate public transportation in New Jersey as excellent or good, but about four in ten say the state underfunds it.

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from October 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Context of ARC decision causes partisan differences

The poll randomly divided respondents into three groups to ask about the cancelled ARC tunnel. One group was asked for their views on Christie’s 2010 decision with no further context, another was given additional information about Christie’s original concern that New Jersey would be responsible for cost overruns if the project proceeded, and the third was told the current tunnels’ age (105 years old) and expected lifespan before being forced to close (up to 20 years).

Differences must be interpreted with caution due to small group sizes, but divisions by party lines are evident both within and across the different versions. A solid majority of Republicans support their governor’s decision when given no additional context or when told about potential extra costs, but are more split when told about the current tunnels’ condition.

Independents are more mixed than others when given no additional information – 28 percent say Christie was right, 46 percent disagree. When told about the extra cost burden, independents side more with the governor, 47 percent to 38 percent. Information about the tunnels’ current status provokes the most negativity among independents: 61 percent believe Christie made the wrong choice.

Almost three-quarters of Democrats say Christie should have gone through with ARC – both without additional context and when told about the tunnels’ condition – and are only less likely to disagree (at 55 percent) when told about cost concerns.

Residents most familiar with, in need of tunnels most likely to regret ARC

No matter the context, those who have heard at least some news about the aging tunnels are more likely to say Christie should have gone through with the ARC project (about six in ten) than those who have heard little or nothing at all; a plurality of the latter group (48 percent) side with Christie when given the additional information about cost concerns.

Residents at least somewhat concerned about the tunnels’ condition are consistently more negative about Christie’s choice than those who have little or no concern, particularly when reminded of the tunnels’ age and lifespan (70 percent disagree with Christie). Those unconcerned are more split, reaching a bare majority in support of the cancellation when told of costs.

Views on the overall condition of public transportation in the state have a similar effect: those who say mass transit is in fair or poor shape are slightly more likely than those who say excellent or good to disagree with Christie’s ARC decision.

Other groups who are more negative than positive about the governor’s decision, and who are less likely to change their views even when told about cost, include: those who say the tunnels are very important to New Jersey’s economy and overall quality of life, compared to those who say they are somewhat important; those who say not enough is spent on mass transit, compared to those who say spending is just right; those who take public transportation into New York City instead of driving; and those who say the tunnels should be built as soon as possible instead of waiting for funding.

“It is no surprise that we see these divides, especially based on what information residents are given,” said Koning. “Context matters when discussing these issues – and hindsight is always 20/20. Moreover, whatever the question, the answer is colored by personal circumstances. Those who rely on the trans-Hudson tunnels view the ARC cancellation as a big mistake.”

Funding mass transit projects most important to those most impacted

There is widespread caution when it comes to paying for the new Gateway program. While Govs. Christie and Cuomo want to act first and figure out finances later, New Jerseyans want just the opposite. Even Republicans are solidly against the governor’s decision to spend money the state does not yet have (at 76 percent). The opposition to immediate spending is also especially strong among: middle and higher income residents, those who rarely or never use mass transit (69 percent), those who have heard little or nothing about the condition of the current rail tunnels (70 percent), those who say roads and bridges should be a higher funding priority (72 percent), those with no one in the household working in New York City (67 percent), as well as those living in exurban (76 percent), shore (73 percent), and southern counties near Philadelphia (68 percent).

“Residents know something needs to be done, but as in 2010, they are concerned about cost,” noted Koning. “Those not as directly affected by the tunnels want to pay first and build later – something that may prove difficult given the reality of the multi-decade project ahead.”

A plurality of New Jerseyans (43 percent) think the state needs to spend more on public transportation in general; another 33 percent think New Jersey spends just the right amount. The feeling that spending is lacking reaches a majority among those groups most informed and affected: those more concerned about the existing tunnels (51 percent), those who have heard more about the tunnels’ condition (58 percent), those who say the system is in only fair or poor shape (66 percent), those who most often use trains as their mode of transport (52 percent), and those with someone in the household working in New York City (56 percent).

Nonetheless, New Jerseyans rank roads and bridges as a more important concern than mass transit if they had to choose where transportation spending would be used: 65 percent say the former should be prioritized, while 20 percent say the latter, and another 11 percent say both.

Tunnels a big part of Garden State life

Residents recognize the strong impact the rail tunnels have in New Jersey. Fifty-two percent say they are very important and another 34 percent say somewhat important to economic development in the state; just 7 percent say they are not important at all. New Jerseyans feel similarly about the tunnels’ importance to quality of life: 41 percent say very important, 43 percent say somewhat important, and just 9 percent say not important at all.

Eighteen percent are very concerned about the current state of the trans-Hudson rail tunnels, while another 32 percent say they are somewhat concerned; 23 percent are not very concerned, and 20 percent are not concerned at all. Concern is generally greatest among residents whose lives are most impacted by public transportation, those who know more about the tunnels’ current condition, and those who place a higher importance on the tunnels in everyday life.

