Monthly Archives: December 2015

Eagleton in Iowa: Electing Delegates through the Iowa Caucuses

Since August, 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.

Read below for Dave’s take on how Iowans tend to make up their minds late.


Delegates: They’re What It’s Really About

Since 1972 for the Democrats, and this year for the Republicans, the Iowa Precinct Caucuses have not really been primarily about voting for presidential candidates.

Well they have (and are) but the real goal is to win delegates (ultimately) to the respective national conventions. Precinct Caucuses do NOT elect delegates to the national convention, but they do elect them to the county conventions, and the process continues from there through district and state conventions, then to the national convention.

The stakes then, are not just the media bump that generally comes from exceeding expectations on caucus night, but also ultimately claiming a share of the delegates Iowa will elect to the national conventions. No one gets nominated to be their party’s standard-bearer without having 50%+1 of all the delegates to the national convention. To be sure, Iowa’s share of those delegates is quite small (see here [GOP | Democrats] for details on every state’s delegate counts) but at least for the Republicans, every delegate may well count given the fractured nature of the field.

Historically, there was no connection between the vote in Republican Precinct Caucuses and the national convention delegates won. It was strictly a beauty contest. This year, however, for the first time GOP convention delegates will be bound on the first ballot. What does this mean for the Iowa GOP? It would either mean electing individual delegates based on whom they support – something they have never done – or coming up with an alternative. The latter is what Iowa has done. Individual delegates will still be elected at large, starting at the Precinct Caucuses, without respect to which candidate they support. But if there is a contested nomination at the national convention, on the first round Iowa’s vote will be reported based on caucus night results. So if Rick Santorum gets 10% of the caucus vote, Iowa will announce that he gets 3 votes on the first ballot (10% of the state’s 30 GOP delegates.) This will be regardless of whether he is still in the race by then. If the nomination is uncontested, Iowa GOP will announce 100% for the nominee. This represents a major change for the GOP; for the first time the vote at the caucuses will correspond directly to the vote on the national convention floor. Now, if the nomination goes to a second ballot, those individual delegates are free to vote for whomever they want.

Turning to the Democrats, the story is completely different and has been since the modern process was put in place in 1972. Democrats have never announced the actual vote counts in their caucuses. Instead, because they publicly divide into groups supporting candidates, the election of county convention delegates is done within those groups, which means that supporters of Martin O’Malley (and any candidate, subject to threshold requirements) will elect members of their own group as county convention delegates.  Thus, while Democratic delegates are not bound in any subsequent convention, because they are almost always activist supporters of the candidate, they stick with her or him until told otherwise.

My own experience in 2008 illustrates this. At the time I was an active Democrat in Johnson County, IA, home of the University of Iowa where I was teaching at the time. (I should note that I left partisan politics when I moved to Rutgers to run the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.) The night before the 2004 caucus I announced my support for John Edwards. Obviously he did not win that year, but his strong showing beat expectations and ultimately he became John Kerry’s running mate. Fast forward to 2007, and I was on the Edwards bandwagon again, joining his statewide advisory team. When the January 3 caucus rolled around, I wanted to be sure I was elected as an Edwards delegate to the county convention from my precinct, Iowa City 8. Our precinct was allocated 6 delegates; for me to be elected the Edwards group would have to be viable and its members would have to elect me as a delegate. As I was chairing the caucus, I was not organizing the Edwards folks; others were doing that.

As it turned out, our group was not viable initially. Had that continued, I could not have been elected to the county convention as an Edwards delegate. Fortunately for me, some second-round politicking enabled us to viability, and we were awarded one of the six county convention delegates. First hurdle, done.

Next step, getting elected as a delegate. Fortunately, I was well known by Edwards folks in the precinct and was probably the one who wanted the position most. It was also the case that anyone not elected as a delegate could be designated an alternate, and if some elected Edwards delegates failed to show to the county convention, they would have the opportunity to be seated. My recollection is that no one else ended up running for the slot, so I had it.

The county convention came next, in March 2008. Before that, Edwards had suspended his campaign, so we Edwards delegates no longer had a candidate, although he had not yet endorsed anyone else. So our group of county convention delegates worked hard to maintain our viability as our own group at that convention. We managed to do so, which meant even if our candidate was no longer running, we elected Edwards delegates to the district and state conventions. We had enough delegates that I had no problem being one of those elected to move on.

By the time of the district conventions in April (each of Iowa’s congressional districts holds its own convention) things were still uncertain, with no instructions from Edwards about what to do. As we canvassed Edwards delegates from all of the counties in the 2nd District, it became clear it would be touch and go as to whether we could retain viability at the district. Some delegates were already committing to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama; others said they just might not bother showing up.

To keep a too long story from getting even longer, I won’t go into the details, but we managed in the end to maintain our viability at the 2nd District. The district convention was allocated 6 national convention delegates, and I really wanted to be one of them. However, Democrats have a strict gender quota rule: the state delegation must be evenly divided between men and women. To accomplish this, there is a procedure for determining the gender of each delegate slot won by a candidate at district and state conventions, and the election for delegates is separated by gender (everyone votes on all delegates for their preference group, but female and male delegates are elected in separate votes.)

So the question was, would the sole Edwards delegate from the 2nd District be male or female? The answer had been pre-determined some time before in Des Moines. Of the six delegates to be elected, the order was MFMFMF. The genders were allocated in order of the vote. Since Obama has the most delegates, his first delegate would be male. Clinton had the second most delegates; her first delegate would be female. Edwards, the only other viable candidate, came in third, so his first (and only delegate) would be male. This closed the door on any female Edwards supporter who wanted to be a national convention delegate from my district, and opened it for men.

