NEW JERSEYANS CONTINUE TO OPPOSE GAS TAX HIKE; POSSIBLE ESTATE TAX TRADE-OFF DOES LITTLE TO BOOST SUPPORT

We have been polling for quite a while now – since the 1980s, in fact – on whether or not residents would support a gas tax hike.  The times have changed, but opposition on a hike remains the same.  New Jerseyans continue to say no to a gas tax increase, and any estate tax trade-off in the name of tax fairness is not persuading residents to say otherwise.

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

NEW JERSEYANS CONTINUE TO OPPOSE GAS TAX HIKE; POSSIBLE ESTATE TAX TRADE-OFF DOES LITTLE TO BOOST SUPPORT

Over half favor dedicating all gas tax revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund 

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – The Transportation Trust Fund is running on fumes, but replenishing it through a gas tax increase remains a non-starter with New Jerseyans, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty-six percent oppose a gas tax hike, virtually unchanged in the last 18 months; 42 percent support it.

This belies the fact that half of New Jerseyans feel the state is not spending enough money on road, highway and bridge maintenance.

A corresponding cut in estate and inheritance taxes, which is the aim of a bill advancing in the state Senate, does not make a gas tax hike much more appealing to residents. Thirty-seven percent (up six points since last October) would be more likely to support an increase if it were linked to a cut in estate taxes, but 49 percent (up five points) say this compromise would make them less supportive of a higher gas tax. Nine percent say it would make no difference, and 5 percent remain unsure.

“New Jerseyans have not budged in their opposition to a gas tax hike, no surprise given how unpopular the proposal has been since we first asked about it in the 1980s,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “While there is less opposition than decades ago, residents nevertheless do not want to pay more at the pump.”

Despite opposition to a hike, New Jerseyans support dedicating all gas tax revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund – a question that will be on the ballot in November. Fifty-four percent are in favor of using the revenue for this purpose, versus 34 percent who are against it.

Results are from a statewide poll of 801 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 18 to Feb. 23, 2016. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Few exceptions to majority opposition on hike

A majority of almost every demographic opposes a gas tax increase, with a few exceptions: Democrats (48 percent support to 50 percent oppose), senior citizens (49 percent support to 50 percent oppose), and those in households making between $100,000 and $150,000 (48 percent support to 50 percent oppose) are split down the middle on the issue.

In contrast, Republicans (at 63 percent), millennials (at 62 percent), shore residents (at 62 percent), and those in the lowest income bracket (at 61 percent) are most likely to oppose a hike.

Views differ little by driving habits: those who drive a car almost every day are slightly more likely to oppose an increase than those who drive less often.

But support for a hike is greatly influenced by one’s perception of how much is being spent on road repairs. Residents who believe the state is spending either too much (29 percent support, 71 percent oppose) or just the right amount (30 percent support, 68 percent oppose) are much less likely to support an increase in the gas tax than those who say the state is not spending enough (52 percent support, 46 percent oppose).

Every demographic is more likely to support than oppose giving all gas tax revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund, though to varying degrees. Those who support a hike (72 percent), drive almost daily (56 percent), and believe the state is not spending enough on roads (62 percent) are all especially likely to favor investing gas tax revenue into the Fund.

Minor support for estate tax compromise

The idea of cutting estate and inheritance taxes to balance a gas tax hike is not very popular with any demographic; only residents in the most affluent households are slightly more likely to say an estate tax trade-off would make them more rather than less (46 percent to 44 percent) inclined to support a hike.

Republicans (40 percent more likely), moderates (40 percent), millennials (41 percent), and shore residents (41 percent) are more prone than others to support a gas tax increase with the trade-off, but none reaches a majority.

A bare majority of residents who support a gas tax increase (53 percent) is swayed by a corresponding estate tax decrease, while six in 10 (62 percent) of those who oppose a hike feel just the opposite about the compromise.

“An estate tax compromise is not the kind of ‘tax fairness’ that persuades most New Jerseyans to support a gas tax hike,” said Koning. “Even among the estate tax’s usual opponents, like Republicans and affluent residents, support for a trade-off is lackluster.”

State transportation spending

New Jerseyans across the board feel the state does not spend enough money on roadway repairs, though there is some variation. Republicans are the least likely to feel this way, at 37 percent. Belief that spending is insufficient increases with age yet is lowest among those making under $50,000 compared to more affluent households.

Sixty-four percent of residents who support a gas tax increase feel New Jersey does not spend enough on road and bridge repairs. Even a plurality of gas tax hike opponents (42 percent) says the same.

Gas Tax Increase

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Water Quality in New Jersey

Since news first broke of water problems in Flint, Michigan, drinking water quality – and inequality of access to clean water – has been in the national spotlight. Reports have surfaced of problems here at home, too, with some cities in NJ allegedly having more lead-affected children than in Flint, as well as lead issues at Morristown Medical Center and most recently in Newark schools.