Eight percent rate public transportation in New Jersey as excellent, another 41 percent say good. Twenty-nine percent say it is in fair condition, 10 percent say poor; 12 percent are unsure.

While not as common as driving in the state, about a quarter of New Jerseyans frequently use the state’s mass transit system, and almost one in five either work in New York City or have someone in their household who does. When going to New York City for any reason, New Jerseyans prefer taking mass transit to driving, 47 percent to 33 percent; 12 percent do some combination of the two.

Fifty-four percent of mass transit users take the train most often, while 33 percent take the bus. Among those who regularly use public transportation, about six in ten say they spend less than an hour on public transportation on any given weekday.

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New Jerseyans Still Don’t Give a Green Light to a Gas Tax Hike; NJers Know More Funding for Road Repairs is Needed, but Don’t Like the Proposed Means by Which to Get It

We switch gears this week, turning to some issues at the forefront of New Jersey politics. Today we revisit the proposed gas tax hike – an issue we have been following throughout the past year and a half. New Jerseyans continue to adamantly oppose any increase – even a bit more than they did back in February – and no new piece of information seems to change that. Being an academic polling center, we wanted to once again explore levels of opposition toward the gas tax increase a bit further, so we did a survey experiment that randomly split the sample into three separate groups: one group was asked a basic support/oppose question about the gas tax with no further context, another was asked the question but given additional information about revenue being entirely dedicated to road maintenance, and the third group was asked the question within the context of how much more it would cost the average New Jersey driver. While the negative information about additional personal cost had the expected negative effect, respondents were not more likely to support the hike when given the more positive information (revenue only going to road repairs). Nevertheless, a number of residents rate state and especially local roads as only fair or poor, and a large number believe New Jersey does not spend enough money on road and bridge maintenance. Therefore, New Jerseyans know they need a cure for the state’s transportation ills, but the gas tax hike is the much needed medicine that residents simply do not want to take right now.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.


Many say roads in good shape, but over half see need for more money on maintenance

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – An increase in the gasoline tax now seems all but certain in New Jersey, but opposition persists among most residents, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. As talks between Gov. Chris Christie and legislative leaders are anticipated in the coming month on this issue, about six in 10 are against hiking the gas tax for any reason. Thirty-seven percent support the increase, compared with 57 percent who do not, a slightly more negative turn since the issue was last polled in February. There is virtually no change when residents are told the revenue would be dedicated entirely to paying for road maintenance and improvement and other transportation costs: 36 percent support an increase while 58 percent do not.

When respondents are told a gas tax hike would cost the average driver about 50 cents more per day – or $180 annually – their opposition grows stronger: only 29 percent support the hike, while 66 percent oppose it.

“New Jerseyans have remained adamant in their opposition to a gas tax hike over the past 18 months, even as news continues about a near-broke Transportation Trust Fund and the need for many important repairs to the state’s transportation infrastructure,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “New Jerseyans agree more money is needed for this upkeep, but even when told specifically how the extra revenue would be used, they do not want it coming out of their own pockets.”

A corresponding cut in estate and inheritance taxes, a trade-off allegedly supported by Christie, does not make the gas tax hike any more appealing to New Jerseyans. Just 31 percent (down six points since last December) say they would be more likely to support an increase in the gas tax if it were linked to a cut in estate taxes, while 44 percent say this would make them less supportive of a higher gas tax. Sixteen percent say it would make no difference, and 10 percent remain unsure.

Cheaper gas prices in recent months somewhat soften the blow: 48 percent say now would be a better time for a gas tax hike, although 32 percent say it would be a worse time, and 15 percent say no time is good.

Opinions on local and state roads remain steady; 37 percent say the former are in excellent or good condition, while 55 percent say the same of the latter. Nevertheless, 54 percent believe not enough money is spent on road, highway and bridge maintenance.

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from October 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Gas tax increase still a partisan issue

The poll randomly divided respondents into three groups to ask about the gas tax. One group was asked for their views about the hike with no further context, another was given additional information about the generated revenue going entirely to road and bridge maintenance, and the third was only told about the hike’s average additional cost to New Jersey drivers.

The gas tax continues to be politicized both within and across each of the different versions. Democrats look more like independents and Republicans in both the version with no additional context and the one specifying an extra 50 cents per day, although they are still over 10 points more likely than their counterparts to be in favor of the hike even when told the latter. Democrats show almost double the support of other partisans (at 50 percent, versus 46 percent oppose) when told the hike’s revenue would go to the upkeep of transportation infrastructure.

Independents and especially Republicans show more opposition in both the “50 cents more per day” version and, surprisingly, the version about dedicating revenue to repairs than they do when provided no additional information.