My recollection at this point is a little hazy, but I know a large number of men submitted petitions to be the Edwards national convention delegate from our district; perhaps as many as 10 or more. I was one of them. I had to get a certain number of signatures and file with the convention before I knew if we were going to win any delegates; fortunately I had done so.

To win any delegate position for the Democrats, one must get 50% + 1 of the votes. Given the large field, it took hours to complete our process. Preference groups members cast their vote for delegate on a ballot paper that is numbered; this creates a record of the vote, since all votes in Democratic conventions are actually public. After each round, the ballots were taken to be counted, and eventually results announced. On the first (and several subsequent ballots) no one got 50%+1; the decision was made to drop candidates below a threshold for the next ballot. I seem to recall at least four rounds, and at least three hours going by. I survived each round; in the final one it was me and one other gentleman still standing.

To this day I am surprised I won that election. It ultimately gave me the opportunity to be one of Iowa’s Democratic National Convention delegates in an historic year. Ultimately, after some wooing, I committed to Obama in early June, some time after Edwards himself had endorsed Obama, and a couple weeks before the Iowa State Convention, where more national convention delegates would be elected. By then, there was no longer a viable Edwards group; but through some negotiations we still managed to get another one or two Edwards activists elected as Obama delegates, to join the 4 of us who had been elected at district conventions around the state. I believe we Edwards delegates all ended up supporting Obama on the floor at the national convention.

But the entire Iowa delegation did not. When it came time to announce our vote to the nation, we split 48 for Obama and 9 for Clinton. Note that this is not what actually happened in the precinct caucuses, where Obama won 38%, Edwards 30%, and Clinton 29%. While critically important in boosting Obama’s campaign, the Democratic precinct results did not in the end drive the national convention vote.

The lesson of this very long story is that for the Democrats the road to becoming a national convention delegate is a story of grassroots politics, starting with your preferred candidate at the precinct caucuses. If your candidate does not make viability in your precinct, you are done, unless you can convince folks in another preference group to elect you to the county convention. And the same is true through the process. It is complex, but it ensures a certain amount of opportunity for grassroots activists.

However, given the change in the GOP rules this year, it will be the Republicans – if their nomination is contested on the floor of the convention – who will better translate the actual Iowa Precinct Caucus vote into national convention delegates. Democrats will reduce their actual vote to delegates and will do this over and over throughout their convention process, so that by the time of the national convention, the actual floor vote (if the nomination is contested) will probably not reflect what happen in caucuses so many months before.

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Some Holiday Fun and Looking Ahead to 2016 on the 200th Rutgers-Eagleton Poll!!

With Christmas right around the corner, we wanted to wrap up our 200th poll press releases with a little bit of holiday fun!  We polled New Jerseyans on the “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” question asked a few times over the years by Pew Research Center, as well as about New Year’s resolutions for 2016 (a topic we ourselves asked back in 2012). Turns out, NJers mostly do not care which seasonal greeting is used, and resolutions center around health, wealth, and success.

So enjoy some holiday statistics, and Happy Holidays (or Merry Christmas or Season’s Greetings – take your pick!) from the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll!

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


 Health tops residents’ New Year’s resolutions for 2016 

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – ‘Tis the season in the Garden State, and as New Jerseyans fit in last-minute holiday shopping, 49 percent do not care how they are greeted by merchants, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

But about one-third still prefer hearing “Merry Christmas,” while 19 percent want something less religious, like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

“Almost nine in 10 New Jerseyans celebrate Christmas, but residents without a preference or who want a more generic greeting outnumber those who want ‘Merry Christmas’ by more than 2 to 1,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “And though Garden Staters mostly resemble the rest of the country on holiday greeting preferences as we see in national polling, they are slightly less likely than other Americans to choose ‘Merry Christmas’ and are more likely to opt for something less religious.”

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, one third of New Jerseyans are procrastinators and have not made a resolution yet. Among those who have, health- and fitness-related promises top the list. Eleven percent mention staying or getting healthy, another 8 percent specify something about losing weight, and 3 percent want to strive for good health, in general. Three percent also hope to quit smoking.

Five percent have made a resolution about money – spending less, as well as saving or making more – while another 5 percent say something about becoming more successful. Other resolutions include becoming a better person (7 percent) and achieving peace and happiness (3 percent).

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Politicizing Christmas

Much like the larger debate about a “war on Christmas,” preferences on seasonal greetings become entangled in politics during the holidays each year. Unlike New Jerseyans as a whole, most Republicans prefer the more religious greeting of “Merry Christmas,” at 49 percent. Just 10 percent of this group chooses “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” Democrats and independents feel just the opposite. Among Democrats, 22 percent prefer “Merry Christmas” and 29 percent want something less religious. Independents feel similarly, though a bit more likely than Democrats to choose “Merry Christmas” (at 32 percent) and less likely to choose “Happy Holidays” (at 15 percent).

Above all, Democrats and independents say it does not matter (49 percent and 52 percent, respectively); even 41 percent of Republicans say this.

Ideological conservatives are the most likely of all demographics to prefer “Merry Christmas” and the only group that reaches a majority: 55 percent side with this greeting, while only 9 percent choose “Happy Holidays” and 36 percent have no strong feeling either way. They are more than three times as likely as liberals and almost twice as likely as moderates to prefer the more religious phrase. Liberals and moderates, on the other hand, look much like Democrats and independents.

Religion has only a slight impact on preferences. Catholics and Protestants in the state are a bit more likely than New Jerseyans as a whole, and much more likely than residents of other religious affiliations, to want stores to use “Merry Christmas” – 40 percent of Catholics and 42 percent of Protestants do, compared to just 19 percent of those from other religions. Similarly, 42 percent of born-again Christians feel the same. Nevertheless, more than four in 10 of each are indifferent.

