Republican underdog challenger Jeff Bell is thirteen points behind incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) among registered voters, according to this morning’s Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll. If the election were held today, 42 percent say they’d support Booker with 29 percent favoring Bell, the poll finds. Over a quarter (27%) say they remain unsure whom to support.
“Although Jeff Bell is not a political newcomer to the state, his absence from politics for decades has left him a relative unknown among this generation of voters. The fact that he trails an incumbent senator with rock star appeal by a smaller margin than expected suggests anti-incumbency is operative in this election,” said Krista Jenkins, professor of political science and director of PublicMind. “Add to this the high percentage of undecideds, and it’s clear that even someone with the appeal of Senator Booker is up against tough but still navigable anti-incumbency winds.”
Democrats and Republicans are lined up predictably behind their respective candidates, but independents remain largely undecided. Almost half (46%) of those who don’t identify with either of the two major parties say they’re unsure whom they’ll support in the race for the Senate, according to the FDU Poll. However, among those who do have a preference, Booker trumps Bell by a ratio of more than two-to-one (36 versus 13%, respectively).
Evaluations of President Obama do more to help Booker than Bell. Three-quarters (78%) of those who approve of the president’s job performance intend to vote for Booker, with half (51%) of those who disapprove expressing their preference for Bell.
House of Representatives
As for the generic ballot question, support for Republican and Democratic candidates is evenly divided. Virtually identical numbers of voters say they intend to vote for the Democratic (35%) as Republican candidate (34%). A quarter (24%) say they don’t know who they’ll vote for in November.
Democrats had a significantly greater edge over Republicans just a few months ago. In June of this year, the generic ballot question gave Democrats an eleven percentage point edge over Republicans.
“That gap from a few months ago is now gone. A sign, perhaps, of the continued frustration voters feel with Obama’s leadership that’s trickling down to Democratic candidates,” said Jenkins.
The same survey finds opinion divided over whether the country works best when Congress and the President share the same or hold a different party affiliation. Half (50%) say the same party who occupies the White House should also control Congress with a third (34%) who favor divided government. Democrats are more decidedly on the side of unified government (62%) as compared with Republicans (42%). Republicans and those unhappy with presidential leadership are the most divided over whether greater (42%) or less (45%) partisan cohesion would improve things in Washington.
President Obama and State of the Country
Turning to the president, he remains daunted by upside down job approval numbers among Garden State voters. Right now barely a third (36%) approve of the president, with half (49%) who say they disapprove.
Similar numbers appear when the question turns to the state of the nation. Half (55%) are pessimistic about the direction the country is headed, with significantly fewer (31%) who express optimism. These numbers continue a trend observed in earlier polls. Confidence in the country’s trajectory has hovered in the 30s since at least last fall.
“Even though Tip O’Neil once famously declared ‘All politics is local,’ it’s also true that midterm elections are increasingly nationalized contests. The president is often seen as a proxy for what’s both good and bad in the US,” said Jenkins. “Obama’s numbers, coupled with frustration over the direction the country seems headed, doesn’t bode well for members of his party.”
Finally, the same survey asked about bail reform. The November ballot will contain a question regarding a law that would allow judges to deny bail to those accused of committing a violent crime. Rather than let the defendant go free while awaiting trial, the law would keep him/her locked up in order to ensure the public’s safety. Three-quarters (77%) favor the ballot question, with 16% who would reportedly vote no. Although a majority of all groups considered intend to vote yes, Democrats (67%) and non-whites (65%) are the least enthusiastic about the reform.
“This is an issue upon which elected officials and the public are clearly in agreement. With support running high, it looks like this is a rare example of voter and policymaker preferences lining up to promote change,” said Jenkins.
Fairleigh Dickinson University polled 721 registered voters in New Jersey by telephone with both landline and cell phones from September 1 through September 7. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points.