Driving habits, road ratings steer views on hike

New Jerseyans who drive a car almost every day are more likely to oppose the hike in all three scenarios (over six in 10 are against it in each) compared to those who drive less. While daily drivers show little change across versions, less frequent drivers show a large spike in negativity when told about the added cost (24 percent support to 65 percent oppose) while being more split in other versions.

New Jerseyans who spend an hour or more driving on an average weekday are most likely to oppose the hike when told about the added personal cost per day (25 percent support to 72 percent oppose), and generally more likely to oppose the hike than those who drive less than an hour. Sixty-two percent of those with hour-plus commutes are still against the hike even when told how the funds would be used, compared to 55 percent of residents who drive less than that.

Views on roadway conditions only somewhat affect gas tax hike support. New Jerseyans who say local roads are in excellent or good shape are about as likely as those who say they are only fair or poor to oppose the hike. Similarly, those more positive about the condition of state highways are just as likely to oppose the hike as those who are more negative in all except the additional cost version; those who rate the state’s highways as excellent or good are 10 points more likely (at 71 percent) to oppose an increase than those who say the highways are only fair or poor.

“The results are as we would expect: views on a gas tax increase remain politicized, as well as ‘driven’ in part by how much you drive and how well you know the roads,” said Koning, while noting limits in interpretative strength given the smaller sub-groups produced by the split design. “But whatever the variations, it’s clear that no one wants it. Not even being told what the revenue would be used for increases support much – sometimes, just the opposite. Perhaps residents don’t trust new taxes or doubt they will be spent as promised.”

Estate tax compromise has some support but not widespread

More than any other demographic, Republicans like the idea of cutting estate and inheritance taxes to balance a gas tax hike: 39 percent say linking the two would make them more likely to support increasing the gas tax, although this is down nine points since last December. Another 39 percent say they would be less likely to support it, making them more split than they were last year. White residents and those in households making $150,000 or more annually most resemble Republicans in these views.

Other groups more swayed by a corresponding estate tax decrease include those who drive almost every day or more (32 percent) and those who agree now is a better time to raise the gas tax (48 percent). Regardless of what context (if any) was presented in the original gas tax hike question, half or more of supporters say they would be even more likely to favor the hike if there was a corresponding decrease in the estate tax.

New Jerseyans who rate local and state roads as only fair or poor actually have stronger negative reactions than those who give more positive ratings; 48 percent say they would be less likely to support a gas tax increase even in light of an estate tax cut.

Despite significant opposition, almost half of New Jerseyans say that if the gas tax is going to go up, there is no time like the present, given lower prices at the pump in recent months – though this number is down five points since last December. Even more frequent drivers and those who spend a longer time in their cars tend to agree more than disagree.

Road conditions, views on funding for repairs determined by usage

Over half of residents say that state roads, excluding the toll-funded Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, are in either good (48 percent) or excellent (7 percent) shape. Another 33 percent see them as in only fair condition, and 9 percent think they are in poor shape. Opinions on local roads are more negative: 5 percent say they are excellent, and 32 percent call them good. Thirty-seven percent say local road conditions are fair, and 25 percent, poor.

New Jerseyans who drive almost daily are not much different from less frequent drivers regarding local roads, but they rank highways more negatively. Those who spend more time in the car are slightly more likely to think local roads and highways are in worse shape than those who spend less time driving.

Despite giving the roadways decent ratings, about half or more of almost every group believes New Jersey is not spending enough on road, highway and bridge maintenance. New Jerseyans who drive more frequently especially feel this way, as do those who spend longer than 30 minutes in the car on average. Those who rate local roads and highways as only fair or poor are about twice as likely as those who give more positive ratings to say more money is needed.

Those living in suburban, exurban, and shore counties are more likely to say the state is not spending enough than those living in other areas.

Among those who support a gas tax increase, large majorities say New Jersey does not spend enough on road and bridge repairs. Even a plurality of gas tax hike opponents say the same.

“It’s an interesting disconnect,” said Koning. “Most New Jerseyans – including the gas tax hike’s dissenters – agree more funding for road and bridge maintenance is needed, but they are largely against the most likely method for securing it.”

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GOP Field in NJ: Christie Drops to Sixth, Voters Say He Should Call it Quits

Some more not-so-great news for the governor back home.  Whether what’s going on in his home state will affect the bigger picture of 2016 remains to be seen, but it says something when your own voters in your own state – particularly your own state’s party base – aren’t behind you anymore.  It’s a similar storyline to a somewhat recent 538 article on Martin O’Malley.  To fall from New Jerseyans’ top choice at 32 percent in December 2014, to a distant second (behind Trump) this past August, to now just 5 percent in the middle of the pack is a significant blow. It surely makes Christie an outsider – few other candidates with home state ties seem to be in the same predicament – but not the kind of outsider Christie wants to be.