Even half of those who celebrate Christmas have no preference; another 35 percent would prefer the more religious greeting, while 17 percent say they would actually prefer something less religious.

White residents are 12 points more likely to prefer “Merry Christmas” than non-white residents, though half of both groups are indifferent. Residents 50 years and older are almost four times as likely (at about 40 percent) to prefer the more religious greeting than millennials (at just 11 percent). Millennials are the most indifferent, with 60 percent saying it does not matter to them which greeting is used.

Eighty-eight percent of New Jerseyans say they celebrate Christmas, 9 percent celebrate Hanukah, 2 percent Kwanza, 1 percent each celebrate Ramadan and Diwali, and 8 percent celebrate something else. Four percent of residents do not celebrate anything.

Wishes for health, wealth, and success in the New Year

New Jerseyans continue to make health, fitness, and finances top priorities, similar to when the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll last asked about resolutions in 2012. While these topics remain most prevalent among New Jerseyans overall, some disparities between groups do emerge.

While gender differences are not significant when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, men are a bit more likely than women to mention something about money and staying or getting healthy, while women are slightly more likely to specify losing weight.

Non-white residents’ resolutions are focused more on money issues and achieving success in the new year compared to white residents.

Age has a definite impact on resolutions. Millennials are most concerned with being successful in 2016 (at 16 percent) – a vast difference from older residents, for which this type of resolution barely registers. New Jerseyans under 50 years old are also much more likely than those over 50 to mention something about money.

Residents of all ages are concerned about getting and staying healthy, though 50-64 year olds are slightly more likely to say this as their resolution and also most likely to specifically have a resolution about losing weight.

New Jerseyans in more affluent households are more likely to mention health and fitness than those in households making less than $50,000 annually. Those in households making $150,000 or more are less likely than others to mention a resolution that involves money.

“Garden Staters mention a wide range of New Year’s resolutions, including uplifting things like ‘creating joy’ and ‘peace on earth,” said Koning. “But not all resolutions are rosy. Others imply a dissatisfaction with life in New Jersey and state politics: a handful of residents mention a desire to move out of the state, and one individual even wished for Gov. Chris Christie to end his presidential campaign and come back home to govern.”

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Some polling about … polling!! NJers think polls matter to democracy and are somewhat trusting of them, but question their accuracy

Our 200th poll has been a whirlwind so far with releases on terrorism, Gov. Christie, and life here in New Jersey.  For this special occasion, we wanted to go a bit “meta” and poll New Jerseyans on what they think about … well, polling itself!

Polls have been in the news a lot lately.  Everyone is doing a poll; every day there is a new one. So it’s easy to get poll fatigue.  Luckily, New Jerseyans still seem to have some faith in the process – even though they do not necessarily think polls are always accurate.  But even with all this polling going on, New Jerseyans recognize that polls are an important part of our democracy and help to get the voice of the people heard by their leaders.

To learn more about polling and how to be a good poll consumer, visit the American Association for Public Opinion Research or the National Council on Public Polls.

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


New Jerseyans think polls matter, are important in influencing policymaking

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While discussion and controversy surround polling’s role in the race to the White House in 2016, New Jerseyans still have some faith in the public opinion polling process, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty percent trust polls a fair amount and another 4 percent, a great deal. On the other hand, 36 percent do not trust polls very much, and 9 percent do not trust them at all.

But whether polls are consistently accurate is up for debate with New Jerseyans. Almost no one thinks they are always accurate, and only 21 percent say polls are mostly accurate. Still, 69 percent believes polls are accurate at least some of the time; only 5 percent discount them all the time.

Despite some reservations, New Jerseyans believe polling plays an important role in the democratic process, with 55 percent thinking it influences government decisions and policymaking. Reflecting that polls give citizens a chance to have their say, 77 percent feel political leaders should use poll results to help them understand public opinion on issues.

Many respondents moreover cite polling’s connection to democracy when asked why they chose to participate in this Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: one in five mention something about wanting their voice to be heard, the importance of polling in society, or doing their civic duty. But above all, New Jerseyans cite having the time to talk as their number one reason for participating.

“For our 200th poll, we thought we’d turn our sights inward a bit, and ask about some of the big questions currently facing polling, such as public perceptions of accuracy, trust and the whole point of it all,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “It’s refreshing to learn that, even with today’s deluge of polls, Garden State residents still see the importance of this scientific method of understanding public opinion and the vital role it plays in the democratic process.”

A third of New Jerseyans claim to follow the results of polls regularly. Just under half say they had been interviewed in the past for at least one public opinion poll or survey prior to talking with the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Trust and accuracy depend on familiarity, knowledge

Polling is not a partisan issue. Instead, trust and belief in polling’s accuracy is rooted in respondents’ prior knowledge and interaction with public opinion surveys. Those previously interviewed for a poll are much more likely to trust polls overall – 62 percent versus 47 percent among those talking to a pollster for the first time. They are also slightly more likely to say that polls are mostly accurate (24 percent to 19 percent).

Regular followers of polls also have more confidence in them. Seventy-one percent of those who regularly follow polls trust them, compared to 45 percent of those who do not; regular followers are also six points more likely to believe polls are mostly accurate.

Beliefs about polling’s role in a democracy also connect to general views on polling. Those who think polls matter in policymaking and should be used by political leaders are more likely to trust polls and believe them to be accurate.

Education has an influence as well. Individuals with a high school diploma or less are the least likely to trust polls (46 percent), while those who have done graduate work are the most likely (62 percent); the former are also least likely to believe polls are accurate.

Trust and accuracy unsurprisingly have a significant impact on one another: the more Garden Staters trust polls, the more they think they are accurate, and the more accurate they think they are, the more trust there is.

