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THREE-QUARTERS SAY GARDEN STATE OFF ON THE WRONG TRACK; NEW LOWS FOR CHRISTIE, MIXED VIEWS ON MENENDEZ, AND GOV CANDIDATES REMAIN UNKNOWN

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll
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New Jersey is one unhappy state, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fewer than one in five registered voters think their state is going in the right direction, while almost three-quarters think it is off on the wrong track; another one in 10 is unsure.

Part of that dissatisfaction is based upon state and national leadership. Just 16 percent have a favorable opinion of Gov. Chris Christie; the same number approves of the job he is doing as governor. Both ratings mark new all-time lows for the governor.

“Views on the state’s direction have marched in lockstep with the governor’s spiraling ratings since the Bridgegate scandal broke in 2014, ” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University. “Dissatisfaction with state affairs is now at its highest point since 1992, as voters increasingly seem to feel Christie will be leaving New Jersey worse off than when he first took office.”

President Donald Trump fares little better among New Jersey voters. Thirty percent have a favorable opinion of the president, compared to 61 percent who have an unfavorable one. Likewise, by a 65 to 30 percent margin, more disapprove than approve of the job he is doing as president.

And with Labor Day, the traditional kickoff of the campaign season, just around the bend, voters do not yet see any solutions. Faced with two largely unfamiliar candidates in Republican Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy, about four in 10 voters claim not to know them, though Murphy has a slight edge over Guadagno among those who express an opinion.

Sen. Robert Menendez receives decidedly mixed reviews on the eve of his federal trial for corruption – 28 percent favorable to 25 percent unfavorable. Sen. Cory Booker, by comparison, is the best-regarded statewide public official at this point, with far more voters offering favorable (54 percent) than unfavorable (23 percent) opinions about the former Newark mayor.

Results are from a statewide poll of 714 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Aug. 24-28, 2017, including 660 registered voters reported on in this release. The sample has a margin of error of +/-4.0 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

NJ and Christie hit new all-time lows; Trump unpopular but holds GOP support

As Christie nears the end of his eight years in office, dismay over conditions in the Garden State is nearly universal, reaching lows not seen since the early 1990s. Now, 73 percent say the state is off on the wrong track. This number has been increasing steadily since Christie’s reelection in 2013 when just one-third of state residents felt that way, and is now higher than it was at the peak of the Great Recession in 2009.

Christie continues to be the least popular New Jersey governor since the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll first began asking this question in the 1970s, dipping below the previous record lows of former Govs. Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio (each at 17 percent). His job approval has likewise been on a steady decline since April 2016 and is now less than half of what it was upon his return home from his 2016 presidential run. Moreover, Republicans have finally soured on the governor long after Democrats and independents did in the immediate aftermath of Bridgegate, after a year of Sandy-induced bipartisan support. Thirty-five percent of Christie’s base now has a favorable opinion of him, while 50 percent are unfavorable. Likewise, 36 percent of Republicans approve of the job he is doing, compared to 59 percent who disapprove.

President Trump does a little better than the governor but remains wildly unpopular in the largely Democratic Garden State. Yet unlike Christie, Trump maintains three-quarters of his base when it comes to favorability and job approval; virtually all Democrats and more than half of independents, on the other hand, hold negative views about the president.

“Republicans’ negativity toward Christie, yet positivity toward Trump, may prove to be a challenge for Republican gubernatorial candidate Guadagno, who has tried to avoid aligning herself with either figure,” said Koning. “Her approach is largely in contrast to Trump, yet Trump has most Republicans in the state on his side. Guadagno may thus have to walk a fine line in courting her base’s vote, and only time will tell if she can motivate enough of them to turn out come Election Day this November.”

An election of unknowns

Neither of the major party gubernatorial candidates vying to follow Christie is well-known. Just over one-third of voters offer an opinion of either Murphy or Guadagno, although opinions on Guadagno are more split (17 percent favorable to 18 percent unfavorable), while Murphy is better regarded at the outset of the campaign (23 percent favorable to 13 percent unfavorable). Twenty-five percent offer no opinion of Murphy, and 39 percent have not heard of him; similarly, 24 percent have no opinion of Guadagno, and 41 percent do not know of her.

Each candidate’s party base is more likely to recognize and feel favorably toward its own nominee. Thirty-nine percent of Democrats have a favorable view of Murphy, while just 6 percent hold an unfavorable one; 21 percent hold no opinion, and 35 percent have not heard of him. Likewise, 37 percent of Republicans are favorable toward Guadagno, while just 8 percent are unfavorable; 23 percent of her base currently has no opinion, and 31 percent still have not heard of her.

Mixed views on Menendez as he heads to trial; Booker continues to shine

This September, Menendez will go on trial in federal court, but while the senator’s ratings are mixed, they are little different from what they have been throughout the last two years. In fact, it is the percentage of voters who are uncertain or who have not heard of Menendez that has risen the most in recent months – now up seven points since last September to 47 percent. Among partisans, Democrats are the most favorable, though they do not reach a majority: 42 percent of the senator’s base is favorable toward him, while 12 percent are unfavorable. Just 20 percent of independents and 15 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Menendez, but this does not automatically translate into majority opposition, either; 29 percent of independents are unfavorable, as are 44 percent of Republicans.

“One thing Menendez has going for him right now is that New Jersey voters are not in a rush to wholly condemn him in the court of public opinion,” said Koning. “This could be his key to avoiding expulsion from the Senate for now or keeping his seat longer, at least until a Democratic administration comes into the statehouse if Phil Murphy wins. The outcomes of this trial and his seat have huge implications not just for New Jersey but also for the country, given how closely the Senate is divided and what this could mean for future votes on issues like healthcare.”

Sen. Cory Booker is the one clear star in New Jersey politics right now. Booker’s favorability among New Jersey voters has remained steady since he was mayor of Newark, typically hovering just over the 50-percent mark. Positivity toward Booker is divided along partisan lines, however. The vast majority of Democrats – 76 percent – are in Booker’s corner; just 4 percent have a negative view of the junior senator. Similarly, almost half of independents (47 percent) have a favorable opinion of Booker, while 26 percent have an unfavorable one. Republicans are just the opposite: 55 percent are unfavorable toward Booker, while 22 percent are favorable.

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