A very special thank you to our incredible staff of undergraduate students at Rutgers who assisted with this release: Robert Cartmell, Chisa Egbelu, Zach Goldfarb, Elizabeth Kantor, Cecilia Schiavo, and Sonni Waknin.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.



Voters cite governing, attitude, personality as reasons why Christie trails other candidates

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Despite some recent gains on the 2016 campaign trail, Gov. Chris Christie has plummeted among his own party’s 2016 preferences back home, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Similar to national polls, 32 percent of New Jersey Republican and GOP-leaning registered voters choose businessman Donald Trump for their party’s nomination. Trump tops the list for the second straight Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Meanwhile Christie’s New Jersey GOP support has been cut in half since August, when he was in second place at 12 percent. With just 5 percent of Republican voters naming him, Christie now trails Dr. Ben Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both at 13 percent, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 6 percent. While tied when results are rounded, he comes in sixth in mentions between former CEO Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, each also at 5 percent.


Voters of all partisan stripes echo a general pessimism about “Candidate Christie,” believing it is time for him to throw in the towel. Sixty-seven percent think Christie should end his campaign for president, while 27 percent say he should continue to run. Only 9 percent say Christie’s prospects have improved in the past few months; the rest are split between whether his chances have remained the same or worsened, showing little difference since April.

Christie’s decline is at least partly due to Trump, say some voters: 32 percent think he would be doing better without Trump in the race, although 59 percent say Christie would be doing about the same as he is now. But asked to name reasons why Christie ranks so far below other Republican candidates running for president, Trump’s candidacy is far down on voters’ lists. Instead, they mention Christie’s performance as governor (12 percent) or his overall attitude and character (11 percent) as the main reasons he is not gaining traction.

“Other Republican candidates have been led by Trump in their home states’ polls, but virtually all still come in second or third,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Christie no longer has any home state advantage. The voters who know him best blame not his competition but what Christie himself is doing – or not doing – for New Jersey.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field here, with almost half of all voters naming her as their top choice. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders follows far behind, at 19 percent, while Vice President Joe Biden, not yet a candidate, comes in third, at 10 percent.

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from October 3 to 10, 2015, including 781 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. The GOP subsample of 273 voters has a margin of error of +/-6.6 percentage points, while the subsample of 367 Democrats is +/- 5.7 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Christie falls; Trump, Clinton continue leads

For Christie, now in the midst of some of his lowest ratings ever, the current numbers are a far cry from the days when he was New Jersey Republicans’ top choice for 2016, at 32 percent last December; no other candidate came close at the time. But in the first Rutgers-Eagleton Poll after he officially announced his candidacy this past summer, Christie fell to a distant second against Trump. Now, he is in a virtual three-way “tie” for fifth place when results are rounded.

When asked for their second choice, Christie does only slightly better with Republican voters, at 9 percent, coming in third to Rubio and Carson – both of whom have jumped eight points since August. Christie is an especially strong second choice among those who pick Ohio Gov. John Kasich (at 22 percent) or Trump (at 16 percent) as their first choice.

Trump, on the other hand, has more than twice the support of any other candidate for Republican voters’ first choice and garners another 9 percent as Republicans’ second choice. Trump is viewed slightly less favorably than Christie overall – 31 percent favorable to 55 percent unfavorable – but he is less than 10 points shy of Christie when it comes to likeability among the GOP base: 59 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of the business tycoon, while 26 percent do not and another 15 percent have no opinion.

“As in national polls, we are talking about small differences here between some of the candidates, but there is no question that Christie has suffered a significant blow,” said Koning. “In single digits for the first time on his own turf, he is now performing little better here than he is nationally.”

Even in the face of some negative press coverage and declining favorability, Clinton continues to head the list of Democratic voters’ first choices. She is also the second choice for over half of Democrats who choose Sanders or Biden as their first pick.

But Clinton’s favorability has taken a hit since August, part of a larger overall decline since February, putting her now at 45 percent favorable (down three points) to 46 percent unfavorable (up seven points).

Bleak outlook for Candidate Christie across the board

No one is optimistic about Christie for 2016, not even those who have typically supported him most. Only those generally favorable toward Christie believe he should continue to run, albeit by a slim majority – 52 percent to 41 percent who say he should end his presidential quest. Not even Republicans are solidly in his corner: 41 percent say he should keep running, but 54 percent say he should call it quits. Sixty-three percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats also urge him to stop. Well over half of virtually every demographic group believes Christie should call it a day.

Calls to end his presidential run in no doubt stem from the widespread belief that Christie’s chances have not improved. Fifty percent of Democrats say things have worsened for the governor, while another 42 percent say they have remained the same. Independents are split between these two options, at 43 percent. Even 26 percent of Republicans think his chances have grown worse, while 56 percent say they are the same as before; those with a favorable impression of the governor show a similar pattern.

And while both men are outspoken tough-talking Northeasterners known for their “shoot from the hip” attitudes, voters say the competition from Trump is not really damaging Christie’s chances. Even Christie’s supporters are somewhat mixed on Trump’s effect. Among those favorable toward Christie, 51 percent say Christie would be doing better without the entrepreneur in the race, while 40 percent say he would do the same; Republicans are about evenly divided, 46 percent to 48 percent. Majorities of all other groups say Trump’s presence has made little difference to Christie’s chances.

Christie’s current job, character haunt his 2016 chances

When asked why Christie has ranked below most of the other Republican candidates in presidential polls over the past few months, voters’ responses have little to do with the actual presidential race and more to do with reasons innate to Christie and his governorship.

Voters were most likely to cite the job he is currently doing in New Jersey, mentioning lack of progress, poor leadership, and little time spent getting things done at home. “I don’t think he is working for New Jersey anymore,” said one voter. Voters believe Christie’s weak performance at home is connected to perceptions of his presidential potential. “New Jersey is not a success story, and people know it,” one voter reasoned. “His achievements so far are not great examples for [the] presidency,” said another.

Voters see his persona as his second biggest determinant in the race to 2016. Christie’s overall attitude and character have always defined him, at times his best – and, other times, his worst – features. “[The] tough guy act doesn’t work outside New Jersey,” one respondent explained.

Tying as the third highest reason for his lackluster presidential rankings, voters mention Christie being dishonest or untrustworthy and his policy stances, at 8 percent each. Another 7 percent cite Bridgegate and other administrative scandals. Views of Christie as a bully and outspoken each come in at 6 percent. Any reasons related directly to 2016 each come in at under 5 percent, including: Donald Trump, lack of 2016 media coverage, Christie’s other competition, how he is running his campaign, his inability to distinguish himself from the other candidates, and his lack of qualifications.

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Lackluster News Back Home for Christie in the Garden State; The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is Back with a Fresh Look at the Governor’s Ratings

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll is back with its latest round of results, and first up is the newest numbers on Gov. Chris Christie.  Not a whole lot has changed since we last polled the governor in August.  He received a few point bump this time around in his favorability and job approval, but the numbers nonetheless still paint a worrisome picture for the governor.  His favorability has bottomed out in the 30s since February; his job approval followed right along with it in August.  And no specific issues garners him anything close to 50 percent except for Sandy – though even this issue is a far cry from the near unanimous support Christie once received for his recovery efforts post-superstorm.  Not to mention, NJ voters are still pretty unhappy with the state of the Garden State, a type of negativity we haven’t seen since October 2009.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.


Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds Six in 10 Voters Say Garden State is on the Wrong Track

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Even a potential hurricane last week could not give Gov. Chris Christie much of a boost in his home state, where voters continue to feel largely negative toward him and the job he is doing, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Thirty-five percent of New Jersey registered voters have a favorable opinion of Christie; while up five points from August, this is still the second lowest rating he has ever received. Likewise, while unfavorable ratings have improved by four points, 55 percent remain negative toward the governor. Voters in the Garden State have been consistently more unfavorable than favorable toward him since October 2014.

Christie Fav Oct 2015Similarly, Christie’s overall job approval is not significantly different from August when it hit bottom; 39 percent now approve (up two points), while 56 percent disapprove (down three points). A majority has consistently disapproved of the job Christie is doing since February 2015.Christie Overall Job Approval Trend Oct 2015

“Christie recently had a solid GOP debate performance and scored some major Iowa donors for his presidential campaign, but things have yet to significantly pick up for him back home,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Even with some small signs of improvement this month, the bipartisan popularity he touts on the campaign trail no longer exists in New Jersey. Christie has lost support among virtually all Democrats, a large number of independents, and even many within his own party.”

Christie fares no better on individual issues. His rating on the perennially top issue of taxes continues to fall – just 25 percent approve in this latest poll, while 66 percent disapprove.Christie Individual Issue Approval Trend Oct 2015

Voters continue to ding Christie on other issues, with performance on crime and drugs falling to 38 percent approve, 44 percent disapprove. Approval on the economy and jobs remains strongly negative at 31 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove. He continues to draw substantial disapproval for his efforts on the state budget (29 percent approve, 59 percent disapprove), the state pension fund situation (21 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove), and education (36 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove).

Sandy is the only issue where Christie’s ratings are positive, though voters are closely divided – 49 percent approve to 42 percent disapprove. This is the issue on which Christie has taken his biggest hit given that he commanded well over 80 percent approval on Sandy recovery through most of 2013.

Negativity toward Christie seems to go hand in hand with perceptions of the overall state of the Garden State, with 61 percent of voters now saying New Jersey has gone off on the wrong and just 32 percent saying it is going in the right direction. This is a complete reversal from two years ago, with such strong negativity not felt since October 2009.