“The mystery and skepticism surrounding polls fades when you know a bit about them and how they work,” Koning. “It can be really hard to see how so few people can represent the entire state. Thus, it becomes important to learn how to be a good consumer of polls and know how to separate the good from the bad. Only then can one understand their benefits and limitations.”

Widespread agreement that polls are important

Even as most New Jersey residents agree that polls matter for policymaking and leaders should use them, there are noticeable differences across some demographic groups. Women are 7 points more likely than men to believe leaders should use polls to help determine what the public wants. However, residents over 65 are more likely to balk at the idea than younger New Jerseyans, who are more supportive of leaders using polls.

Education also makes a difference, probably because those who are more educated are also more trusting of polls. Residents whose education ended with a high school diploma are less likely to think leaders should use polls to understand public sentiment. Those with at least some graduate school are more likely than others to think that polls influence government decisions and policy.

Familiarity with polls themselves also plays a large part in beliefs about them. Regular followers of polls are more likely than others to agree that polling is important in policymaking and to say polls should be used by policymakers. Beliefs about polling’s importance also increase with trust and perceptions of accuracy.

New Jerseyans have the time to talk

Asked why they decided to participate in the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, the most popular answer among respondents had something to do with time: 18 percent cited something about being available, having time, having nothing better to do, or even being bored as their reason for participating. Not far behind is New Jerseyans’ democratic desire for their voice to be heard, at 13 percent.

Twelve percent say something about the interviewer made them decide to go through with the interview – his or her personality, voice, friendliness, or even the fact that the interviewer is a student. Nine percent say they wanted to participate because of either the poll’s Rutgers affiliation or their own connection to the university.

Other reasons mentioned for doing the poll include: wanting to help and be a part of research (9 percent); a general curiosity about polling (8 percent); an interest in politics overall or the specific topics that were asked (7 percent); simply because they were asked to participate (6 percent); because they feel polls are important (4 percent); a sense of civic duty (3 percent); and something to do with New Jersey itself, either because the poll was asking about it or because the respondent wanted to assist their state (2 percent).

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Revisiting Garden State Quality of Life in the 200th Rutgers-Eagleton Poll

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


One-third think state will be a better place to live in next decade, but most say N.J. still on wrong track, taxes top concern

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Almost six in 10 New Jersey residents call their state a good or excellent place to live, but those who call the Garden State home clearly recognize its strengths and weaknesses, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

While 58 percent believe New Jersey is a good or excellent place to raise a family and about 70 percent rate it good or excellent for education and recreation, 63 percent say job prospects are fair or poor, 55 percent say the same about running a business, and 79 percent rate it fair or poor when it comes to retirement.

Overall, New Jerseyans believe that the state has either become a worse place to live (41 percent) or has not changed at all (37 percent) in the last five or ten years. Only 17 percent say it has gotten better during this period. This pattern was first seen in December 2010, departing from rosier views in previous decades.

Yet residents remain somewhat optimistic about the future, just as they have in previous decades. Thirty-two percent say New Jersey will become a better place to live in the next five or 10 years, while another 38 percent say it will stay the same. Twenty percent say life here will become worse.

Although finding both good and bad in their state, New Jerseyans remain mostly negative about the state’s current direction: 33 percent now say New Jersey is headed in the right direction, while 58 percent say the state is off on the wrong track.

“For our 200th poll, we revisited some of the most important questions we have asked over the past four decades, questions that helped us trace the trajectory of the Garden State,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Residents nowadays have very mixed feelings about their home – socially and culturally, New Jerseyans give the state solid ratings, but they take a much dimmer view of the state on employment, the economy and finances.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Rating New Jersey’s past, present, and future

In four decades of asking this question, a majority has consistently rated New Jersey as a good or excellent place to live. The 1980s were the most positive period; 84 percent rated the state as an excellent or good place to live in February 1987. Higher ratings held mostly constant until the current decade, during which a comparatively less positive trend emerged beginning in March 2010.

While majorities across the board are positive today, differences in magnitude emerge among certain demographics. Republicans, Gov. Christie supporters, white residents, exurbanites, and married residents are more likely to give better ratings than their counterparts. Residents relatively new to the state are more positive than those who have lived here longer: 70 percent rate New Jersey as good or excellent, compared to 56 percent of residents who have lived here their entire lives.

Views on New Jersey’s past and future are strongly linked to views on its present. Residents more positive about the last several years and more optimistic about the next several are more likely to rate New Jersey as an excellent or good place to live now. Likewise, those currently more positive about the state have correspondingly positive takes on the state’s past and future. Right direction-wrong track views relate to these ratings as might be expected.

Reflecting on New Jersey’s past, Republicans, less educated residents, exurbanites, urbanites, and Christie supporters are all more likely to say the state has gotten better. Residents who have lived in New Jersey their entire lives are slightly more likely to say the state has improved as a place to live (19 percent), but almost half of this group also say it has become worse. Residents who have lived in the state about a decade or less are the least negative and much more likely to say there has been no change or to say they are unsure.

Certain groups are more likely to believe in New Jersey’s future than others. The optimists include Democrats, non-white residents, millennials, urbanites, those who say the state is going in the right direction, and those who have lived in New Jersey for about a decade or less.

The good and the bad of living in New Jersey

When it comes to education, family life, and entertainment, New Jerseyans like the Garden State. New Jerseyans across the board recognize the state’s superiority in educational offerings. Twenty-two percent say the state is an excellent place for education, and another 47 percent say good – little changed since the question was first asked in October 1984. The state’s oldest residents, as well as youngest residents, are most likely to rate New Jersey highly on education, as are the most educated residents.

Although more than half still believes New Jersey is a good (43 percent) or excellent (15 percent) place to raise a family, this number has experienced a double-digit drop since 1984, when over three-quarters felt the same. Nevertheless, family life in New Jersey is still rated highly across all groups – especially among younger residents, those in more affluent households, those living in exurban and suburban areas, married residents, and residents who are newer to the state.

As for entertainment and recreation, little has changed here over the last few decades as well. Residents continue to rate their state highly in this area (22 percent excellent, 48 percent good). Ratings are particularly high among residents who are older, white, living in exurban or shore counties, married, and long-time or lifetime residents.

But the state does not fare so well when it comes to retirement. Almost half of New Jerseyans once gave positive ratings to the state on this score, but just 18 percent do today; negative ratings, on the other hand, have gone up almost 30 points since 1984. Nowadays, middle-aged residents and those approaching retirement are especially apt to rate the state low here.

As a place to find a job, ratings are now much more negative than positive – a far cry from the 65 percent good or excellent rating of 1984. Just 29 percent overall say job prospects in the state are good; only 5 percent say excellent. Middle-aged residents and men are particularly negative in their current ratings, while Republicans, residents in more affluent households, and residents newer to the state are slightly more positive.

Still moving in the wrong direction

Assessments of the state’s direction have been more negative than positive since March 2014, with the gap between right direction and wrong track widening within the last several months. This is a complete reversal from two years ago, with this kind of negativity not felt since October 2009.

“Residents give New Jersey positive ratings as a place to live and have some hope for the future, but they also continue to think the state is on the wrong track,” noted Koning. “While the two indicators are connected, one measures personal experience while the other reflects more economic and political concerns facing the state. Just because New Jerseyans enjoy aspects of the lifestyle here does not mean they think everything is great in the Garden State.”

Length of residency in New Jersey also has an effect. Relative newcomers to the state are more positive (half say right direction), but the longer one has lived in New Jersey, the less positive the rating.

Typical partisan patterns are evident: while a majority of Republicans (53 percent) believe New Jersey is headed in the right direction, most independents and especially Democrats feel the state is off on the wrong track (55 percent and 73 percent, respectively).

Taxes: the bane of New Jerseyans’ existence

As always, taxes remain the top concern in the state, at 23 percent. Disdain for taxes in New Jersey is clear: 80 percent of residents say they pay too much in state and local taxes for what they get in return, while just 14 percent feel they get their money’s worth. While “pay too much” is at a peak, a large majority of New Jerseyans has felt disgruntled about taxes in every survey since the question was first asked in February 1972.

New Jerseyans also believe they are at a disadvantage on taxes compared to other states: 67 percent think they get less for their money compared to taxpayers elsewhere, 23 percent say they get about the same, and just 5 percent say they get more. Views on this question have changed markedly since initially asked on our second-ever poll, when almost half thought we got about the same for our money as taxpayers did in other states.

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Christie’s lackluster ratings back home continue to slip; Trump still #1 among NJ GOPers, Christie in distant second

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


Trump still leads 2016 GOP field in New Jersey, Christie reclaims second

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie may be on the rise in New Hampshire, but his numbers continue to fall with voters back home, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Christie’s overall job approval has slipped to its lowest point yet: 33 percent of New Jersey registered voters now approve of his performance, a drop of six points since October, and 62 percent disapprove, up six points. This represents voters’ strongest disapproval of Christie’s job performance to date.

Likewise, 33 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Christie, the second lowest rating he has ever received. Christie’s unfavorable rating is back at its all-time high of 59 percent after a small improvement in October. Since August, every poll has consistently found more than half of New Jersey voters in the unfavorable column.

“Governor Christie’s good fortune and favorables may be improving on the national campaign trail, but it’s just the opposite in New Jersey,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Ever since Christie announced his official 2016 run, he has received his lowest ratings as governor – even lower than in the year post-Bridgegate.”

Christie fares no better on individual issues. His rating on the perennial top issue – taxes – hits another new low: now 23 percent approve while 71 percent disapprove. He also reaches new lows on the economy and jobs (30 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove), the state budget (25 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove), the state pension fund situation (21 percent approve, 66 percent disapprove) and education (33 percent approve, 59 percent disapprove).

More voters also disapprove of Christie’s work on crimes and drugs (40 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove), as well as transportation and infrastructure (30 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove). Voters continue to be closely divided on his handling of Sandy recovery – 48 percent approve, 44 percent disapprove – a far cry from the near-unanimous approval he received through most of 2013.

The only bright spot for Christie at home is his return to second place for the 2016 Republican nomination among New Jersey Republican and GOP-leaning registered voters. Christie now stands at 14 percent. Donald Trump remains Republicans’ top choice at 30 percent.

Six in 10 New Jersey Democrats and Democratic-leaning registered voters continue to prefer former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as their 2016 nominee.

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015, including 700 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Independents’ criticism of Christie grows

While Christie continues to receive lackluster ratings from most Garden State voters, his Republican base remains in his corner: 69 percent approve of the job he is doing, and 70 percent have a favorable impression of him. Democrats feel just the opposite, holding steady at 16 percent on job approval and 15 percent on favorability.

This time, independents show the most significant shift since last polled in October. Returning to a level of negativity not seen since August, 31 percent of independents now approve of the job Christie is doing, while 66 percent disapprove. This is much different from the split two months ago, 42 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove. Similarly, 30 percent of independents are now favorable toward Christie, down six points in two months. Sixty-three percent are unfavorable, up 14 points.

Christie’s overall ratings increase among white voters, as well as with age and income. The governor still draws his biggest support from exurban and shore counties. Nonetheless, even among these groups, he does not garner a favorable or approving majority.

