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: http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/rutgers-eagleton-poll/.
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!