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll has actually been asking about water quality for a few decades now, along with other questions dealing with the environment, pollution, and health. We wanted to take a look back at a few of our past questions on water to see where things stand now given recent events.

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

MAJORITY OF NEW JERSEYANS CONCERNED ABOUT QUALITY OF DRINKING WATER, WATER POLLUTION

But two-thirds are satisfied with their home tap water, Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Like much of the nation in the wake of the Flint, Mich. water crisis, New Jerseyans are concerned about the quality of their drinking water, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Amid reports of similar lead problems here at home, 52 percent of New Jersey residents are concerned about the water they drink: 33 percent are very concerned, and 19 percent are somewhat concerned. Twenty-two percent are not very concerned, and 24 percent are not concerned at all.

In general, most New Jerseyans say that water pollution is at least a somewhat serious problem. Twenty-five percent believe it is a very serious problem, and another 37 percent say it is somewhat serious; 28 percent feel it is not too serious. Yet the number of those who see it as very serious is currently at an all-time low after several decades above the 50-percent mark.

Despite strong general concern, New Jerseyans are mostly satisfied with the quality of the water coming into their homes. Nineteen percent rate their tap water as excellent, 45 percent rate it as good, 20 percent rate it only fair, and 14 percent rate it as poor. These ratings have changed little over the past two decades.

“Decades of polling show us that water quality and pollution have long been concerns in New Jersey, given the state’s history of polluted waterways,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Residents as a whole are more positive now than in the past, but a heightened sense of concern persists among those who still suffer from substandard water access and quality, a consequence of racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities.”

While residents are generally pleased with tap water quality, they prefer bottled or filtered water for drinking. Thirty-seven percent mostly use bottled water, 32 percent use filtered water, and 21 percent drink right from the tap. Ten percent use some combination of these methods. Tap water usage is down slightly since the Poll last asked about it more than a decade ago.

Results are from a statewide poll of 801 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 18 to 23, 2016. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Heightened concerns among those most impacted

Concern over drinking water quality is pervasive: about half or more of every demographic is at least somewhat concerned.

Concern is especially high among those who give their tap water quality negative ratings. Thirty-eight percent of residents who rate their tap water as only fair are very concerned, and another 30 percent are somewhat concerned. Among those who say their water is poor, 64 percent are very concerned; another 8 percent, somewhat. Those who rate their water as good or excellent, on the other hand, are much less worried. Half of residents who rate their water as good are concerned at some level, as are a third of those who rate it as excellent.

The type of water in one’s home also has a significant impact. Residents who use city water are more concerned than those with access to well water – 55 percent (35 percent very, 20 percent somewhat) versus 36 percent (20 percent very, 16 percent somewhat).

Likewise, users of filtered water (53 percent) and especially bottled water (62 percent) are more likely to express concern than those who drink water right from the tap (40 percent). The relationship goes both ways: those who express the most concern are least likely to drink tap water and more likely to use an alternative method.

Views on the severity of water pollution, in general, follow similar patterns. Thirty-two percent of residents who rate their own water as fair and 66 percent who rate it as poor believe water pollution is very serious; about one in ten say the same among those who rate their water as good or excellent. Residents who use bottled or filtered water are also more likely than those who drink tap water to believe the problem is very serious. Those who say the problem is very serious are least likely to use tap water.

Opinions on the severity of water pollution and concern over drinking water go hand in hand: the more one is concerned, the more likely he or she is to believe water pollution is a serious problem, and the more likely one is to believe water pollution is serious, the more concerned he or she is about tap water quality.

The water quality divide

Almost two-thirds of New Jerseyans say the quality of their tap water is good or excellent, but a closer look reveals disparities in access, usage, and ratings among certain demographic groups.

Non-white residents are more likely than white residents to have city water where they live (84 percent versus 79 percent), as well as more likely to use bottled water for drinking (44 percent to 32 percent). They are, in turn, less likely than white residents to rate the quality of their drinking water as good (42 percent to 47 percent) or excellent (15 percent versus 22 percent).

Those living in the state’s southern region near Philadelphia, or in shore or especially exurban counties, are most likely to have access to well water and thus more likely than urban or suburban residents to use their tap water for drinking. Almost three quarters of urban and suburban residents use bottled or filtered water as their main drinking source. Urban and especially suburban residents are also most likely to give their home tap water negative ratings.

Those in the highest income bracket are almost twice as likely as those in less affluent households to have well water (at 21 percent). Almost half of low-income residents use bottled water for drinking, more than any other income bracket. Water ratings increase with income: 61 percent say their water is excellent or good among those in households making $50,000 or less annually, compared to 69 percent among those making $150,000 or more.

