Category Archives: Gas Tax


Full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the text, questions, and tables.


Recent low prices spur more travel, spending


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As state lawmakers struggle to return the virtually bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund to solvency, 54 percent of New Jerseyans continue to oppose a gas tax increase while 42 show support, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Two versions of the question were put to residents, with results virtually unchanged since December 2014.

However, many of the strongest opponents – especially Republicans and men – have a change of heart upon learning the state’s gas tax is the nation’s third lowest and has not been raised in decades. Given that context, 44 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of men support a hike. Without context, 29 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of men favor an increase.

“Across all residents, adding context raises support from 39 percent to only 44 percent,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “But, that the added information has a positive effect on the strongest opponents, might provide opportunity for political leaders trying to solve the problem of paying for transportation infrastructure maintenance. A majority remains opposed, but opposition might be softer than it seems if enough context is provided.”

While prices at the pump have recently ticked up after months of decline, New Jerseyans seem to be capitalizing on the savings; half say they have been more likely to travel by car for a weekend getaway or vacation. Also, 52 percent of respondents say they have been able to spend household money elsewhere with savings at the pump.

Unsurprisingly, lower gas prices have not had a positive effect on mass transit use or carpooling. Almost 50 percent of those polled say their mass transit use has not changed and 41 percent say it actually has declined. As for carpooling, while 43 percent say they are just as likely to carpool now, another 39 percent say they have been less likely to do so given cheaper gas. But New Jerseyans say that if the gas tax were raised, they would change some of these behaviors. Just over 20 percent would be more likely to use mass transit or carpool, and 35 percent would cut back on car trips. Forty percent would be less likely to spend household money on other things.

Results are from a statewide poll of 813 residents contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 3-10, 2015, with a margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points. Interviews were done in both English and, when requested, Spanish.

Democrats stronger supporters of a hike

While less than a majority of New Jerseyans support a gas tax increase, some groups are stronger opponents. Across both versions of the question, Republicans are squarely against an increase, 62 percent to 36 percent. Among independents, 54 percent oppose a hike compared with 41 percent in favor. As with most tax issues, Democrats show more support with 47 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.

Transportation modes also influence support. Those less likely to use mass transit or carpool given lower gas prices are more likely to oppose a hike. Daily (or near-daily) drivers also are more likely to oppose paying more: 56 percent, compared with 47 percent of less frequent motorists.

Support for an increased gas tax grows with age and income; a majority of senior citizens (51 percent) and those with household incomes of $150,000 or more (56 percent) favor a higher tax. Fifty-one percent of liberals also support a higher tax. No other major demographic groups show majority support.

Additional information matters

To test the effects of additional information, respondents were randomly given one of two versions of the question. One lacked specific context, the other added that New Jersey’s gas tax “the third lowest in the nation and has not been raised in twenty years.” While making only a non-significant five-point difference across all respondents, the question variation makes a large difference with some groups.

While nearly leveling support among Republicans, independents and Democrats, the context concerning New Jersey’s current gas tax increases support from both daily and less frequent drivers. Opposition from daily drivers declines to 53 percent from 58 percent, while support grows from 38 percent to 44 percent. Support from less frequent drives climbs from 42 percent to 50 percent.

Even among residents who rate local road conditions as only fair to poor, there is limited support for an increased gas tax without context. Told about the relative cheapness of the New Jersey tax, support rises from 37 percent to 48 percent.

Grades for local roads, highways hold steady

Residents remain unconvinced about the low quality of New Jersey roads and bridges despite some objective measures to the contrary. Half say that state roads, excluding the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, which are funded by tolls, are in either good (42 percent) or excellent (7 percent) shape. Another 38 percent see state roads as in only fair condition and 11 percent think they are in poor shape. These results mirror those from a December 2014 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Opinions on local roads are more negative: 4 percent say they are excellent and 29 percent call them good. Thirty-six percent says local road conditions are fair, and 31 percent, poor.

“Even with political leaders’ efforts to show New Jerseyans the extent of the transportation infrastructure problem, many residents seem to have little problem with the roads they drive,” noted Redlawsk. “This could be one of the keys to why resistance to a gas tax increase continues.”

