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.