NJ Track Trend Oct 2015

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from October 3 to 10, 2015, including 781 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Small gains but mostly low marks for Christie

Despite gains in the last two months, Christie continues to receive lackluster ratings from Garden State voters. His Republican base is a bit more positive than in August, with 68 percent now having a favorable impression of the governor – though this is still far from the near-unanimous party support he received pre-Bridgegate. Views toward the governor among Democrats are relatively steady at 14 percent favorable, 81 percent unfavorable. Independents have rebounded to where they were in April, at 36 percent favorable; 49 percent of independents are unfavorable, down 10 points since August.

Likewise, 71 percent of Republicans continue to approve of the job Christie is doing as governor, compared to just 16 percent of Democrats (down three points since August). Independents are much less negative and much more split than they were two months ago: 42 percent approve (up eight points) to 49 percent disapprove (down 13 points).

Christie’s report card has also changed little since August. When asked to award the governor a letter grade, more voters than ever now give Christie an F, at 28 percent. For the second time in the past year, just 5 percent give him an A – the lowest number of top grades Christie has received since taking office. Twenty-two percent now give Christie a B, 26 percent a C, and another 18 percent a D.

Just 1 percent of Democrats give Christie an A, while 43 percent fail him. Though just 4 percent of independents give Christie an A, the rest of this group is spread out more evenly among the remaining letter grades. Republicans are the only group, besides those favorable toward Christie and those who approve of the job he is doing, whose number of As reaches double-digits. Twelve percent of Republicans award him this top grade, while another 42 percent give him a B; but Christie still gets a D or F from 23 percent of his base.

Majorities across the board disapprove of Christie on taxes, economy, state finances

New Jersey voters, who often cite taxes as one of the most important problems in the state, have consistently given Christie some of his lowest scores on this very same issue, beat out only by his even lower approval on the state pension fund situation.

Christie garners more approval than disapproval on taxes only from those who are favorable toward him and those who approve of the job he is doing overall, but even among these groups he does not reach a majority; exactly half of each approve of his job on taxes.

Republicans continue to turn against Christie on taxes: 45 percent approve of his approach, while 51 percent disapprove. Just 12 percent of Democrats (down eight points) and 26 percent of independents (down four points) approve Christie’s job in this area.

Women (at 71 percent) and non-white voters (at 77 percent) especially disapprove of Christie’s handling of taxes. Those in households making $150,000 or more annually are slightly more likely to approve of Christie on this issue than those in less affluent households.

Approval on the economy and state budget show similar patterns. While solid majorities of Christie supporters approve of his job in these areas, Republicans are still not fully in his corner for either; 50 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove of Christie on the economy, while 50 percent approve and 36 percent disapprove on the state budget. Voters who identify as conservative are likewise split at 44 percent approve to 41 percent disapprove on the economy and 44 percent to 43 percent on the budget. No other group comes anywhere close to majority approval.

Christie does worse on the state pension fund situation, failing to gain majority approval even from those with a favorable impression of him or those who approve of the job he is doing overall. Republicans are split on his handling of the issue (39 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove); just 8 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of independents approve Christie’s job in this area.

“While Christie has never reached 50-percent approval specifically on taxes or the economy, both ratings have suffered double-digit drops over the past 20 months,” Koning noted. “This is also the third straight time in which not a single issue among all polled garners majority approval for the governor – a very different picture from two years ago at the time of his reelection.”

Feelings toward Christie and New Jersey intertwined

While voters’ views on the direction of New Jersey have been more negative than positive since March 2014, dissatisfaction in the last six months has reached a level rarely seen in the past 25 years, paralleling growing displeasure with Christie himself.

The only groups where majorities believe New Jersey is heading in the right direction are those most supportive of the governor: Republicans (at 54 percent), those with a favorable impression of Christie (at 60 percent), those who approve of the job he is doing overall (at 62 percent), and those who approve of the job he is doing on several individual issues.

Large majorities of all other groups share a more negative outlook on the Garden State, with some of Christie’s usual detractors being the most negative.

A solid majority of independents and especially Democrats believe New Jersey has gotten off on the wrong track, at 60 percent and 71 percent, respectively. Similar numbers of liberal and moderate voters feel the same, as do even half of voters who identify as conservative.

Women are slightly more negative toward New Jersey’s direction than men: 64 percent of women, but only 57 percent of men say the state is off on the wrong track. Non-white voters are similarly a bit more pessimistic than white voters, 65 percent to 59 percent.

Those in higher income households are a few points more positive than their lower income counterparts. Exurbanites and shore residents –usually more favorable toward Christie – also have a somewhat more positive outlook on New Jersey than those living in other areas, though a majority of voters in all regions say the state is on the wrong track.

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Eagleton in Iowa: Is 2016 the Last 1st in the Nation Iowa Caucus?