How a gas tax hike might affect transportation, spending behavior

While New Jerseyans appear to have changed behaviors in light of lower gas prices in recent months, some groups have changed more than others. White and nonwhite residents differ sharply. As gas prices dropped, nonwhites say they were less likely to use mass transit or carpool, while white respondents report no change. Nonwhite respondents also are nine points more likely than whites to be taking car trips or spending money on other things due to the decline in gas prices.

Behaviors also differ by age: 55 percent of those under 30 say they are now more likely to take a weekend car trip, compared to 37 percent of senior citizens. And despite the decline in the cost of driving, 24 percent of the youngest New Jerseyans report increasing their use of carpools, compared to 9 percent of seniors. Younger people are also more likely to have increased spending on other items: 60 percent versus 47 percent of those 65 and over.

Women are much more economical than men when it comes to spending saved gas money elsewhere: 58 percent of men are more likely to do so, compared to 47 percent of women. Nineteen percent of women are actually less likely to do so recently, compared to 11 percent of men.

These patterns flip when respondents are asked what changes they would make if the gas tax were raised. Nonwhite residents are more than twice as likely as white residents to say they would use mass transit or carpool more and take car trips less often. Almost half of nonwhites say they would be less likely to spend money elsewhere, compared to just over half of whites who say little would change in their spending habits.

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Today we revisit the idea of an increase in the NJ Gas Tax. Short version, people still don’t want a higher gas tax. Slightly longer version – for the first time since 1980 we asked about perceptions of road conditions in the state. Turns out lots of people think local and state roads are not in very bad condition, which may be part of the reason they resist a gas tax increase.

We asked about the gas tax in back in  February (31 percent supported a generic increase), again in late March  and once more in October (38 percent support). Today we find 41 percent in favor in our generic version of the question. But when we asked about a specific proposal to increase the tax 25 cents, we get a pretty strong NO. And reminding people the tax is nearly the lowest in the country doesn’t make them want a higher one more; if anything the opposite happens.

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


Many think local and state roads are already in good shape

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As winter weather bears down on New Jersey’s already crumbling roads, residents continue to oppose a gas tax increase, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Despite active support from various state lawmakers, about six in 10 New Jerseyans are against hiking the gas tax no matter the context. Forty-one percent say they support the increase, compared with 56 percent who do not. Residents do not favor an increase even when told that the state’s gasoline tax – at 15 cents – is one of the lowest in the country.

“While not statistically significant, we may be seeing a slight uptick in generic support,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “In October, 38 percent were in favor of an increase, which was up seven points from April 2014. Even so, most New Jerseyans simply do not want a higher gas tax.”

One puzzle has been that, while “everyone agrees” that New Jersey roads are in terrible shape and the transportation trust fund used to improve them is broke, residents continue to oppose higher taxes dedicated to fixing the roads. The answer may be that apparently New Jersey drivers do not think the roads are actually that bad.

For the first time since 1980, Rutgers-Eagleton asked residents about the condition of local and state roads. Fifty-four percent replied that state roads – not including the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, which are funded by tolls – are in either good (48 percent) or excellent (6 percent) shape. Another 36 percent see state roads as in only fair condition and 8 percent think they are in poor shape. This result is virtually unchanged from the 1980 poll.

Opinions on local roads are slightly more negative: 6 percent say they are excellent, while 33 percent call them good. A plurality of 41 percent says local road conditions are only fair, and 19 percent think they are poor.

“If New Jerseyans don’t actually think the roads are all that bad, it is going to be a hard sell to convince them to pay more taxes to maintain them,” noted Redlawsk. “In fact, not only do they not see the roads as crumbling for the most part, they also don’t think they are getting any worse: 42 percent think the roads are the same as the past few years, and a third actually says they’ve gotten better.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 750 residents contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Dec. 3-10, 2014, with a margin of error of +/-4.0 percentage points.

New Jerseyans oppose Wisniewski’s proposed 25-cents hike

Besides asking an initial general question about a gas hike, the poll tested a recent proposal by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) to increase the tax by 25 cents per gallon. It finds opposition is just as strong as the question without a specific increase offered. The poll randomly gave groups of respondents a different set of details about the consequences of the 25-cent per gallon hike. In each case, views were virtually the same, with about 60 percent expressing opposition.

