It’s a new semester at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, and as we gear up for our next Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, our student staff continues to take a closer look at some of the data from last semester’s surveys that we have not yet had a chance to fully explore. This time, one of our staff takes a deeper dive into numbers on the state Legislature.
Who Knows? Examining Favorability of the NJ State Legislature
By Robert Cartmell
Robert Cartmell is a senior at Rutgers University. Robert leads the data visualization and graphic representation team for the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
According to an October 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, the New Jersey state Legislature appears to have a problem – a recognition problem. The Legislature is viewed favorably by only 27 percent of registered voters in the Garden State, but this low rating does not mean the rest of voters are necessarily unfavorable (36 percent express a negative view). Instead, the real issue is that 37 percent of voters either have “no opinion” or “don’t know” enough about the Legislature to form one. Therefore, while voters are more unfavorable than favorable toward the Legislature, a significant portion of the New Jersey electorate simply does not have a clue about the legislative body … or cares.
Certain demographics are less likely to know or have an opinion about the Legislature than others. Breaking down the population into different age groups is particularly illustrative. Most age groups are pretty much just as likely to be favorable toward the Legislature as they are unfavorable. For millennials, 24 percent are favorable versus 24 percent who are unfavorable; among those 30 to 49 years old, 30 percent are favorable versus 32 percent who are unfavorable; and for those 65 and older, 35 percent are favorable versus 32 percent who are unfavorable. But voters 50 to 64 years old tend to feel significantly more negative – 48 percent are unfavorable, compared to 20 percent who are favorable.
Most interesting is the percentage of voters in each age group who say “no opinion” or “don’t know.” There is almost a linear relationship between this response and age, with younger respondents being more likely than older respondents to say that they have no opinion or don’t know: 52 percent of 18 to 29 year olds, 38 percent of 30 to 49 year olds, 32 percent of 50 to 64 year olds, and 33 percent of those 65 or older give this ambivalent response. It appears that younger generations do not pay as much attention to local or state politics as compared to older age groups. Even among older voters, however, the percentage of those who have no opinion is the most frequent response, with the exception of those ages 50 to 64. This suggests that the Legislature should be concerned about its lack of recognition with most voters, but especially those who are the newest to the electorate – and will be sticking around the longest.
Partisanship also reveals some differences in opinions about the New Jersey state Legislature. Among Democrats, 29 percent are favorable toward the Legislature, while 26 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of independents are favorable. Thirty-three percent of Democrats, 38 percent of independents, and 42 percent of Republicans are unfavorable. Thus, we see – unsurprisingly – that New Jersey Republicans feel much less favorably toward the state Legislature than Democrats, while independents fall somewhere in the middle.
Partisans of all stripes, however, are roughly equally likely to respond that they have no opinion or don’t know about the state Legislature: 38 percent of Democrats, 33 percent of Republicans, and 42 percent of independents say this. Again, we see that Democrats and independents are more likely to have no opinion or not know, while Republicans are only slightly more likely to say they are unfavorable than express uncertainty. The Legislature’s recognition problem therefore reaches across party lines. While Republicans are the most negative and independents are the most unaware, lack of opinion on the Legislature does not completely boil down to a simple matter of partisan identification. Instead, the issue is much more widespread.