For the last two months, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling Director David Redlawsk has been in Iowa, studying the first in the nation Iowa Caucuses, following up on work he and colleagues did in 2007-08 for the book Why Iowa?.

What follows is another in our occasional series of blog posts from him about his experiences and about the campaigns for president. These posts were originally published on the Drake University Caucus Blog; Dave is in residence as a Fellow at the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement. In addition to these posts, he is tweeting @DavidRedlawsk as he attends events and watches the process unfold.

Today’s post is in response to what has become a regular game: threatening the position of Iowa and New Hampshire as the first in the nation states. Some people think Iowa is at risk.  Read below to see why Dave’s not so sure that’s the case.

RNC Chair Suggests Iowa and New Hampshire Might not be First Next Time

And so it begins. The quadrennial effort to change the status quo where Iowa leads the presidential nomination process with the caucuses, followed by New Hampshire’s primary, is underway. And like all efforts before it, this one seems unlikely to succeed.

DSC08661Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus recently commented that as the planning begins for 2020, the early “carve-out” states are not sacred cows, as he put it. Instead, Priebus seems to suggest that a more regional or even national approach might be considered.

Since 1976, the Iowa Republican and Democratic parties have zealously guarded their leadoff slot, even to the extent of writing it into state law, which requires that Iowa be the first event. New Hampshire also requires that it be first, but since Iowa does not hold a primary, that state has been content to be the first primary state. Every four years someone, or a number of someones, threatens the status of these two states; through all of it Iowa and New Hampshire’s positions have been maintained. And for good reason.

As my colleagues and I describe in Why Iowa?, a regional or national primary is no panacea and would probably bring a different set of problems and its own unintended consequences. Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as the more recent carve-out states of South Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Nevada, require a kind of retail politics that we think makes candidates better. Instead of just sound-bites, airport tarmac speeches, and massive TV ad campaigns, candidates today must meet actual voters, answer questions, and explain themselves. In a regional, and even more so in a national, primary, candidates would almost never get out of the campaign bubble and never be forced to respond to voters. And trust me, responding to the media does not take the place of talking to voters. Grassroots campaigns allows voters to better check candidate quality than a TV based campaign, where there is no direct feedback loop from meeting voters in small groups. One of the greatest strengths of Iowa and New Hampshire is that it is possible for candidates to meet and shake the hands of a large percentage of those who will actually be supporting them at the polls. Voters learn from this and candidates do, too.

And to solve what problem? That these early states are somehow too influential? Of course they matter, because they go first. And agreed, a regional or national approach would limit their influence, but it would also limit the influence of all voters as candidates focus on media, as well as bias the process toward the very large, vote-rich states, leaving most states out in the cold. Candidates who might have something to offer, but haven’t spent years building up superpacs and huge war chests, would have less than no opportunity to be heard in an ad-driven large-scale campaign. We would trade one set of concerns for another, and for an untested new system with few obvious benefits.

IMG_1100There is a place for large-scale campaigns, of course, and we do get something akin to them during so-called “Super Tuesdays,” when a number of states bunch up on a particular primary date. The ability of candidates to personally campaign in front of a large share of the voters is limited, but the TV ads and media campaigns are not.

At the same time, there may be some value to limiting the lengthy sequential nature of the process. In Why Iowa? we proposed a hybrid – what we call a “caucus window/national primary” system. The process would start with a caucus window running for several weeks, during which no primaries would be held, but any small state that wanted to hold a caucus could. These caucuses would most likely get media attention as the first tests of candidate organizing ability and would presumably maintain the grassroots politics benefits of the current system. The results would be informative to voters; in essence the caucuses would be an initial vetting of the candidates.

Once that window closes, all states would hold simultaneous primaries – a national primary – at which delegates would be elected. Many details (such as delegate allocation and what to do if no one wins a majority) would need to be worked out, but the basic idea (expanded on in more detail in Why Iowa?) would preserve the benefits of the grassroots caucus process while allowing more voters in more states to have a real say in what happens.

But what about the chances of things actually changing, either in the direction we suggest or along the lines of the RNC Chairman’s musings? I would suggest the odds are Slim to None, and Slim has left the room (as we used to say back home). The simple reason is that the national parties actually have relatively little direct control over when primaries and caucuses are held. Sure, there are national rules, and supposedly sanctions can be applied, but the evidence so far is that rules and sanctions have very limited effects. But it is state parties – and in many cases state legislatures – that set the actual dates, and they do so based on their own calculations.

Second, and maybe more importantly, one Bill Gardner pretty much outweighs everyone else combined. Gardner is New Hampshire’s Secretary of State, and under state law he has the absolute power to set the date of the NH primary. He has made it clear, year after year, that NH will hold the first primary whenever it has to be held. And Iowa, which has a similar state law requiring the caucuses to be the first non-primary event, has not been shy to move its date either. Thus in 2008 and again in 2012, the Iowa caucuses were on January 3.