“Interestingly, in April we found the proposal by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto could be supported by as many as 58 percent of New Jerseyans, depending on how much context is provided with the question,” said Redlawsk. “But eight months ago, that proposed nickel per year increase over three years amounted to only 1.5 percent of the then current price of gas. With gas prices plummeting, ironically a 25-cent increase is now more than 10 percent of the total per gallon cost and simply sounds like a very big deal.”

The poll divided respondents into three groups to ask about the Wisniewski proposal. One was told that gas costs would increase by about 10 percent, another that the increase would add about 80 cents a day to driving costs for the typical New Jersey driver, and the third that the gas tax would triple under the proposal. None of the versions resulted in significant differences in opposition, with 57 percent opposing the “10 percent” version, 59 percent the “80 cents version,” and 60 percent the “tripling the tax” version. However, some differences in support appear: 33 percent support the triple the tax version, while 37 percent are in favor when told the cost would be 80 cents per day, and 40 percent express support given the 10 percent scenario. Nonetheless, support for a 25-cent increase remains weak across all versions.

Those who give a higher rating to local roads are most opposed when told the gas tax hike would triple the state’s share, while those who give lower local road ratings are slightly more likely to be supportive given the context of a 10 percent increase or tripling of the gas tax share.

Even telling residents that, at about 15 cents, the New Jersey gas tax is among the lowest in the nation does not increase support for a higher gas tax, a different experiment finds. Among the half-sample given this additional information in the initial generic gas tax question, opposition is greater, at 61 percent, compared with 56 percent of those not given this additional detail.

“While not a statistically large difference, it seems as if New Jerseyans may be pleased their gas taxes are low, and reminding them of it does not give leeway to increase them,” said Redlawsk.

Road conditions might not be so bad

New Jerseyans’ resistance to an increased gas tax may be related to the fact than many simply do not see the state’s roads as in very bad shape. Moreover, many think the roads are actually better than they were, and most think they are at least no worse. The perspectives on state and local roads do not vary depending on driving frequency – both daily and less frequent drivers have the same perspective.

Support for a gas tax increase is generally higher among those who rate their local roads lower. About a third of respondents who think local roads are in excellent or good condition support a higher gas tax, no matter which version of the general question is asked. Support climbs to about 40 percent or more among those who think local road conditions are only fair or poor.

But for residents who think state highways are only in fair or poor condition, the version of the question matters. Nearly half of those not cued that, at 15 cents, gas taxes are among the lowest in the country support an increase (compared with 37 percent who say roads are excellent or good). But for those given current gas tax context, perceptions of state road conditions have no effect. Fewer than 40 percent support a higher gas tax whether they give road conditions positive or negative ratings.

“Again, we think our experiment had an unintended effect of reminding residents that at least one tax in New Jersey is low compared with the rest of the country,” noted Redlawsk. “Instead of allowing room to increase the tax, knowing this seems to have solidified opposition to any increase, even for those who feel many roads are in bad shape.”

Regionally, exurban and shore counties rate their local roads best: 54 percent of exurbanites and 43 percent of shore dwellers say their local roads are excellent or good – higher than any other group. But only 27 percent of urban residents feel the same, along with 35 percent of south Jersey residents and 36 percent of suburban New Jerseyans.

Statewide, respondents are more likely to say state roads are in decent shape. Again, exurban (63 percent good or excellent) and shore county residents (59 percent) lead the way, followed by 54 percent of south Jerseyans, 49 percent of urban dwellers, and 48 percent of those in the suburbs.

Across all regions, at least 30 percent say that roads have gotten better in the past few years, with shore residents most positive at 38 percent. Suburbanites are most likely to say roads are getting worse, at 26 percent, compared with 18 percent of south Jersey residents. Other regions fall between these two.

Partisan explanation for gas tax question effects?

Support for a gas tax increase does not vary no matter which version of the initial gas tax question was received. Residents in almost every demographic group are squarely against it.

In particular, in a change from previous polls, more than half of both Democrats and Republicans oppose a tax increase when given the basic question without additional information. In previous months, Republican opposition was much stronger than Democratic dislike.

But among partisans explicitly told about the state’s currently low gas tax, some differences persist. Democrats are more supportive of an increase (at 44 percent) compared with independents and Republicans (32 percent and 33 percent, respectively). Reminding Republicans and independents of how low the tax is seems to trigger stronger antitax sentiment with these groups, although Redlawsk cautioned that given the split design of the question, the small numbers of Republicans in each version limits the strength of this interpretation.

New Jerseyans don’t want to borrow for roads

While not supportive of a gas tax increase, New Jerseyans appear even more opposed to borrowing to fund road and infrastructure improvements. Forced to choose between either a gas tax increase or borrowing for necessary road repairs, 58 percent would raise the gas tax, while 27 percent would borrow. Ten percent volunteer that neither is necessary.

“It may be that the only real hope for increasing support for the gas tax hike is to pit it against less desirable alternatives – borrowing the necessary money to fix roads or doing nothing at all,” said Redlawsk.

If forced to choose, more than half of most demographic groups side with raising the gas tax. Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike support the tax hike to virtually the same degree. The latter two are less likely to want to borrow, at 23 and 27 percent, respectively, compared with Democrats at 34 percent. Fourteen percent of Republicans reject either option, compared with just 4 percent of Democrats.

Which choice to make varies little based on positive or negative ratings of local roads, with a majority preferring a gas tax over borrowing. But those who rate highways more negatively are eight points more likely to choose raising the tax than those who rate them more positively. At 60 percent, those who drive almost every day are nine points more likely than those who do not to prefer a tax over borrowing, while just 26 percent of the frequent drivers would borrow. Thirty-five percent of less frequent drivers would borrow, given just the two options.

Linking gas tax increase to estate tax cut fails to make much difference

Just 37 percent of residents 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 43 percent say this would make them less supportive of a higher gas tax. Eleven percent say it would make no difference to them. Republicans, however, like the idea more than most: 48 percent agree that linking the two would make them more likely to support increasing the gas tax.

While continuing to oppose a gas tax increase, more than half of New Jerseyans say that if the gas tax is going to go up, there is no time like the present, given the more than 70-cent drop in gas prices in the last few months. Majorities across the board agree, including partisans of all stripes to the same degree. Even 54 percent of those who drive almost every day say there may be no better time than now.


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Still no love for Gas Tax Increase

Today we release new polling on support for – or should we say opposition to – increasing New jersey’s gas tax, one of the lowest in the nation. Despite crumbling transportation infrastructure and even when it is specified the money would only be used to fix that, just 38% say they are in favor of a higher gas tax. There is one small ray of hope for those who think we need to do this. When we last asked in April, support was even lower, at 31%. Maybe some messages about road and bridge conditions are getting through. But even so, New Jerseyans feel already overburdened by taxes, so they are pretty much against any increase for any reason, or so it might seem.

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


New Jerseyans oppose tax increase, borrowing to repair crumbling roads and bridges

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While legislators debate the merits of a gas tax hike, New Jerseyans continue to oppose a higher levy by a wide margin, even as the condition of the state’s roads and bridges worsens.

Despite the Garden State’s crumbling infrastructure, 58 percent of respondents to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll oppose paying more at the pump to fund the much-needed repairs and other transportation costs. At the same time there has been some movement in favor of an increase: in early April, two-thirds of New Jerseyans were against a hike. Since then, the number favoring an increase has risen seven points to 38 percent.

Respondents were given a choice to pay a fixed, 15-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, to apply the current 7 percent state sales tax to gasoline purchases, or to borrow money for needed road and bridge repairs. The majority chose none of the above; 18 percent would apply the sales tax to gas purchases, 17 percent would favor an increase by a fixed amount and 8 percent would approve borrowing funds. Fifty-four percent refused to support any of the options.

“As has been the case every time we ask, New Jerseyans simply oppose a gas tax increase,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “While we see some shift towards more support, it is not yet clear if this is a blip or real change. Anyone who drives in New Jersey knows the roads and bridges are in terrible shape, but there seem to be little will to raise the funds needed to fix them.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 842 New Jerseyans contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, 2014, with a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.

Pockets of support grow

While no specific demographic group gives majority support to an increased gas tax, there has been significant movement in some quarters since the April poll. Democrats fuel much of the increase: an 11-point jump to 46 percent. Republican (up five points) and independents’ (up six points) show much smaller moves to 29 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

“It is not surprising that Republicans are the most dubious about more taxes, and that’s unlikely to change,” said Redlawsk. “Unless independents become stronger supporters, it will be hard to solve the problem of a broke transportation trust fund.”

Men and women show roughly the same increase in support: seven points to 41 percent for men and eight points to 36 percent for women.

The largest gains in support for a gas tax hike come from residents living in the state’s northwest exurban area (up 12 points to 43 percent) and in south Jersey/Philadelphia suburbs, where support jumped 16 points to 44 percent. Only one in three shore residents favor a tax increase (a six-point gain since April). Urban residents show virtually no change at 38 percent, while suburban support is up only four points to 36 percent.

Garden Staters from lower income households are strongly against an increased gas tax: 64 percent living in households earning less than $50,000 oppose it, as do 56 percent of residents in households making between $50,000 and $100,000. But those making more are more supportive: 50 percent of residents with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 are in favor, along with 48 percent of the highest earners.

Borrowing is the least attractive option

While support for a specific gas tax option varies across groups, borrowing funds is the least popular of the three options for all. Among the 38 percent of residents who initially support a gas tax increase, nearly four in 10 prefer a fixed increase of 15 cents per gallon, while 29 percent would prefer applying the sales tax to gasoline purchases. Only 7 percent would borrow the money (instead of raising the gas tax), but another 23 percent do not like any of the options provided.

“While most initial gas tax supporters choose one of the options we gave to increase the tax, a significant minority rejected both gas tax approaches, despite their initial support,” said Redlawsk. “This may reflect rejection of an increase after hearing specific proposals, or they may be unwilling to pay the amounts we suggested.”

Slightly more than ten percent of the New Jerseyans who initially opposed a gas tax increase actually support adding the sales tax to gasoline when faced with a list of ways to pay for transportation infrastructure. Three percent pick a fixed gas tax increase, and 8 percent would borrow. But 75 percent oppose all three approaches.

“Initial gas tax opponents basically appear to be willing to accept the current situation, seeing none of the proposals as viable solutions. Most seem to reflect a strong anti-any-tax response,” added Redlawsk.

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Recently state Senator Raymond Lesniak introduced a 5-cents-per-year-over-three-years increase in the NJ state gasoline tax, which is nearly the lowest in the nation and has not been raised in 20+ years. We polled on this back in February, finding limited support for an increase. Overall, the numbers haven’t moved – about two-thirds of New Jerseyans were against it then, and two-third remain opposed now.  Or do they?

The initial question we asked was simply about a proposed gas tax increase dedicated to paying for road maintenance and improvements. No real context and no amount specified. This is what 66 percent oppose.

But we decided to go further. We next asked opponents to make a choice between an increase (again amount unspecified) in the gas tax OR borrowing the necessary money. Opponents split – given the choice, 39 percent would raise the gas tax, while 40 percent would borrow money. The rest were either unsure or denied that either was an appropriate option. Combined with initial supporters, this suggests that given a choice between increasing the gas tax and borrowing, a clear majority would support a higher gas tax.

We added one more twist. We did a little experiment where we varied the information provided about the gas tax increase. Everyone was told it would be a nickel per year over three years and would raise an additional $250 million per year for road and bridge repairs. Then we divided respondents into three groups. Group 1 go the additional information that the tax would increase gas prices by 1.5 percent per year. Group 2 was fold that the increase would double the state’s share of the gas tax. And group 3 was told experts say NJ needs to spend $21 billion over 5 years to fix crumbing roads and bridges.

What happened? All THREE groups become significantly more supportive of the tax increase. Group 1 moves to58 percent support, and group 3 to 57 percent. Group 2 remains less convinced, with 48 percent supporting the gas tax given this additional information.

The takeaway is clear: it’s one thing to just ask New Jerseyans about tax increases. It’s another to give them enough context to understand the impact of those increases.

The full text of the release follows.

Click here for a PDF of the full text, plus questions and tables.


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – While winter weather hammered the state’s already crumbling roads, New Jerseyans appear to remain opposed to raising the gas tax to pay for repairs, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Two-thirds oppose paying more for gas, even with the resulting revenue dedicated to road maintenance. Only 31 percent support an increase.

But all may not be lost for proponents such as Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who last month introduced a gas tax increase in the state Senate. When forced to choose between a higher tax and borrowing money for repairs, 39 percent of initial opponents express a willingness to raise the tax. About as many would prefer continued borrowing to cover costs. Including initial supporters, a majority of all New Jerseyans give some support to a higher gas tax, if borrowing is the only other choice. But 16 percent reject both options, insisting road maintenance and improvements are not needed.

