44% have favorable opinion of Democrats while 35% have similar opinion of GOP
Concern for New Jersey’s middle class is the key perception that appears to explain the Democratic Party’s success among New Jersey’s electorate, a new Monmouth University/New Jersey Media Poll made public Monday finds.
But the poll also finds that neither side of the political spectrum is particularly beloved.
New Jerseyans are divided on the Democratic Party – 44 percent have a favorable opinion and 44 percent have an unfavorable one. But while the finding is certainly no ringing endorsement, it is still better than residents’ rating of the Republican Party – 35 percent favorable to 54 percent unfavorable.
Overall, 11 percent of the public holds favorable views of both major parties, 33 percent have a positive view of only the Democrats and 24 percent have a positive view of only the Republicans. On the other hand, 24 percent have a decidedly negative view of both parties and the remaining 8 percent have no strong opinion of either party.
One reason why the Democratic Party fares better than the GOP in overall favorability is simple partisan inclination. New Jerseyans who identify themselves as Democrats in their political leanings (35 percent) outnumber self-identifying Republicans (21 percent).
Independents, though, tend to control the political equation in New Jersey because they make up an unusually large portion of the population, currently 44 percent. And they are unhappy with both parties – 51 percent are unfavorable toward the Democrats and a nearly identical 52 percent have an unfavorable view of the Republicans. Only 1-in-3 independents have a favorable view of either party (34 percent Democrats and 33 percent Republicans).
“Both parties have been tarnished by attacks on their core values. However, underlying perceptions of what the two parties stand for tend to give Democrats an advantage in most New Jersey elections,” Prof. Patrick Murray, the poll’s director, said.
The survey presented respondents with five statements about each major party, including allegations that have been made by political opponents.
The most potent attack against Republicans is that they “would rather cut taxes for the rich even at the expense of important programs like education,” which nearly half (49 percent) of the public says describes the GOP a lot. On the other side of the spectrum, a similar number (45 percent) of New Jerseyans say the characterization that Democrats “would rather raise taxes than make hard choices about cutting spending” describes that party a lot.
Four-in-ten New Jerseyans agree a lot that Democrats “are too concerned with social welfare programs” (41 percent) and also that Republicans “want to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid” (39 percent). Fewer residents strongly agree with some of the more base charges that have been floated in the public debate, specifically, that Democrats “dislike the wealthy” (28 percent) and Republicans “dislike the poor” (29 percent).
The poll also asked two identical items for each party. Neither the Democrats (33 percent) nor the Republicans (27 percent) have a sizable advantage when it comes to which party “better represents American values.” However, one party does have a decided edge when it comes to perceptions of “looking out for the middle class.” Fully 4-in-10 (40 percent) New Jerseyans say that this describes the Democratic Party a lot while only 17 percent feel it equally applies to the Republican Party.
“While New Jerseyans tend to be moderate in their own views, very liberal candidates may still have the upper hand in statewide races because middle class voters are more likely to overlook ideological extremes in Democrats than in Republicans,” Murray said.
More than 6-in-10 residents feel that New Jersey’s versions of the two political parties are within the national mainstream. However, more people are likely to call New jersey Democrats liberal compared to the national party than feel that the state GOP is more conservative than its national counterpart.
Specifically, 22 percent of New Jerseyans say that Democrats in the state are more liberal than Democrats nationally, 11 percent say the state party is more moderate and 63 percent say it is about the same ideologically. By comparison, 11 percent of New Jerseyans say the state’s Republicans are more conservative than the national GOP, 24 percent say the state party is more moderate and 60 percent say it is about the same.
The poll also asked about the practical implications of partisanship closer to home. The current composition of New Jersey’s state government pits a Republican governor against a Democratic led Legislature.
Only 22 percent of the state feel that they have been working together well, while two-thirds (66 percent) say they have not. Among this latter group, most (54 percent) blame Christie and the Democrats equally while 25 percent put more of the blame on the governor and 20 percent point the finger at the legislative leadership.
Much of what the public thinks of the political parties is learned from – or reinforced by – the national news media. Focusing just on televised outlets, the poll asked New Jerseyans which network or cable channel they rely on most for national politics. CNN tops the list at 34 percent. Fox News Channel (17 percent) and ABC national news (13 percent) trail behind. Other outlets are chosen by fewer than 1-in-10 residents, including the CBS network (8 percent), NBC broadcast news (6 percent), the MSNBC cable outlet (5 percent), and PBS (2 percent).
Democrats rely more on CNN (43 percent) than any other national TV news, while Republicans choose Fox News (33 percent) more than any other single outlet. CNN (33 percent) is also the top pick among New Jersey independents.
Regardless of which news channel they watch, CNN comes out on top as the most trusted television news source. Nearly half (49 percent) of New Jerseyans say they have a lot of trust in CNN. About 1-in-3 residents say they have a similar level of trust for any of the other major TV news outlets, including ABC (37 percent), Fox News (34 percent), CBS (33 percent), NBC (33 percent), and MSNBC (31 percent).
There are some significant partisan differences in these findings. While most New Jersey Democrats (63 percent) and half of independents (49 percent) say they trust CNN a lot, only 28 percent of Republicans feel the same. On the other hand, a majority of Republicans (58 percent) have a lot of trust in Fox News, but only 30 percent of independents and 24 percent of Democrats agree.
The poll was conducted by telephone with 807 New Jersey adults from May 12 to 16. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
– TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM