Forty-four years after the first press release from the Eagleton Institute of Politics’ inaugural poll reported little awareness of the then upcoming 1971 state legislative elections, New Jerseyans today remain uninformed about the Legislature, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Three-quarters of Garden State residents are completely unaware that any elections will be held next week, just slightly better than the 85 percent who were ignorant in 1971, in what was then called the New Jersey Poll.
But residents actually do worse than four decades ago when taking into account whether those who named a specific office(s) on the ballot were correct: just 6 percent rightly say that the state Assembly is on the ballot this year, and 3 percent mention the Legislature in general.
Even fewer residents can correctly name their own state senators. Among all Garden Staters, 8 percent give some name, but only 5 percent actually get it right.
Knowledge about control of the Legislature is more widespread: half of residents are aware that Democrats are in charge, slightly better than the 43 percent who knew in 1971 that Republicans ran the show.
Residents’ low levels of political knowledge most likely feed into ambivalence toward the Legislature. Continuing a longstanding trend, 40 percent have no opinion or are unaware of the state Legislature, 28 percent are favorable, and 32 percent are unfavorable. Asked about the parties within the Legislature, about one-quarter feels favorably toward the Republicans and one-third toward the Democrats. Another third of New Jerseyans have no feeling toward either party.
“As we approach Rutgers-Eagleton’s 200th poll, we are revisiting some questions from its earliest days. It appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same – at least when it comes to awareness of state government,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “In general, citizens know relatively little about state government, so as the poll’s first director, Stephen Salmore, said in 1971, it is ‘depressing but not really surprising.’ In particular, this is an off-year election, and with the General Assembly at the top of the ticket and the only office appearing on every New Jersey ballot, legislative elections are definitely not on New Jerseyans’ radar this November.”
In another constant in almost a half-century of polling, residents continue to cite taxes and the economy and jobs as the most important problems facing the Garden State; each is named by about one in four residents. They also think the government is making very little progress toward solving anything, no matter their top concern.
Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Oct. 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.