While ratings vary little between those with city and well water, residents using city water are much less likely to drink straight from the tap than those with well water.

Residents who predominantly use tap water instead of bottle or filtered water give much higher ratings to the quality of water in their home.

“Race, income, and location drive disparities in tap water access and usage and, in turn, shape ratings on home tap water quality,” said Koning. “Non-white, urban, and lower income residents tend to perceive their water as lower quality, and the situation in Flint as well as recent reports of lead problems here in New Jersey suggest they may have reason for that concern.”

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Atlantic City Running Out of Luck with New Jerseyans? A Look at the State Takeover and Casino Expansion in the Garden State

Once a treasured part of the Garden State, Atlantic City has lost its luster with New Jerseyans in recent years – now to the point where a bare majority of New Jerseyans believe Atlantic City should handle its financial problems on its own without the state stepping in. Garden Staters see little hope for AC’s future, in general, and fewer residents are planning visits to the resort town in the near future than they were in years past. Combined with more division among New Jerseyans over whether casinos should be allowed elsewhere in the state and knowing these new casinos could hurt Atlantic City further, “America’s Playground” seems to be running out of luck.

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

NEW JERSEYANS DIVIDED ON STATE TAKEOVER OF ATLANTIC CITY AND NEW CASINOS ELSEWHERE IN STATE

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Atlantic City’s financial situation continues to worsen, but a bare majority of New Jerseyans believes the state should not intervene, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. When told that current legislation would enable a state takeover of Atlantic City to stabilize its finances, 51 percent think Atlantic City should handle these issues on its own, while 44 percent say New Jersey should step in and assume greater control.

This reverses last year’s view, when New Jerseyans solidly agreed that the state should help Atlantic City – though help at the time consisted only of a plan by an emergency management team and not an entire takeover.

“A number of New Jerseyans see both sides here, but public opinion is ultimately against the takeover legislation proposed by Governor Christie and state Senate President Sweeney,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Whether this is due to residents’ issue with a state takeover of any kind or ever-fading hopes of a bright future for Atlantic City, it seems that the resort town is no longer treasured by New Jerseyans as it was decades ago.”

Regarding another controversial piece of Atlantic City-related legislation, Garden Staters still are divided on permitting gambling elsewhere in the state, though the balance has shifted since October 2014. Residents are now slightly more likely to think that gambling should be limited to Atlantic City (now at 49 percent, up six points) rather than believe it should be allowed elsewhere in the state (now at 44 percent, down three points).

Division over new casinos in other parts of New Jersey stems from respondents’ views of the potential effects these casinos could have. Fifty-seven percent feel that the presence of new casinos would hurt Atlantic City itself, while 21 percent believe they would help the town and another 19 percent say they would make no difference. Additional casinos also are viewed more negatively when it comes to their impact on residents living nearby: 45 percent believe the additional casinos would hurt, while 34 percent say they would help and 16 percent think they would have no effect.

Yet a majority of New Jerseyans sees additional casinos as a positive influence on both tourism and the state economy. Fifty-five percent say adding casinos would help New Jersey with each.

Results are from a statewide poll of 801 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 18 to 23, 2016. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

State intervention most popular among Democrats, millennials, AC supporters

Atlantic City’s financial situation is a contentious issue with groups across the board; no group is overwhelmingly in favor of either side, with most showing a plurality or slight majority in favor of Atlantic City solving these issues by itself.

The issue is somewhat partisan. Over half of independents and Republicans want the town to handle its own issues, while four in 10 want the state to take action. Democrats are more split: 48 percent want the state to step in, versus 45 percent who want Atlantic City to handle the situation by itself.

Along with Democrats and liberals, millennials are one of few groups to show more support for a state takeover than for Atlantic City to be on its own, 52 percent to 46 percent. Those living near Philadelphia in the state’s southern region also show support for state intervention (52 percent to 46 percent), but those in shore counties are slightly more likely to believe Atlantic City should take care of these issues itself (43 percent to 50 percent).

State intervention gets some of its largest support from New Jerseyans who are more familiar with and more positive about Atlantic City. Fifty-one percent of those who have visited the resort town in the past year and 58 percent of those planning to visit in the coming year want the state government to step in. Sixty percent of those who are more hopeful about the town’s future also want an intervention, compared to 42 percent of those who say the town’s best days are behind it. Likewise, New Jerseyans who believe gambling is good for the state as a whole are more likely to want the state to intervene (at 55 percent) than those who believe gambling is bad (37 percent) or makes no difference (39 percent).

Ties to Atlantic City steer views on casino gambling elsewhere

Most groups are also split on whether or not additional casinos should be allowed in other parts of the state. Residents living near Philadelphia in southern counties (at 58 percent) or in shore counties (at 57 percent) are most supportive of limiting casino gambling to just Atlantic City.

This time, familiarity with Atlantic City and with gambling does not work in Atlantic City’s favor. Recent visitors to Atlantic City and those planning to visit are just as or more likely to support permitting gambling elsewhere, whereas those who have not visited or do not plan on visiting are more likely to support limiting gambling to the resort town. A majority of residents (53 percent) who say gambling is good for the state as a whole likewise believe gambling should be permitted elsewhere, while those who believe gambling is bad say just the opposite (at 67 percent).

New Jerseyans who are more optimistic about Atlantic City’s future are slightly more likely than those who hold a more pessimistic view to want gambling limited only to the resort town – 55 percent to 49 percent.

The good and bad of casino gambling

In general, a 39 percent plurality of residents feels that casino gambling has made no difference to the state as a whole, while another 37 percent believe it has been good for New Jersey; just 18 percent say gambling has been a bad thing. Positivity about gambling is markedly down since the 1980s and 1990s, when the activity was seen as largely positive in the state.

When it comes to the potential impact of additional casinos throughout the state, proximity to Atlantic City again plays a prominent role. Residents in South Jersey and shore counties are least likely to say adding casinos elsewhere will help tourism or the economy; they are also most likely to say the new casinos would hurt Atlantic City and residents located in the areas where they would be built.

Those who believe gambling is good for the state overall, those planning a visit to Atlantic City within the next year, and those who are more hopeful about the town’s future are all more likely than their counterparts to believe additional casinos would help tourism and the economy. These groups differ little from their counterparts on how much they think new casinos would hurt Atlantic City itself, but half who say Atlantic City’s best days are ahead and six in ten who say gambling is bad for the state believe that new casinos would hurt surrounding residents.

New Jerseyans who believe casino gambling should be permitted in other parts of the state are much more likely than those who believe it should be limited to Atlantic City to say the additional casinos would help tourism and the economy, as well as much less likely to say they would hurt Atlantic City itself or surrounding residents.

Bleak outlook for Atlantic City

New Jerseyans do not have high hopes for the place once deemed “America’s Playground”: 63 percent say Atlantic City’s best days are behind it, while 22 percent believe they are still to come – virtually unchanged since October 2014. Those who think Atlantic City should handle its own financial problems are more likely than those who support a state takeover to say the resort town’s best days are long gone, 68 percent to 60 percent. New Jerseyans who support casino gambling elsewhere in the state are likewise more negative than those who want to limit it about Atlantic City’s future, 66 percent to 62 percent.

Four in ten New Jerseyans say they have visited Atlantic City in the past year, and a third plan on visiting within the coming year. Even a majority of Atlantic City’s recent and future visitors believe the town’s best days are in the past.

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Pension Payments and Minimum Wage

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

NEW JERSEY VOTERS DIVIDED OVER QUARTERLY PENSION PAYMENTS; OPPOSE FUNDING THROUGH TAX HIKES, BUDGET CUTS

Strong support for minimum wage increase

 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As a battle looms over recent proposals by Democratic leaders in the state Legislature, public opinion has taken sides on the issues of pension payments and the minimum wage in New Jersey, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Registered voters are more in favor than opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the state to make yearly payments to the public employee pension system. When the pros and cons of mandated regular payments are explained, a 49 percent plurality supports the plan. Forty percent say they would oppose it, however, and 11 percent are unsure.

But voters do not want to fund regular payments if it means higher taxes or making cuts elsewhere in the budget: 77 percent oppose the former and 54 percent oppose the latter as ways to fund the pension system.

Sixty-two percent of voters would prefer state workers contribute more toward their own pensions. Sixty-eight percent wish to see cost-saving reforms made to public employee health benefits, something already put forth by Gov. Chris Christie and his bipartisan commission.

A millionaire’s tax also is a popular funding method with voters: 71 percent support increasing taxes on the wealthiest New Jerseyans in order to make regular pension payments.

“Details play a crucial role in voter responses to these issues,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Voters are more likely than not to favor mandated pension payments, but they do not want to pay for it themselves.”

A proposal to increase the minimum wage in New Jersey gets much more support than the pension payment amendment. Seventy-three percent of voters support the plan proposed by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, which would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next several years. Twenty-five percent oppose it, and 2 percent are unsure.

“Voters have always strongly favored minimum wage increases in New Jersey,” said Koning. “This time is no different despite the proposed hourly jump from $8.38 to $15 – most likely because voters were explicitly told that the increase would be gradual.”

Sweeney, who most expect to run for governor in 2017, has been a guiding force for both the minimum wage and pension proposal, but over half of voters in the Garden State have no opinion of him or do not know who he is. Another 27 percent have a favorable impression of Sweeney, while 19 percent have an unfavorable one.

