With primary elections now over, voters in New Jersey turn their attention towards the fall’s midterm Congressional elections, in which Democrats have a marked advantage over their Republican rivals.
According to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll, 43 percent of registered voters in New Jersey say that they’ll support the Democratic candidate in their district’s upcoming election for the House of Representatives, compared with 32 percent who say that they’ll support the Republican. However, New Jersey voters remain discouraged with the state of national politics, with Obama’s approval staying stable but low. At the same time, party polarization is now at levels similar to those seen during the same point in the Bush administration.
“It almost doesn’t matter how big an advantage the Democrats have statewide,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the poll. “New Jersey’s districts have been designed to ensure that there just aren’t many competitive races.”
Given the Democratic advantage in party registration in New Jersey, 43 percent support for the party’s congressional candidates might seem low, but it’s better than how New Jersey Democrats have fared in the recent past. In early 2010, 46 percent of New Jersey voters said that they would support the Republican candidate in their district, with 44 percent saying that they would support the Democrat. In that election, Republicans were able to pick up one seat: the 3rd Congressional District, in which the current incumbent Jon Runyan beat one-term Democrat John Adler. This year the race between former Randolph Township Mayor Tom MacArthur, a Republican, and Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, a Democrat, is expected to be one of the mostly hotly contested. South Jersey’s 1st Congressional District is likely to be another competitive race, pitting Democrat Donald Norcross — a state senator, and brother of New Jersey power broker George Norcross — against former NFL Eagles linebacker Garry Cobb, a Republican.
President Obama’s approval ratings in New Jersey have stabilized at 45 percent, no different than the 44 percent figure he earned in March. This seeming stability, though, hides some dramatic shifts: Obama’s approval among women has increased substantially, from 45 percent in March to 54 percent now, while his approval among men has decreased by almost the same amount, from 44 percent two months ago to 36 percent today.
While Obama’s approval has stayed put, more New Jerseyans think that the country overall is headed in the right direction. Overall, only 37 percent of voters now say that the country is moving in the right direction, compared with 33 percent in March. More than half –52 percent — still say that the country is on the wrong track.
“New Jersey never saw the sort of dramatic drops in approval that Obama experienced in other states,” said Cassino. “So it’s no surprise that any bounce for the president has been muted as well.”
At the same point during the Bush administration, in 2006, 24 percent of New Jersey voters said that the country was moving in the right direction, only a little lower than Obama’s current numbers. Bush’s approval numbers, however, were much lower: only 36 percent of voters in New Jersey approved of the job he was doing, including 73 percent of Republicans and just 10 percent of Democrats. Obama, on the other hand, has the support of 74 percent of Democrats and just 9 percent of Republicans.
“We thought that the Bush years were as polarized as it could get: we were wrong,” said Cassino. “Even without being dragged down by the Iraq war, as Bush was, Obama’s approval is just as politically polarized. This is getting to look like the new normal.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 813 registered voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from May 27 through June 1 and has a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points.