Benenson Poll: Dems should have concerns in this election year

A Benenson Strategy Group March 18 poll commissioned by a coalition of labor and circulated at the Statehouse on Monday among Democratic Party legislators shows the majority party clinging to a 2-point legislative lead over the GOP in the minds of New Jersey voters.

While Democratic leaders shuffle between going toe to toe and toe to heel with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over pension and benefits reform and the budget, Democratic and undecided voters both say it is more important to protect priorities like schools, police and firefighters than to cut state spending. Democrats prefer protecting priorities over cutting spending by state government by a 60-point margin, while undecideds favor the priorities argument by a 5-point margin.

Here is the poll obtained by PolitickerNJ.com:

“Democratic members of the New Jersey Legislature have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the upcoming elections. Their top priority, however, should be appealing to the electorate that will hear their arguments. Currently, 40 percent of likely 2011 voters say they will vote for Democratic candidates for the legislature (a narrow 2-point lead over Republicans). And another 22 percent are still undecided. While Governor Christie has clearly enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon, his personal popularity has not fully translated into votes for Republican candidates on the ballot this November. In fact, the vast majority of voters who will vote Democratic, and a substantial number of undecided voters are not sold on key points of Christie’s agenda.  These groups should be considered the primary group for Democrats to talk to in the coming months, and they are not likely to be won over by a platform that merely follows Christie’s agenda.

DEMOCRATS START WITH BASE OF 40%; 22% UNDECIDED

Statewide, Democrats currently hold a small lead over Republicans on the generic legislative ballot.  When likely 2011 voters are asked who they would vote for in their area, the Democratic candidate leads the Republican candidate by 2 points 40-36 (44-42 when leaners are factored in).  The Democratic base is nearly as supportive of their candidates as Republicans are, with registered Democrats supporting Democratic candidates by 70 percent, while registered Republicans support Republicans by 73 percent.  Union members, a key component of the base in legislative elections, also remain strongly Democratic: Union members favor a Democratic candidate over a Republican by 58%-32%.

Democrats hold leads across traditional base subgroups too, winning women by 7 points, less wealthy voters (<$75K/year) by 11 points and African Americans by an 89%-6% margin.  Democrats are strongest in the North-Central region (+37), and the Northeast (-5), Central (+7) and Southern (-6) regions can all be considered battlegrounds. 

 

All

Gender

Race

Party Reg

Income

Region

Union

M

F

White

AA

Dem

Ind

Rep

<$75K

$75K+

NW

NE

NC

C

S

Yes

No

Difference

+2

-5

+8

-11

+81

+59

-5

-69

+11

-3

-17

-5

+37

+7

-8

+32

-6

Democrat

40

35

44

33

87

70

34

4

47

39

31

36

60

42

34

58

35

Republican

38

40

36

44

6

11

39

73

36

42

48

41

23

35

42

26

41

Third Party

0

1

0

0

1

0

1

0

0

1

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

Not Sure

22

24

19

22

6

18

26

23

17

19

21

22

15

23

23

16

23

 
DEMOCRATIC AND UNDECIDED VOTERS’ SEE JOBS, NOT THE STATE BUDGET, AS THEIR TOP PRIORITY

When it comes to likely undecided and Democratic voters, Republicans and Christie have created an opening by leading with the state budget as their top issue.  In fact, jobs are more important than the budget to both Democratic and undecided likely 2011 voters.  Democrats place education as the second (24%) most important issue legislators should be dealing with, and the state budget comes in third, tied with taxes (12% each).  While undecided voters place the budget second, far fewer undecideds than Republican voters say it is the most important issue.  (26% undecideds vs 40% Republicans).

Most Important Issue – Likely 2011 Voters

Which of the following issues would you say is the most important thing that your New Jersey state legislators should focus on?

Ranked by All

All

Vote on ’11 Ballot

Democrat

Republican

Not Sure

The economy and jobs

29

36

20

35

The state budget and spending

26

12

40

26

Taxes

17

12

25

11

Education

13

24

3

12

Health care

7

8

5

7

Crime and public safety

1

2

1

0

Pensions

1

1

1

0

Environment

0

0

0

1

Illegal immigration

0

0

0

0

All of the above

5

5

3

8

Not sure

1

1

1

0

 
Consistent with findings about their view of the most important issues, Democratic and undecided voters both say it is more important to protect important priorities like schools, police and firefighters than to cut state spending.  Democrats prefer protecting priorities over cutting spending by state government by a 60-point margin, while undecideds favor the priorities argument by a 5-point margin.

Higher Priority – Protect Important Priorities vs. Cut Spending

 

All

Vote on ’11 Ballot

Democrat

Republican

Not Sure

Difference

+6

+60

-50

+5

Protecting important priorities like schools, and public safety services like police and firefighters.

51

79

23

49

Cutting spending by state government

45

19

73

44

Not sure

4

2

3

6

DEMOCRATIC AND UNDECIDED VOTERS STILL STRONGLY PRO-UNION

Gov. Christie and Republicans in the legislature are busy trying to make unions and their members the scapegoats for the state’s budget problems.  But data suggests that this is a strategy that could backfire on them badly in the 2011 elections.  Unions are net favorable with Democratic voters by a 50-point net margin or more depending on question wording.  Among undecided voters, 34% have a favorable impression of labor unions, 38% of teachers’ unions and 44% are favorable toward public employee unions.  In fact, politicians who fail to separate themselves from parts of Christie’s agenda could be in danger.  For example, all voters are more likely to blame underfunding of the states pension fund on the politicians who passed tax cuts for the wealthy instead of contributing to the state pension fund.