Moreover, opposition to a higher gas tax fades when respondents are given some context around the proposal. To test the role of additional information, the poll placed respondents into three random groups, giving each a different set of details. All groups were told that a five-cent increase raises $250 million per year dedicated to road and bridge repairs.

One group then was told gas costs would increase by only 1.5 percent annually. The effect is dramatic. With this information, support outpaced opposition, 58 percent to 38 percent. When another group was told the state needed $21 billion over five years for to fix crumbling roads and bridges, supporters also topped opponents, 57 percent to 40 percent.

But when informed the proposed increase would double the state’s share of the gas tax over three years, residents were less positive: supporters barely outnumbered opponents, 48 percent to 45 percent.

“Not surprisingly, the first reaction of most New Jerseyans is, ‘Please, no more taxes!’” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “But our experiment shows that if they know more details, residents think the proposed gas tax increase may be a reasonable option, assuming it is dedicated to fixing roads and bridges.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points.

Republicans, younger residents, lower wage-earners strongest opponents

No demographic group gives majority support for a higher gas tax when no context is given: 73 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Democrats are opposed to a higher gas tax generally. Only 24 percent of Republicans, 31 percent of independents and 35 percent of Democrats favor a gas tax hike in general terms.

Respondents whose family budgets would likely be less adversely affected by higher fuel costs are somewhat less opposed. Sixty-one percent of New Jerseyans in households earning $100,000 or more are opposed to an increase, while 37 percent support it. Opposition grows to more than 70 percent for those with lower incomes, with 27 percent of this group supporting an increase.

Opposition also varies by age, with the strongest negativity (76 percent) in the 35 to 49 age group, where only 22 percent support a gas tax increase. Support among seniors is higher at 39 percent, but this still leaves 60 percent opposed.

Perhaps surprisingly, individuals’ daily time behind the wheel has little effect on opposition to a tax increase. Whether rarely venturing out or fighting traffic for 90 minute or more, opposition remains steady.

Higher tax or increased debt?

When initial opponents of a higher gas tax must choose between an increase or borrowing to fund road repairs, even many Republicans – usually the most vehement opponents of tax increases –revise their original position. Republican gas tax opponents split on a tax increase over borrowing, 38 percent to 39 percent, but 19 percent think neither option should be pursued. Among Democrats who first opposed a tax increase, 47 percent prefer to borrow for repairs, 35 percent support a higher tax and 16 percent say neither. Independent opponents are most likely to prefer a higher tax over borrowing, 42 percent to 36 percent, with 14 percent refusing either option.

Overall, by combining initial supporters with those who would prefer a gas tax increase over borrowing, a majority of Democrats (58 percent), independents (60 percent) and even Republicans (53 percent) are found to be supportive of a tax increase.

“Borrowing more money for road repairs appears to be even more distasteful than raising gas taxes for many New Jerseyans,” said Redlawsk. “The choices are not good – pay now or pay more later – and as a result, the usual differences across political parties are washed out. Some people think nothing should be done, but most appear to recognize there is a need to fix roads.”

A similar pattern holds with household income. Initial opponents in households with incomes under $100,000 are slightly more in favor of borrowing than an increased tax bite, 44 percent to 34 percent. Higher-income households say the opposite; 43 percent favor a tax hike, 37 percent want more borrowing. Combined, more than half of residents in all income brackets are inclined to support a higher tax if forced to choose between these alternatives.

A majority of every age group shows combined support as well, even middle-aged New Jerseyans who were originally the strongest opponents. Women, who were initially less in favor of a higher gas tax than men (28 percent to 34 percent), are seven points more likely to support an increase if the only other option is borrowing. As a result, 58 percent of both genders supporting a gas tax increase.

More information has double-digit impact on support

New Jerseyans’ general distaste for taxes comes through loud and clear when asked a simple question about raising the gas tax. However, given a more complete picture, their opposition all but melts away, although the level of support is somewhat dependent on the information provided.

Each of three groups of respondents was told the revenue projection from a nickel increase in the gas tax and also offered additional information. Learning that a five-cent increase results in a 1.5 percent rise in gas prices caused a 27-point increase over this group’s initial support. The other two scenarios had somewhat smaller, but still significant, impacts. Respondents told the state gas tax would double over three years were 21 points more likely to support an increase than they had been. Those who learned that the state needs to spend $21 billion over five years to repair its crumbling infrastructure showed a 19-point increase in support over the initial question.