Results are from a statewide poll of 801 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 18 to 23, 2016, including 710 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Pension issue divided by key demographics

While there is a predictable partisan divide on pensions, it is not as strong as might be expected. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats support the amendment, while 31 percent oppose it and 12 percent are unsure. Republicans are just the opposite: 38 percent support requiring regular pension payments, while 51 percent oppose it and 10 percent are unsure. Independents are split, 47 percent support to 43 percent oppose; another 10 percent are uncertain.

Those in public union households are unsurprisingly big supporters of the amendment; 64 percent support it, though 26 percent of this group is opposed and 11 percent are undecided. Voters living in households with no union affiliation are evenly divided – 45 percent support to 44 percent oppose.

While a plurality supports quarterly pensions payments, tax increases or other budget cuts are not seen as the answer to funding the payments. Anti-tax sentiment is strongest among Republicans and conservatives – over eight in 10 oppose increasing taxes. Almost the same number of independents is against tax hikes as a means of funding the pension. A majority of Democrats also do not want to increase taxes to fund pension payments (30 percent support to 66 percent oppose), though they are less likely to say so than their partisan counterparts.

But even if they do not want to see their own taxes increased, partisans of all stripes – 85 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents, and even 50 percent of Republicans – support a tax increase specifically on millionaires.

Making cuts to other services, programs, and aid elsewhere in the budget in order to fund pension payments also provokes strong opposition, though from different sources. Over half of Republicans support this method of funding (54 percent to 41 percent oppose). Independents (at 43 percent support to 49 percent oppose) and especially Democrats (at 24 percent support to 67 percent oppose) take the opposite view.

Support for making budget cuts is also significantly influenced by gender. Male voters are split 49 percent support to 45 percent oppose, but female voters are solidly against making cuts – 29 percent support to 62 percent oppose.

Support for budget cuts increases along with income, from 30 percent among those in households making under $50,000 annually to a 51 percent bare majority among those making $150,000.

Putting the burden to fund regular pension payments on state workers themselves is popular with a number of groups. A majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike support requiring state workers to contribute more to their pensions and benefits, as well as reforming their health benefits to be more in line with private health insurance plans. Non-white voters are less likely than white voters to support such actions, but a majority of both non-white and white voters favor these measures.

Likewise, voters in higher income households are more likely than those with lower incomes to support increased contributions from state workers and reform of public worker health benefits, but majorities in both groups nonetheless are in favor of each.

Voters in public union employee households are solidly against paying more toward their pensions and benefits – 34 percent support to 63 percent oppose. Yet more than half of this group – 55 percent – would be open to reforming their health benefits; 39 percent would oppose it. Seven in 10 voters from non-union households support both of these measures in order to fund regular pension payments.

Strong minimum wage support across the board

A majority of nearly every group favors the most recent minimum wage proposal, which calls for an immediate increase from $8.38 to $10.10 an hour, followed by an annual increase of $1 plus cost of living adjustments over the next five years. Only Republicans and conservatives are more likely to oppose than support the change – 43 percent support to 54 oppose among Republicans and 43 percent support to 55 percent oppose among conservatives.

Female voters (83 percent support), non-white voters (85 percent support), younger voters (78 percent support), and voters in the lowest income bracket (78 percent support) show even greater support for the proposition than their counterparts.

Sweeney and other prospective 2017 candidates largely unknown

Sweeney is not alone in being relatively unknown statewide among prospective 2017 gubernatorial candidates. Seventy-five percent of voters have no opinion or do not know of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who is thought to be planning a Democratic bid. Fourteen percent are favorable toward him, and 11 percent are unfavorable. Former U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy, also a Democrat, is least known of all, at 87 percent; 8 percent feel favorably toward him, and 4 percent feel unfavorably.

On the GOP side, 57 percent are still unaware of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; another 22 percent have a favorable impression of her, while the remaining 21 percent have an unfavorable impression.

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VOTERS MIXED ABOUT CHRISTIE’S RETURN TO NEW JERSEY … Low Issue Approval Ratings for Christie Continue, but Is There a Glimmer of Hope?

New poll, new Christie numbers.  We round out our “welcome home, Governor” polling with a brand new poll conducted right after Christie’s budget address on Feb. 16.  New Jersey voters are mixed about what Christie’s return means for the Garden State moving forward, but a slight plurality do see him having a positive impact now that he is back to governing full time.  And while Christie’s individual issue approvals are still lackluster – all are below the 50-percent mark – there are glimmers of hope that his return home may indicate an upward trend, particularly for independents and Republicans.  Stay tuned for more results from the latest post-budget speech Rutgers-Eagleton Poll!