Union Favorability – Likely 2011 Voters

Ranked by All

% Total Favorable/%Total Unfavorable

All

Vote on ’11 Ballot

Democrat

Republican

Not Sure

Public employee unions

45/37

71/13

19/65

44/34

Teachers’ unions

45/42

78/11

13/76

38/37

Labor unions

44/35

71/11

22/59

34/36

 
Both Democratic and undecided voters say unions are “a good thing” and that “they make sure employers provide good wages, benefits, and a safe work environment.”  Democratic voters support unions by a margin of 83%-11%; undecideds by a 6-point margin.  Over a quarter of Republican voters also agree with this statement over one that says unions drive up the cost of doing business in New Jersey.  Democratic and undecided voters are also clear that they oppose any efforts to eliminate unions: Democrats by an 86%-11% margin, and undecideds by 64%-30%.  Republicans are split down the middle on this issue 47%-46%.

Union View – Likely 2011 Voters

Which is closer to your view of unions in New Jersey?

 

All

Vote on ’11 Ballot

Democrat

Republican

Not Sure

Difference

+18

+72

-32

+6

Unions are good. They make sure employers provide good wages, benefits, and a safe work environment.

53

83

28

41

Unions are bad. They drive up the cost of doing business and drive jobs out of New Jersey.

35

11

60

35

Not Sure

12

6

12

23

 
While there are no serious proposals on the table today to eliminate unions, the positive feelings toward unions among Democratic and undecided voters carry over to specific issues on the Christie agenda.  By a large margin, Democratic voters opposed every item of the Christie agenda we tested, including a proposal to eliminate tenure for New Jersey teachers.  School vouchers and attacks on public employees’ ability to bargain over pensions and health care benefits were especially troubling, with Democratic voters opposing them by 15 and 23 point margins respectively.  School vouchers ranked as the most negative aspect of Christie’s agenda among undecided voters 44-point net opposition.  Eliminating teacher tenure was more popular with undecided voters, but 30% of undecideds still opposed eliminating tenure, and 42% opposed the plan when it was pointed out that tenure protected teachers from arbitrary firing.

Christie Anti-Union Proposals – Likely 2011 Voters

… Is this something you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose?

Ranked By All (Oppose)

%Total Favor/ %Total Oppose

All

Vote on ’11 Ballot

Democrat

Republican

Not Sure

Prohibit public employees from bargaining for health care and pension benefits.

33/56

20/75

49/36

30/57

Provide school vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools and pay for the vouchers out of the public education budget.

40/55

35/61

54/41

26/70

Forbid state contracts from going to union workers if their union donates more than 300 dollars to a political candidate.

34/54

23/68

45/43

36/48

Cut pension benefits by 9% for public employee retirees.

40/54

14/83

66/29

43/45

Weaken protections that keep teachers from being fired arbitrarily.

39/46

20/64

55/29

43/42

Require teachers to pay 6,000 more dollars per year on average toward their health insurance coverage and increase their health insurance co-pays.

50/46

26/72

75/22

51/42

Eliminate teacher tenure for New Jersey’s public school teachers. 

56/38

31/65

82/14

58/30

 
THE DEMOCRATIC BASE REMAINS OPPOSED TO THE CHRISTIE AGENDA

In addition to the views of Democratic and undecided voters outlined above, it is worth noting that two large blocs of traditional Democratic base votes also remain strongly opposed to the Republican agenda:  Union members and registered Democrats. 

Union members currently vote for Democrats by a 32-point margin (58%-26%), and 31% of all current Democratic votes are union members.  However, there is a 13 point gap between opposition to the Republican agenda and support for Democrats:  71% of union members likely to vote in 2011 say they oppose the Christie agenda, but just 58% say they will vote for a Democrat.  This suggests that there is still room to grow among union members.  They are particularly opposed to cuts in pensions (81%-16%) and attacks on bargaining for health care and pension benefits (79%-15%), so it is hard to see how Democratic legislators who back these proposals will be able to increase their vote among them. 

Registered Democrats are another base group that opposes the Christie-Republican agenda:  66% say they oppose the Christie agenda, and similar numbers are very concerned about Republican cuts to education and public safety.  However, 18% of registered Democrats are still undecided as to who they will vote for in the November legislative elections.  This suggests another area where Democrats can grow simply by consolidating and motivating their base.  Registered Democrats are also likely to be motivated by messages pointing out that Republicans gave tax cuts to millionaires during a budget crisis, but failed to contribute to the state pension plan.

CONCLUSION

A large portion of likely 2011 voters are still not sold on the agenda of Gov. Christie and Republicans in the legislature agenda.  In fact, when you look at the three tasks Democrats must accomplish to be successful in an off-year election – hold voters who are already voting Democrat, consolidate and turn out their traditional base, and win over undecided voters – none of them will be made easier by latching on to Republican proposals.  Each of these groups tend to side strongly and be motivated by traditional Democratic values and arguments rather than Christie’s agenda. 

METHODOLOGY 
This report covers the results of our research: 600 total interviews with likely 2011 general election voters in New Jersey.  The interviews were conducted March 8-10, 2011. The margin of error for overall results is ±4.00% and higher among subgroups.   
 
The regions for the purposes of this report are partitioned as:

·     NW – which represents 16% of the electorate and is defined as anyone living in Sussex, Morris, Warren, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties.

·     NE – which represents 15% of the electorate and is defined as anyone living in Passaic and Bergen counties.

·     NC – which represents 16% of the electorate and is defined as anyone living in Essex, Union, and Hudson counties.

·     C – which represents 21% of the electorate and is defined as anyone living in Mercier, Middlesex, and Monmouth counties.

·     S – which represents 32% of the electorate and is defined as anyone living in Ocean, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Salem, Cumberland, and Cape May counties.

Benenson Poll: Dems should have concerns in this election year