Christie’s report card has changed little since August. When asked to award the governor a letter grade, more voters than ever now give Christie an F, at 31 percent (up three points since October). For the third time in the past year, just 5 percent give him an A – the lowest number of top grades Christie has received since taking office. Nineteen percent now give Christie a B, 23 percent a C, and another 21 percent a D.

Just 3 percent of Democrats give Christie an A, while 41 percent fail him and another 25 percent give him a D. Just 4 percent of independents give Christie an A. The rest of this group is spread out more evenly among the remaining letter grades – though they are slightly more likely to give him an F (at 35 percent) than any other grade.

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. Thirteen percent of Republicans award him this top grade, while another 38 percent give him a B; but Christie still gets a D from 14 percent of his base, and 6 percent give him an F.

Christie’s low marks on individual issues continue across the board

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 issue, beaten out only by his even lower approval rating on the state pension fund situation.

Christie garners majority approval on taxes from no group. Republicans continue to turn against him on this issue: 44 percent approve of his approach, while 53 percent disapprove. Just 16 percent of Democrats (an improvement of four points) and 20 percent of independents (down six points) approve of Christie’s job in this area.

Approval ratings on the economy and state budget show similar patterns. Republicans are still not fully in Christie’s corner for either; 50 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove of his performance on the economy, while 48 percent approve and 34 percent disapprove of his work on the state budget. Three-quarters of Democrats disapprove of his job in both areas, as do more than two thirds of independents.

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 have now turned against him on state pensions: 33 percent approve of his handling of the issue (down six points), and 49 percent disapprove (up seven points). Just 12 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents approve of Christie’s job in this area.

On education, Christie receives approval only from his own party base (54 percent), those favorable toward him (60 percent), and those who approve of the job he is doing overall (66 percent). Solid majorities of almost every other group disapprove of his handling of education.

“With the governor mostly out of state on his presidential campaign, these lackluster issue ratings have moved little since August, and when they have, it has typically been downward,” said Koning. “Christie has never done particularly well with voters on some of these issues, but now four times in a row, no single issue polled garners majority approval for the governor.”

NJ 2016 top choices resemble national standings

Trump and Clinton continue to be the top choices for their respective parties. Trump has remained in first place with Republicans in the Garden State since first announcing his candidacy, while Clinton has remained in the top spot among Democrats since the poll first started asking about her party’s preferred 2016 nominee.

Christie has rebounded with his party base in his home state, almost tripling his 5 percent standing in October – which put him in fifth place for a three-way tie – but still far from the 32 percent he garnered this time last year.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio now comes in third with New Jersey Republicans, at 13 percent, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 10 percent; all other candidates rank in the single digits.

Clinton claims three times the support of her closest rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, among Garden State Democrats. Sanders comes in second at 19 percent; former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley garners just 1 percent.

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Hot off the presses: our first release from the 200th poll … immigration, terrorism, and accepting Syrian refugees in New Jersey

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


Overall immigration views little affected; high marks for U.S. handling of terrorism

 Note: One-fifth of this Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was completed prior to the shooting in San Bernardino, California on Wednesday, Dec. 2. About half of all interviews had been completed by Friday, Dec. 4, when the FBI declared it was investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism.

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – In the midst of terror attacks at home and abroad, and following Gov. Chris Christie’s demand that no Syrian refugees come to the state, New Jersey residents split evenly on whether to accept refugees from Syria, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While 45 percent say New Jersey should remain open to refugees from the conflict in Syria, another 45 percent disagree, while 10 percent are unsure.

Most of those who oppose Syrian refugee resettlement in New Jersey also support Christie’s insistence that even refugee children should be barred. Only a quarter of those initially opposed to Syrian refugees in the state would make an exception for children.

Feelings toward Syrian refugees do not necessarily go hand in hand with general attitudes toward immigration. While many oppose Syrian refugee resettlement, just 34 percent of Garden Staters think the number of immigrants in the state is too high, actually down seven points in the past four months; 49 percent now think the number is just right. Most either say immigrants make the overall quality of life here better (34 percent) or believe they do not have much of an effect either way (38 percent). Only 19 percent of New Jerseyans say immigrants make the quality of life in the Garden State worse.

“Over half of U.S. governors – including New Jersey’s own – have said they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks, even though immigration policy is a federal, not state, responsibility,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “Opposition toward Syrian refugees has become, for some, a broader symbol of security and resistance to terrorism. Even New Jerseyans – whose general attitudes toward immigration remain largely positive – have reservations about harboring this specific group.”

Apprehension about Syrian refugees stems from significant concern over a future terror attack. Eight in 10 worry that another attack will happen on American soil, while seven in 10 fear one will occur in or near New Jersey.

As a precaution, almost all New Jerseyans (86 percent) support surveillance and security checks in public places like stadiums, movie theaters and shopping malls; this number is similar to other polls’ nationwide results.

Despite these fears, most New Jerseyans – unlike the rest of the country as reported in national polls – believe the U.S. government is generally doing well in reducing the threat of terrorism.

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Key demographics drive views on refugees

The Syrian refugee issue is certainly a partisan one: while 65 percent of Democrats believe New Jersey should continue to accept these individuals, 79 percent of Republicans take the opposite view. Independents most resemble the population as a whole, split 43 percent to 46 percent against.

Place of birth has a strong impact on views. Those born outside the United States are only slightly more accepting of Syrian refugees than native born citizens – 49 percent versus 45 percent. But they are much less likely to outright reject the refugees and more uncertain: 33 percent of foreign born residents, but 49 percent of U.S. natives, want the state to reject the refugees. Eighteen percent of those born outside the U.S. are unsure about accepting Syrian refugees, compared to 7 percent of natives.

A similar pattern emerges among those with foreign born versus American born parents and non-white versus white residents. Willingness to accept the refugees decreases among older residents and increases with education.

Immigration attitudes, fear of attacks linked to increased rejection of refugees

While the Syrian refugee matter has not significantly influenced overall views on immigration, individuals who oppose one are also more likely to oppose the other. A large majority of those who say there are too many immigrants in New Jersey (74 percent) and those who say immigrants make the state’s quality of life worse (81 percent) are against the continued acceptance of Syrian refugees in the state. Likewise, residents who say New Jersey should reject these refugees are more negative about immigrants, in general.

Concern over future terror attacks and over how terrorism is handled also accompanies greater caution toward Syrian refugees. Half of those worried about an attack in the U.S. or New Jersey say the state should no longer accept Syrian refugees. While half of residents who say the government is doing well at reducing terrorism believe New Jersey should accept Syrian refugees, six in 10 of those who say the government is not doing well oppose refugee resettlement here.

There is no significant difference in refugee views between those interviewed before and those interviewed after the San Bernardino shooting.

Terror concerns loom large, especially post-shooting

While majorities of partisans of all stripes are concerned, Republicans are the most worried about attacks both in the U.S. and in New Jersey, followed by independents and then Democrats. Women, older residents, and those more negative about immigration are more worried about future attacks than their counterparts, as are those who disapprove of Syrian refugees in New Jersey and those who do not think the U.S. government is doing well in reducing terror threats.

Fear jumps post-San Bernardino. While 29 percent of those interviewed before the shooting were very worried about another U.S. attack (another 44 percent somewhat), this number rises to 44 percent very worried (37 percent somewhat) among those interviewed after the attack.

“We were in the middle of polling when the San Bernardino shooting occurred,” noted Koning. “While concern of an attack was already high before the shooting, San Bernardino solidified and increased New Jerseyans’ fears – both in terms of a possible attack anywhere in the U.S., as well as in our own state.”

More than eight in 10 support greater security checks and surveillance in public places, with little difference among demographic groups. Among those most worried about another attack, nine in 10 support such measures.

How is the government handling terrorism?

Over half of every group believes the U.S. government is doing well in its efforts to reduce the threat of terrorism. Democrats are slightly more likely to believe this (26 percent say very well, 46 percent say somewhat well), compared to independents (19 percent, very well) and Republicans (18 percent, very well).

A majority of New Jerseyans who oppose accepting Syrian refugees and who are worried about future terrorist attacks are nonetheless satisfied with the way the government is handling the threat of terrorism, though to a lesser extent than their counterparts.

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Leading Up to our 200th Poll Ever … A Look Back at the 2000s

Celebrating the 200th

A Look Back at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: The 2000s

By Natalie DeAngelo

Natalie DeAngelo is a senior at Rutgers University. Natalie is a research assistant with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Here at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, we are about to approach our 200th poll ever – quite a milestone and a marker of just how long we have been polling New Jersey politics. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was the nation’s first university-based state survey when it was established with funding from the Wallace-Eljabar Fund in October 1971. It has been called many different names and has had many different directors over the past 44 years, but what has remained constant is its dedication to contributing to the public dialogue in the state; to access our over four decades of data, you can visit our extensive data archive. For more information on the poll’s history, check out our website:

This is our fourth decade-by-decade analysis as we gear up for our 200th poll; you can see our firstsecond, and third decade-by-decade analysis from last week here on our blog. We have an amazing team of interns who have been working very hard on researching our past and analyzing old questionnaires, press releases, and data. Special thanks to Sonni Waknin, Natalie DeAngelo, and Abigail Orr on this project.  


The 2000s was a decade filled with life changing events for New Jersey residents. These included the very close 2000 presidential election, the September 11th terrorist attacks, the resignation of a New Jersey governor, the election of President Obama, and even reactions to the show, The Sopranos. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll catalogued the opinions of New Jerseyans throughout the course of these events and documented them in press releases that capture the essence of the start of a new century.

The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 brought devastation and heartache to New Jersey. The main response was a feeling of patriotism laced with anger. Just over one-fifth of New Jerseyans said they knew of someone who was seriously injured or lost that day. The Star Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll, as it was known at the time, conducted a survey from September 22-26 and found that New Jerseyans responded to the tragedy by participating in ceremonies and memorials. A staggering 90 percent of residents said they prayed for the victims of the attack, and 80 percent said they displayed an American flag where they lived. Many questions in later polls asked about September 11th, but this poll shortly after the attacks truly captured the immediate impact of the event on New Jerseyans’ lives.

The resignation of Governor Jim McGreevey shocked many New Jerseyans, and opinions on the matter were split. After McGreevey announced his plans to resign in August 2004, a poll was conducted the following month to gauge NJ voters’ reactions. Forty-eight percent said he should have resigned because of his affair with Golan Cipel, compared with 44 percent who felt the Governor should have served out his term. Democrats were more likely to think he should stick it out (55 percent), while Republicans were adamant that he should go (70 percent). Independent voters were split, with 45 percent saying that McGreevey’s resignation was justified and 47 percent saying there was no need to leave office based on what they had heard of the issue.

Gay marriage was another important issue addressed in the 2000s. By a ratio of two to one, New Jersey adults supported legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples back in 2006. Sixty-five percent supported civil unions that would give gays and lesbians “many of the same rights and benefits as a married man and woman,” while 30 percent were opposed. A majority also supported gay marriage and opposed a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Today, gay marriage is legal, not only in the state of New Jersey, but also nationwide. New Jerseyans seem to have supported this idea as far back as 2006.

Looking back, many of the polls in the 2000s focused on the future of politics in New Jersey and the United States. It wasn’t all politics, however. Just over half of all New Jersey adults tuned into the New Jersey-based HBO series, The Sopranos, which premiered in 1999. Back in 2002, one-in-five residents said they never missed an episode of the hit show.