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

VOTERS MIXED ABOUT CHRISTIE’S RETURN TO NEW JERSEY

Low Marks Continue for Gov. on State Budget, Taxes, Pension Fund

 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie may be back to governing full time, but New Jersey voters are split on what this means for the Garden State, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Following his budget address on Feb. 16, a 36 percent plurality of voters says Christie’s new focus on governing New Jersey will have a positive impact on the state. But 27 percent say his presence will have a negative influence, while another 33 percent think he will have no impact at all. Four percent are unsure.

Christie struggles with voters on many of the issues he highlighted in his speech, including the budget itself. Thirty-two percent now approve of how he is handling the budget. While this is a seven-point increase from his all-time low in December, 55 percent still disapprove.

Christie has also experienced a slight uptick in views on his handling of taxes: 28 percent approve of his performance, up five points from December, while 64 percent continue to disapprove (down seven points). Taxes are a perennial concern with voters: 27 percent now say it is the top problem facing the state.

Christie continues to perform least well on the state pension fund situation. An insignificant two-point bump now has 23 percent of voters approving how he is handling the issue, while 62 percent disapprove (down four points). Christie does little better on other issues: voters mostly disapprove of his handling of transportation and infrastructure (30 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove), education and schools (34 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove), and the economy and jobs (35 percent approve, 59 percent disapprove).

“Voters may be mixed on what impact Governor Christie will have on the state going forward, but they are clear in their assessment of the job he has been doing up to this point,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Despite the lackluster ratings, there may be a small bright spot here. His record low approvals in December have mostly inched up. It is too soon to tell, but his resumed presence in the state may be renewing a bit of faith – or at least halting his ratings slide.”

Voters remain mostly negative about the state’s overall direction, however: 34 percent say New Jersey is headed in the right direction, while 57 percent say the state has gone off on the wrong track.

Results are from a statewide poll of 801 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 18 to 23, 2016, including 710 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Christie’s return excites some more than others

While voters as a whole are mixed on Christie’s impact now that he is back for good, some groups are more positive than others about his return. Sixty-one percent of Republicans believe the GOP governor will have a positive impact, as do 74 percent of those feeling favorable toward him and 72 percent who approve of the job he is doing overall. These groups are all relatively small, however – less than one-third of voters.

Independents are more divided: 36 percent say he will have a positive impact, 26 percent a negative one, and 35 percent none at all. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are most likely to say he will have a negative impact (at 38 percent), while 23 percent expect a positive influence and 34 percent do not expect his return to matter at all.

Republicans, independents drive slight ratings improvements

Christie’s approval ratings on a variety of individual issues have remained consistently below the 50-percent mark since August 2015. Christie does best on crime and drugs and Hurricane Sandy recovery, but even these more positive than negative numbers are a far cry from what they were in years past. Forty-two percent of all voters now approve of Christie’s handling of crime and drugs (up two points), compared to 41 percent who disapprove (down five points). Voters remain somewhat divided on his handling of Sandy recovery – 49 percent approve (up one point) to 43 percent disapprove (down one point).

While Christie continues to receive majority disapproval on the state budget, his speech may have had some positive impact among independents and especially Republicans, both of whom show double-digit increases in their approval on this issue since December 2015. While only 14 percent of Democrats approve of the governor in this area, 36 percent of independents (up 13 points) and 58 percent of Republicans (up 10 points) do the same.

Christie sees similar improvement on the state pension fund situation and taxes. Twenty-eight percent of independents now approve of Christie’s job on the state pension fund (up seven points), as do 43 percent of Republicans (up 10 points). Likewise, 29 percent of independents (up nine points) and 49 percent of Republicans (up five points) approve of Christie on taxes. Republicans, in particular, are once again more likely to approve than disapprove of Christie on these issues now, after giving him more negative than positive ratings in December.

As for Democrats, on the other hand, about three-quarters continue to disapprove of Christie in both of these areas.

About six in 10 GOP voters also approve of Christie’s handling of the economy and jobs, education and schools, and crime and drugs; half say the same about transportation and seven in 10 approve of his job on Sandy.

A third of independents express approval on the economy and education, as do three in 10 on transportation. Independents are more likely to approve of Christie than disapprove on Sandy recovery, as well as crime and drugs.

Three-quarters of Democrats disapprove of Christie on the economy and education. Two-thirds express disapproval on transportation, and over half say the same about Sandy and crime and drugs.

“It is a good sign for the governor that his issue approval ratings received a boost among independents and especially Republicans after his first big speech back home,” said Koning. “While Christie has always received lackluster ratings from Democrats – except for some time post-Sandy – independents and Republicans have continually been the driving force of his ratings ups and downs. It seems these two groups have a more positive outlook now that Christie has returned to governing full time.”