It seems likely that no matter what rules the RNC (and presumably the Democrats as well) establish about the order of nominating events, dislodging Iowa and New Hampshire will take more than the musings of the RNC Chair or even votes of the entire Republican National Committee. Of course, neither state cares all that much what comes after them; as long as the rules allow a carve-out for them, they will be happy. And if the rules don’t, they will probably violate the rules and go first anyway.

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Eagleton in Iowa

For the last two months, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling Director David Redlawsk has been in Iowa, studying the first in the nation Iowa Caucuses, following up on work he and colleagues did in 2007-08 for the book Why Iowa?. Today we will start an occasional series of blog posts from him about his experiences and about the campaigns for president. These posts were originally published on the Drake University Caucus Blog; Dave is in residence as a Fellow at the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement. In addition to these posts, he is tweeting @DavidRedlawsk as he attends events and watches the process unfold.

This first post talks about the experience of watching 20 candidates for president speak at the Iowa State Fair in August, at the Des Moines Register Soapbox.


An Exercise in Old Fashioned Democracy

By David Redlawsk, Director, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling

There is something wonderfully old fashioned about the Iowa State Fair. I’m not talking about the 4H projects, or the pie-judging, or the carnival midway. I’m talking about the Des Moines Register soapbox. In this day of carefully crafted media campaigns and even more carefully developed soundbites, the fact that candidates can still stand up on a stage (wish it were a real soapbox, but where are you going to find one of those these days?) and talk to real people in a less than overly controlled environment says something good about why we start the nomination process in small states. The Register does a real service to Iowa and the country by sponsoring the Soapbox.DSC08535

People waited as long as a hour and a half in the hot sun to see the candidates (or, on one day, in the rain). While candidates who come to the Fair are all but forced to do stupid things for the media (like eating some kind of food on a stick) they are also forced to pay attention to the questions voters ask. Those not at the Soapbox can read about it, watch it online or TV, and get exposed to their options, and many do. Even fairgoers not at the soapbox have some sense of the role Iowa plays in this process.

IMG_0460I suppose it is pretty clear I am a fanboy for the Soapbox. After watching 19 presidential candidates (only Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Rand Paul, and Jim Gilmore didn’t speak at the Soapbox, while Gilmore and Paul were the only ones not to come to the fair), I can say with authority that I am exhausted. And, also, that Iowans are privileged.

Of course, they already know this, and those in other states who pay attention to politics know this too. Since it is first in the nation in the nomination contest, Iowa has an outsized influence on the choices facing voters nationally. As my coauthors and I detailed in our book Why Iowa?, the caucuses engage Iowans, candidates, and the media in a kind of dance as Iowans try out one candidate after another, and the media tries to read the dynamics of an event that won’t occur for months.

And of course, it’s because of the potential for media attention that these candidates come here. For some the potential is realized, either through their own performance (Carly Fiorina got a lot of buzz at least from the crowd with her non-speech, Q&A-only performance, and Ben Carson seemed much better in real life than he ever does on TV) or someone else’s (hecklers who took on Scott Walker who gave as good as he got, and animal rights activists who crashed Chris Christie’s stage and let him get off a nice zinger.) For some, like former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, who isn’t even on the media’s list of candidates, there may have been no national media, but there was the Register live streaming the event.

Of course, not everyone takes advantage, for whatever reason: Trump and Clinton were both at the Fair but ignored the Soapbox, somewhat too their detriment (at least according to chatter amongst Iowans waiting to hear other candidates.) But they still came to the Fair. Only about half of this year’s crowd took questions at all, but those that did found that Iowans ask pretty good ones. They also found that various interest groups were also well-represented.

Obviously, candidates hold other events where they meet and talk to voters all over Iowa. But the Fair is the one place where they are all (literally) on the same level playing field, if they choose to come. The audience is not hand-picked, and they are not afraid to express themselves. As for the candidates, my sense is that many of them may resent having to do this, in some sense, but some really like the crowd, really like pressing the flesh (Martin O’Malley comes to mind, but Jim Webb and Bobby Jindal also worked the Soapbox crowd before their speeches). Other candidates seem less comfortable (Jeb Bush seemed a bit uneasy to me) but understand they have to present themselves this way to voters who will really matter come February 1.

The Des Moines Register Soapbox, which began in 2003, has become a can’t-miss institution for most presidential candidates, and in non-presidential years for candidates for governor and Congress as well (and non-candidates as well, like Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.) The rules are really simple – as Register Editor Carol Hunter says, candidates get a microphone and 20 minutes to use as they wish. This is the best kind of throwback to the good old days. Fair goers can see the candidates up close, listen to their stump speech, maybe ask questions, and attempt to take measure of the men and women who want to lead this country.

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