Most New Jerseyans who have heard about the federal indictment against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) think it was politically motivated but still say he is probably guilty of the charges. The Monmouth University Poll found that the senator’s approval rating took a hit since the charges, but most say he should be given the chance to clear his name before having to resign from office.
Most New Jerseyans (79%) have heard about the recent indictment of New Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator for bribery and misuse of office. Fully 6-in-10 (60%) of this group say Menendez is probably guilty of the charges levied against him while just 24% say he is probably not guilty. Majorities of Republicans (63%), independents (63%), and Democrats (53%) who have heard of the charges say the senator is probably guilty. At the same time, a slim majority (51%) of those who have heard about the indictment think it is the result of retaliation by his political enemies, while 35% say politics have nothing to do with it.
“Many New Jerseyans seem to agree with Sen. Menendez that these charges were the result of a political witch hunt. They part ways, though, when it comes to whether he is actually guilty of the alleged crimes,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Two-thirds of all New Jersey adults (68%) think Menendez should be allowed to wait and see how the charges against him are settled instead of having to resign right away. Only 28% think he should resign from office now. There are no major differences in this finding based on partisan affiliation or whether the poll responders had already heard about the charges before being contacted by Monmouth.
Despite the recent indictment, Sen. Menendez’s approval rating remains marginally positive with more New Jersey adults approving (42%) rather than disapproving (37%) of the job he is doing. There are notable differences in this opinion, though, based on how much New Jerseyans have heard about the charges. Those who have heard a lot about the indictment hold a negative opinion of Menendez – 42% approve and 50% disapprove; those who have heard a little are divided – 37% approve and 35% disapprove; and those who have heard nothing about the charges are positive about the senator’s job performance – 51% approve and just 17% disapprove.
Menendez’s job rating has fallen somewhat among registered voters in New Jersey since the indictments were announced. It stood at 49% approve and 27% disapprove in February, compared to 42% approve and 38% disapprove now. The current rating is similar to his prior low point in April 2013 after news emerged that a federal grand jury was investigating Menendez. Then, 44% of Garden State voters approved and 38% disapproved, but his numbers improved in subsequent polls.
“One of Menendez’s predecessors complained about us being ‘such an unforgiving people,’ but it looks like New Jersey voters are willing to give their current senator the benefit of the doubt for now,” said Murray.
The state’s junior senator, Cory Booker, is doing much better than his counterpart. Booker receives a 50% approve to 21% disapprove rating among all New Jersey adults and a 51% to 21% rating among registered voters. These results are identical to Booker’s voter rating from three months ago.
Turning to the Commander-in-Chief, Pres. Barack Obama receives a 51% approve to 43% disapprove rating among all New Jerseyans, but a more narrow 48% approve to 46% disapprove rating among the state’s voters. This marks a decline in his Garden State voter rating from February, when a majority (54%) approved of the president’s job performance and 42% disapproved. Fully 8-in-10 (80%) Democrats approve, while 45% of independents and just 14% of Republicans feel the same. The decline from February to the current poll is mainly due to a drop in approval among New Jersey Republicans.
Turning to state government, just one-third (33%) of all New Jersey adults approve of the job the state legislature is doing while almost half (47%) disapprove. Among the state’s voters, 33% approve and 48% disapprove. The state legislature’s voter rating has declined, but not significantly, from 37% approve to 46% disapprove in February.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 500 New Jersey adults, including 441 registered voters, from May 1 to 3, 2015. The total sample has a margin of error of + 4.4 percent and the registered voter sample has a margin of error of + 4.7 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.