More of the same: negative state outlook, taxes top concern

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. About six in 10 voters have consistently said the state is off on the wrong track since April 2015. This is a complete reversal from the prolonged positivity felt throughout 2013. Such intensely negative views have not been felt since October 2009.

Partisanship and feelings about Christie color state assessment. While a majority of Republicans and especially Christie supporters feel New Jersey is headed in the right direction, Democrats, independents, and those who either have an unfavorable impression or disapprove of Christie say just the opposite.

Once again, taxes are the top concern among voters in the state, now at 27 percent; the issue has consistently taken the number one spot since October 2014. Democrats (19 percent), independents (30 percent), and Republicans (34 percent) alike are most likely to choose it as the top problem facing the state.

Another 15 percent of voters say economy and jobs is the most pressing concern, followed by government corruption and abuse of power (14 percent), and education (12 percent).

Christie Issue Appr Feb 2016.png

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TRUMP TRUMPS THE REST OF GOP IN NJ; CLINTON HAS DOUBLE-DIGIT LEAD OVER SANDERS

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TRUMP, CLINTON CONTINUE TO HOLD COMMANDING LEADS IN NEW JERSEY; RUBIO A DISTANT SECOND IN GOP RACE 

Over half of voters dissatisfied with 2016 field of candidates

 Note: This Rutgers-Eagleton Poll overlapped the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, February 9, and Gov. Christie’s official end to his presidential bid on Wednesday, February 10, but was conducted prior to the South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucus.

 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – “Trump-mentum” is at an all-time high with Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters in New Jersey, who are now more likely than ever to choose businessman Donald Trump as their presidential nominee, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Thirty-eight percent would choose Trump if they had to cast their primary vote today. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who would receive only 11 percent of the vote, is a distant second. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is neck and neck with Rubio, coming in third at 10 percent.

Voters interviewed for this poll leading up to the New Hampshire primary were just as likely to choose Trump as those interviewed afterward, unlike the post-primary fluctuations in support seen for other GOP candidates based on their performance in the Granite State.

Among all New Jersey voters, Trump is not overwhelmingly popular, however: 31 percent have a favorable impression of the entrepreneur, while 57 percent have an unfavorable one – almost the same as Gov. Chris Christie’s numbers in the Garden State. Voters are slightly less favorable toward Rubio and Cruz, at 27 percent and 20 percent, respectively, though negativity toward these candidates is not as strong as it is toward Trump. Thirty-seven percent are unfavorable toward Rubio (another 37 percent have no opinion or do not know him), and 48 percent are unfavorable toward Cruz (another 32 percent have no opinion or do not know him).

But Trump’s ratings specifically among Republican voters are solid, far surpassing his competition’s. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans are favorable toward Trump (30 percent are unfavorable), compared to 40 percent who say the same about Rubio (27 percent unfavorable), and 31 percent who say the same about Cruz (38 percent unfavorable).

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton easily beats Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the nomination, 55 percent to 32 percent. Yet Sanders has an edge in favorability. Forty-six percent of voters have a favorable impression of the senator, while 29 percent have an unfavorable one and another 25 percent have no opinion or are not familiar with him. Clinton, on the other hand, receives higher negative than positive ratings – 42 percent favorable versus 47 percent unfavorable, with 11 percent uncertain. This is a marked difference from Clinton’s ratings a year ago, which were 59 percent favorable to 31 percent unfavorable.

Clinton, however, excels with her own party base. Over three-quarters of Democrats are favorable toward her, versus two-thirds who feel the same about Sanders.

Although each party has a clear frontrunner, more than half of voters are dissatisfied with the current field of candidates: 30 percent are somewhat dissatisfied, and 25 percent are very dissatisfied. Just 9 percent say they are very satisfied, and another 36 percent are somewhat satisfied. Republicans are most likely to express satisfaction with the choices available, followed by Democrats, with independents least satisfied.

“New Jersey voters look like the rest of the country when it comes to the 2016 race,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Trump and Clinton hold strong leads and garner solid majorities among their respective party bases, despite their higher negative than positive ratings statewide. Yet neither candidate does well with independents, the driving force behind dissatisfaction with the current field – a strong indication of how polarizing the 2016 race already has become.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 889 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 6 to 15, 2016, including 758 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

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Back in NJ, Christie Not Seen as Strong Leader, Effective, Trustworthy

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NEW JERSEYANS HAVE CHRISTIE BACK, BUT DON’T SEE HIM AS STRONG LEADER, EFFECTIVE, OR TRUSTWORTHY

 Majorities continue to view him as arrogant, self-centered, stubborn

 Note: This Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was conducted prior to Gov. Chris Christie’s February 16th budget address.

 NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie may be back for good in the Garden State, but New Jersey voters have few nice things to say upon his return, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Asked how well a series of personality and leadership traits describe the governor, registered voters are less likely than ever to apply positive descriptors.

Thirty percent now say “strong leader” describes Christie “very well” – an all-time low, down 36 points since his reelection in 2013, 26 points since Bridgegate erupted in January 2014, and 10 points since August 2015. This is the single largest decline over time of any of the traits. Another 31 percent now think the trait applies only “somewhat well,” and 37 percent say it does not apply at all.

Even fewer say “effective” describes the governor very well: only 22 percent, a new low. Thirty-nine percent say this describes him somewhat well, and 36 percent say not at all.

Christie continues to suffer most when it comes to issues of honesty and authenticity. Just 15 percent say “trustworthy” describes him very well (33 percent somewhat well, 49 percent not at all), another new low, surpassing previous lows following the George Washington Bridge scandal. When it comes to sincerity, the pattern holds: 22 percent say “sincere” fits him very well, 29 percent somewhat well, and 44 percent not at all.

Fewer voters now ascribe “smart” to Christie – 44 percent, seven points lower than last August. Only 10 percent say “presidential” fits Christie very well, a number that remained virtually steady throughout his campaign.

“It is no coincidence that New Jersey voters give Governor Christie some of his lowest character ratings to date upon his return home,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “With the governor spending the last several months on the campaign trail, positive perceptions of him have taken a hit across the board in his absence – especially leadership, a trait that has usually been his strong suit since taking office.”

Perceptions of Christie’s negative traits have not changed quite as dramatically as his positives. Voters are slightly more likely to say “arrogant” describes the governor very well, now at 62 percent (up four points). Sixty-five percent still call him “stubborn,” and 53 percent say “self-centered” is an apt descriptor. Half say “bully” suits the governor very well, and 41 percent say the same about “impulsive.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 889 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 6 to 15, 2016, including 758 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Republicans, independents spur new lows on positive traits

Belief that Christie is a strong leader has suffered most during Christie’s presidential run – especially with independents and Republicans. While Democrats remain stable in their views on the trait since August (17 percent say it fits Christie very well), Republicans and independents drive the overall double-digit decline. A bare majority of GOP voters – 52 percent – now say “strong leader” fits Christie very well, down 12 points since August. Among independents, 29 percent now say the same – a 14-point drop.

Republicans and independents are both less likely to ascribe “smart” to the governor in the past six months: 65 percent of Republicans (down six points) and 43 percent of independents (down 11 points) now say “smart” describes Christie very well. Democrats again hold steady in their views here, at 33 percent.

Republicans are also markedly more negative on whether “effective” describes Christie very well – now at 41 percent, a 13-point drop since August. Ten percent of Democrats say the same (down five points), as do 22 percent of independents (down two points).

Increased negativity on “trustworthy” – one of the traits consistently ascribed least to Christie since Bridgegate – is driven by independents this time: 12 percent now say this suits him very well (down 11 points), while Democrats and Republicans remain virtually steady in their views at 7 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

“Independents and Republicans had a more positive outlook on Governor Christie’s character back in August, but now, they are the ones driving the decline,” said Koning. “As the governor gets back to business in the Garden State, increasing favorable perceptions of himself among these two groups is crucial to what he can accomplish in his remaining two years, his legacy as governor, and any ability to tout his bipartisan appeal should he run for national office again.”

Negative perceptions hold steady

Unlike their positive counterparts, negative perceptions of Christie have changed little in the past six months. “Arrogant” achieves a new overall high due to a modest increase among independents (now at 65 percent, up five points) and Republicans (now at 37 percent, up four points); Democrats hold steady, with 73 percent saying this describes Christie very well.

On most other negative traits, voters are about as likely to ascribe them to the governor as they were in August. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats (down six points), 68 percent of independents, and 53 percent of Republicans say that “stubborn” suits Christie very well. Sixty-two percent of Democrats, 53 percent of independents, and 26 percent of Republicans say the same about “bully.” Sixty-six percent of Democrats, 54 percent of independents, and 29 percent of Republicans believe “self-centered” is a very fitting description.

While Democrats are nearly as likely as they were in August to say Christie is impulsive (now at 51 percent), independents and Republicans are slightly less likely to do so – now at 40 percent (down six points) and 27 percent (down seven points), respectively.

Voters lack pride, enthusiasm more than ever

Voters continue to feel “angry” about Christie (now at 41 percent), while 45 percent are “worried,” and 37 percent feel “contempt.” Just a quarter say Christie makes them feel “proud” or “enthusiastic”; both emotions are down about 20 points since Christie’s re-election in 2013 and another 10 points since news of Bridgegate first broke in January 2014.

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