By Patrick Murray, Director
The Monmouth University Polling Institute
A BARE MAJORITY of New Jersey voters are aware that the state legislature is up for election in a few weeks, and fewer really care. The results of the latest Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll suggest that statewide opinion of the legislature as a whole will translate to very little change in the 40 district contests.
Just 33 percent of Garden State voters approve of the job their state legislature is doing while 45 percent disapprove. Another 22 percent have no opinion. These results are very similar to ratings of the legislature taken over the past year. Interestingly, Democrats are more likely to disapprove (52 percent) rather than approve (25 percent) of the legislature controlled by their own party. Republicans, on the other hand, are more likely to approve (49 percent) rather than disapprove (33 percent). This counter-intuitive partisan split has been seen in recent polling, but it is even more pronounced in the current poll. A Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll released last week found that Republicans are much more positive than Democrats about Governor Christie’s claims of Trenton bipartisanship and that appears to be reflected in their differing views of the legislature.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking that displeasure with the legislature is going to lead to a change election. Aside from the fact that the new legislative map protects nearly every incumbent, Democratic voters are actually more unhappy than Republicans, which may be due to how much the leadership has compromised with the governor. However, there is no indication they are willing to cross party lines in this election to express their dissatisfaction,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
When asked which party’s candidates they would support in the upcoming election, 88 percent of Democrats said they would vote for Democrats to just 5 percent who would vote for the Republican slate or split their vote. Similarly, 83 percent of Republicans said they would vote the party line compared to 8 percent who would cross lines or split their vote. Independents are somewhat more likely to vote Republican (36 percent) rather than Democrat (27 percent).
When averaged together, 41 percent of New Jersey voters say they will vote Democratic, 36 percent will vote Republican, and 5 percent will split their vote. Among the most engaged group of voters – and thus the most likely to turn out on November 8 – 43 percent say they will vote Democratic, 37 percent will vote Republican, and 3 percent will split their vote.
Just over half (55 percent) of New Jersey voters reported already being aware of the legislative election when contacted by Monmouth University pollsters just a month before the November 8 ballot. Only 3-in-10 voters (30 percent) say they have a lot of interest in this election, including 31 percent of self-identified Republicans, 30 percent of Democrats, and 31 percent of independents. Another 34 percent of Garden State voters have some interest, 24 percent a little, and 12 percent none.
Barely half (49 percent) of New Jersey’s electorate say it matters a lot to them which party controls the legislature and another 26 percent say it matters a little. This breaks down to a 37 percent Democratic to 28 percent Republican preference for legislative leadership. Another 23 percent simply don’t care one way or the other.
Even among partisan voters, the percentage who say party control matters a lot to them is not particularly overwhelming, 63 percent for Democrats and 53 percent for Republicans. The number is higher, though, among the most engaged voters (70 percent).
“Voters may not be paying close attention but they inherently understand the consequences of the new legislative map. So it is pretty difficult to blame voters for not caring about something which they have little power to change,” said Murray.
The poll also found that New Jersey voters are not particularly well-informed about their legislature. Just 51 percent identified the Democrats as the party which currently holds the reins of power. Another 16 percent actually think the Republicans are in charge. Only 18 percent of Garden State voters can name at least one of their three incumbent legislators.
The Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll was conducted by telephone with 693 New Jersey registered voters from October 5 to 9, 2011. This sample has a margin of error of + 3.7 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the NJ Press Media newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).