“In the original question, we did not specify how large an increase, nor how much money it would raise,” noted Redlawsk. “This baseline tells us that New Jerseyans just see dollars flying from their pockets when taxes are mentioned. But explaining the size of the increase – a nickel per gallon each year – changes the game, and increases the chances of support, even if the increase is presented as doubling the tax. And when reminded how bad things really are, many more also see a tax increase as an acceptable option.”

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For a PDF of the Text, Questions, and Tables for this release, click here.

Support varies depending on how tax is explained  

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – New Jerseyans roundly oppose the idea of a gas tax increase that was floated last month by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.  Nearly two-thirds of New Jersey adults oppose any hike, while just a third supports paying more. Views are virtually the same among the registered voters surveyed as part of the sample – 34 percent support, to 62 percent oppose.

Levels of support for a higher gas tax, however, depend on how the question is worded.  Respondents told only that an increase would help finance road maintenance and improvements were far less supportive than those also told New Jersey has the third lowest tax nationally and has not raised it in over 20 years. Without this extra information, 68 percent oppose the increase, while 27 percent support it and six percent are uncertain. But 38 percent of those told the state tax is low and has been stable support an increase, while 60 percent oppose, and just two percent have no opinion.

“New Jerseyans don’t want to pay higher taxes, period,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “But in this case,  the details matter. Knowing the context – that our tax is relatively low and stable – people are somewhat more willing to consider an increase to address road maintenance and improvement. But it’s still not enough to overcome an intense dislike of more taxes.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 842 New Jersey adults with a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points, contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 22 to 28. Within this sample are 729 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.

Gas tax opposition less among Democrats, older residents, top income brackets

Averaging across both versions of the question, there is no demographic group giving majority support for a gas tax increase. Democrats are marginally more likely than independents and Republicans to support a hike: 36 percent, versus 32 percent and 29 percent, respectively. More than six in ten independents and seven in ten Republicans oppose it, compared to 57 percent of Democrats.

Income shows the largest differences. Those in households making $100,000 or over are most likely to support the tax increase – 42 percent in favor and 54 percent opposed. But among the lowest earning households – those under $50,000 –only 24 percent support the proposed increase, versus 72 percent opposed.  Support increases steadily with income level.

“Those making the most are more willing to pay this tax than those with lower incomes,” said Redlawsk. “Given the highly regressive nature of the tax where its effect is not based on ability to pay, that makes some sense. Those with the money to spend are likely to see the increase as a minor hit and to trade it off against the benefit of infrastructure maintenance.”

Older residents are slightly more likely to support the tax increase than younger New Jerseyans, while women are slightly less likely to support it than men.

Question Wording has double-digit impact, including on some of those most skeptical

The framing of the question makes a large difference within some demographic groups, even as support increases across the board when respondents are informed the tax has not been raised in 20 years and is relatively low compared to gas taxes in the rest of the country.

In particular, question wording has significant effect on the highest earning households. Those with incomes over $100,000 show a 17-point increase in support when given the additional information. Without it, only 34 percent are supportive, but once told that the tax is among the lowest and has not increased in 20+ years, support increases to 51 percent – the only case in which any group shows majority support. While Garden Staters making $50,000-$100,000 show a similar double-digit increase, they still do not reach a majority with the elaborated frame; those in other income brackets are not affected by the additional information and show little change.

Additional information causes both Democrats and Republicans to increase support: Democrats jump from 29 percent to 44 percent support, while Republicans increase 18 points from 19 percent to 37 percent.  Independents are less influenced by the wording with just a 7-point increase in support.

While men are overall more likely than women to support an increase, question wording has an additional effect on them, while having little influence on women. Support for the gas tax increase increases by 18 points for men provided additional context, to 46 percent, while women show only a 6-point increase, with less than one-third supporting the increase even in this case.

While those in the youngest age group were among the most skeptical, 18-34 year olds are actually more affected by the additional information than any other age bracket.  Support among this group jumps 18 points to 38 percent. Fifty to 64 year olds also show a double-digit increase, to 44 percent, but 35-49 year olds and those in the oldest cohorts show little change between the two versions.


Filed under Gas Tax