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll covered a variety of topics throughout the 2000s and provided great insight into the minds of New Jerseyans at the start of the new millennium.

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A Closer Look by the ECPIP Staff … State Senate President Steve Sweeney? Who’s He?

As we gear up for our next Rutgers-Eagleton Poll – the big 200th in 44 years of polling New Jersey! – our student staff takes a closer look at some of the data from our October survey that we have not yet had a chance to fully explore. This time, one of our staff takes a look at potential 2017 gubernatorial candidate State Senate President Steve Sweeney.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney? Who’s He?

By Liz Kantor

Liz Kantor is a senior at Rutgers University and an Eagleton Undergraduate Associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. Liz is the lead methodologist and data archivist with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.


Two years ahead of the next New Jersey gubernatorial election, all signs point to State Senate President Steve Sweeney making a run for the state’s highest office. His former advisor has created a super PAC, a potential veto override has led Governor Christie to invoke his political ambitions, and he’s condemned Christie’s handling of the economy.

Despite his place as the Garden State’s top Democrat, a majority of New Jersey registered voters don’t have much to say about him. Over 6 in 10 voters either do not have an opinion of Sweeney (29 percent) or do not know who he is (34 percent). Those who express an opinion are about equally likely to be favorable or unfavorable toward the senator (18 percent vs. 19 percent). His lack of name recognition doesn’t discriminate by party; 64 percent of Democrats have no opinion about him or do not know him, along with 61 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans.

Those most likely to feel favorable toward Sweeney are public employee union workers at nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent), while 18 percent feel unfavorable, and just over half (53 percent) have no opinion or do not know him. Private union employees and non-union employees are less enthusiastic, at 15 and 16 percent favorable, respectively. Other groups who feel positively about Senator Sweeney are Democrats (25 percent), those making over $150,000 per year (24 percent), and non-white voters (21 percent). Men and women are about equally likely to feel favorably toward Sen. Sweeney at 18 and 19 percent, respectively, but men are 7 points more likely than women to feel unfavorably toward him (23 percent versus 16 percent).

Still, the last gubernatorial race provides some hope that voters can get to know Sen. Sweeney by the time 2017 rolls around, should he choose to run. When the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll first began asking New Jersey voters about Democratic candidate State Sen. Barbara Buono in February 2012 – a year and 9 months before the election – nearly 8 in 10 said they either had no opinion (50 percent) or were unfamiliar with her (29 percent); just 21 percent offered a substantive response. By October 2013, with the election just around the corner, the proportion of those who either had no opinion or did not know her decreased by more than half to 43 percent for registered voters and 34 percent for likely voters.

As the months go on, it’s likely that more New Jersey voters will form an opinion on Sen. Sweeney, but we will have to wait and see which way their impressions will lean.

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Leading Up to our 200th Poll Ever … A Look Back at the 1990s

Celebrating the 200th

A Look Back at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: The 1990s

By Natalie DeAngelo

Natalie DeAngelo is a senior at Rutgers University. Natalie is a research assistant with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Here at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, we are about to approach our 200th poll ever – quite a milestone and a marker of just how long we have been polling New Jersey politics. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was the nation’s first university-based state survey when it was established with funding from the Wallace-Eljabar Fund in October 1971. It has been called many different names and has had many different directors over the past 44 years, but what has remained constant is its dedication to contributing to the public dialogue in the state; to access our over four decades of data, you can visit our extensive data archive. For more information on the poll’s history, check out our website:

This is our third decade-by-decade analysis as we gear up for our 200th poll; you can see our first and second decade-by-decade analysis from last week here on our blog. We have an amazing team of interns who have been working very hard on researching our past and analyzing old questionnaires, press releases, and data. Special thanks to Sonni Waknin, Natalie DeAngelo, and Abigail Orr on this project.  


During the 1990s, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll went by the name “Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll” and hit its 100th poll milestone in 1994. The decade was filled with polls on diverse topics, including education, taxes, insurance, and the environment. However, the most common theme to have reoccurred over the decade was (not surprisingly) politics! Although politics may be a broad field, the topics that were the most interesting revolved around the lack of knowledge about state government and how citizens had a very contradictory belief about politicians and corruption.

Overall, New Jerseyans were not very informed about their state government: 3 in 10 could not identify the political party of the governor at the time; about 6 in 10 could not name the political party that controlled the state legislature; 3 in 4 did not know what state offices were being contested in a past election; and 9 in 10 could not correctly name their state senator. This is about the same level of knowledge that was noted in the first statewide poll conducted in the fall of 1971.

New Jersey residents were not very knowledgeable at all about state politics. Although Governor Jim Florio was a highly visible political figure in 1991, 70 percent of the state’s residents could correctly identify him as a Democrat compared to 13 percent who thought he was a Republican and 17 percent who said that they did not know his party affiliation.

Toward the end of the decade, a poll was conducted asking about the favorability of state legislators. Most New Jerseyans had an unfavorable view, thinking that they went into and stayed in politics for reasons of personal gain and believing almost half of them to be corrupt. Yet, the same people also said they were far more likely to vote for an experienced politician or an incumbent than an outsider.

New Jerseyans also thought there was a fair amount of corruption in politics, overall. When asked how many out of 10 politicians they would guess to have been corrupt, the statewide average was close to half (4.9 out of 10). However, the survey also pointed out that the vast majority, 63 percent, thought that politicians were no different than people in other occupations, and that there was no difference between politicians in New Jersey and those in other states (84 percent). It seems as if New Jerseyans’ attitudes in the 1990s were a bit confusing and contradictory when it came to state government and their opinions on politics!

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Word Cloud of All Press Release Topics: 1990-1999


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