An Eagleton-Rutgers poll shows the state's $400 million bond referendum in a statistical dead heat among likely voters, with 43% opposed to passage and 41% prepared to vote yes. These numbers are substantially different from a Monmouth University/Gannett poll released earlier this week showing support for the ballot initiative at 55%-32%.
"It is rare to see such significant differences in two polls taken at nearly the same time," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. In this case, however, the difference is in the way the question was asked. When voters are cued to the idea that a bond issue means borrowing money they are far less supportive than when simply told that bonds will be issued."
The Eagleton question: "Voters will decide whether New Jersey should borrow $400 million to preserve open space, farmland, and historic areas. Do you plan to vote for or against borrowing this money?" Other polls have asked voters simply if they support "bonding" for open space without specifying that bonding means borrowing money."
"There is no right or wrong way to ask this question," said Redlawsk. "Voters are clearly very sensitive to the idea of borrowing money in a recession. At the same time, New Jersey voters have generally been supportive efforts to protect open space. Placed against each other, these differing results show that the outcome will depend on how voters view the question when they enter the voting booth."
Voters in major urban areas support the bond issue, 48%-35%, while South Jersey and shore area voters oppose it 51%-35%. Suburban and rural voters are split, 42%-40%.
"Perhaps not surprisingly, those who live in the most densely populated parts of the state are generally in favor of this referendum, while those in the least populated areas are clearly opposed, at least when they are reminded that bond issues require borrowing money," said Redlawsk.
Supporters of Gov. Jon Corzine back the public question, 51%-32%, while likely Christopher Christie voters oppose it, 30%-56%. Voters supporting Christopher Daggett oppose the question, 40%-47%. New Jerseyans who are undecided on the race for Governor oppose the open space initiative by a 44%-26% margin.
Corzine and Daggett support the referendum, while Christie opposes it.
"The take home message is that over the last week and a half of the campaign, the messages voters get about the open space referendum may make a big difference," said Redlawsk. "So far the debate over the referendum has been muted. If those who support the bond issue focus on its benefits they may convince people to look beyond the borrowing and the bond will pass. Those who want to defeat the referendum may have a chance if they can focus voters on the fact that bond issues are about borrowing money. If so, this will be a close vote."