Monmouth Poll: Obama and Menendez lead, but GOP voters as enthusiastic as Democrats

New Jersey appears on track to retain its “blue” hue in national elections, according to the Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll’s initial election poll of the season.  Unlike 2008, though, GOP voters are as enthusiastic as Democrats about voting this year.

Among registered voters in New Jersey, President Barack Obama leads his Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 51% to 38%.  That margin shrinks slightly to 50% to 42% among likely voters.  In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez leads GOP nominee Joe Kyrillos by 42% to 32% among registered voters and 44% to 35% among likely voters.  A significant number of Garden State voters – 21% registered and 17% likely – are still on the fence in the Senate race.

“There is certainly more room for a GOP upset in the Senate race than the presidential one here in New Jersey, but it’s a contest that few voters are taking an interest in,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The poll found that 72% of Garden State voters have a lot of interest in this year’s presidential contest, but only 49% have a lot of interest in the U.S. Senate race.  These numbers are fairly similar to interest levels in July 2008, when 76% of New Jersey voters had a lot of interest in the presidential race and only 47% had the same level of interest in that year’s Senate contest.

Just under half (47%) of registered New Jersey voters say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year, compared to 32% who are less enthusiastic and 20% who say they have about the same level of enthusiasm as prior elections.  At this point in the 2008 campaign, a similar 50% of voters were more enthused and 29% were less enthused than usual.  However, those results showed a partisan gap, with 66% of Democrats being more enthused compared to just 39% of Republicans.  This year it is even, with 51% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans saying they are more enthused than usual.  Enthusiasm among independent voters is practically the same now (41%) as it was in 2008 (39%).

“Voter enthusiasm is really a byproduct of frustration.  Democrats in 2008 were galvanized by the prospect of moving on from the Bush years.  In 2012, Republicans are motivated by the possibility of defeating the incumbent president, even though it is unlikely that New Jersey will award its electoral votes to his challenger,” said Murray.

The poll found that Obama is seen as better able to handle the economy – 46% of registered voters give him the edge on this issue compared to 37% who choose Romney.  The gap is a much tighter 44% to 42% among likely voters.  Obama also has a narrow registered voter edge over Romney on being the candidate with a clear plan for solving the country’s problems (34% to 29%), although this disappears among likely voters (34% to 34%).  However, Obama has significant advantages when it comes to being a strong and decisive leader (45% to 26%) and caring about people (51% to 20%).

Of the four major party candidates who will be on the statewide ballot in November, only Obama has decidedly positive personal ratings at 53% favorable to 34% unfavorable.  This is equivalent to Gov. Chris Christie’s 52% to 33% rating.  The Christie aura does not rub off on his party’s presidential candidate, though. New Jersey voter opinion on Mitt Romney is split at 36% favorable to 38% unfavorable.

Both U.S. Senate candidates have nominal net positive ratings – 36% to 20% for Menendez and 22% to 11% for Kyrillos.  But significant portions of the Garden State electorate say they have no real opinion of either the incumbent (40%) or his challenger (56%).

When asked which party should control Congress, 28% say the country would be better off if the Democrats were in charge, 24% say the Republicans would do a better job, and 44% say it makes no difference who is in control.

The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by telephone with 678 New Jersey registered voters from July 18 to 22, 2012.  This sample has a margin of error of + 3.8 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Asbury Park Press and its sister publications (Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).

Monmouth Poll: Obama and Menendez lead, but GOP voters as enthusiastic as Democrats