A clear majority of New Jersey voters – 57 percent – oppose the proposed merger. Only 22 percent support the merger and 21 percent are unsure, the poll found.
Concurrently, voters are split in supporting Christie’s call for a higher education facilities bond: 48 percent favor borrowing for improvements at the state’s colleges and universities, and 45 percent do not.
Voters in South Jersey are no more supportive of the merger of Rutgers-Camden and Rowan than in the rest of the state. Instead, the highest support is found in northwestern New Jersey and the Shore counties, two areas that are strong backers of Christie. Even in these regions, however, many more voters oppose the merger than support it. Those in favor of the merger are also less likely to support a higher education bond issue than those who oppose the combination of the two public universities.
Christie is supporting a proposal by a panel called the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Advisory Committee, which recommended the merger of Rowan in Glassboro with Rutgers University–Camden into an institution that would be known as Rowan University. Christie wants to see the proposed institution be positioned for public research university status. The committee found the change would both support the development of Rowan’s new medical school and provide an enhanced academic and health care education and delivery system that would bolster the regional economy.
“Governor Christie’s plan to merge Rowan and Rutgers-Camden may be the most unpopular idea he has put forward to date,” Prof. David Redlawsk, the poll’s director, said. “Generally, he can count on support from a majority of Republicans. We might also expect voters in South Jersey to be in favor, given the benefits Christie says will come from the merger. But in reality, neither of these groups, or any other, comes close to supporting it.”
While Republican voters usually support Christie’s policies, in this case they do not. Though twice as likely as Democrats to support the merger, only 32 percent favor combining the two universities, while 49 percent oppose the plan. Few Democrats support the merger, with only 16 percent in favor and 67 percent opposed. Nearly 20 percent of both parties are unsure. Independent voters are 2-to-1 opposed, but nearly one-quarter of independents are unsure where they stand.
The merger plan does best among those with a favorable impression of Christie, and among the wealthiest New Jerseyans, but even most of these voters are skeptical. While the plan garners 30 percent support from those who like the governor, 44 percent of his supporters oppose it. Not surprisingly, those with an unfavorable opinion of Christie are overwhelmingly opposed, at 14 percent support and 71 percent opposition.
One-third of voters with household incomes over $150,000 support Christie’s plan, while 39 percent oppose it, and 28 percent have no opinion. On the opposite end of the financial spectrum, voters in households with annual incomes under $50,000 are firmly against merging Rowan and Rutgers-Camden: 63 percent are opposed and only 16 percent in favor. About one-quarter of the remaining income groups support the plan and about 60 percent do not.
Despite the potential benefits to South Jersey, voters in the region are not convinced. Mimicking the statewide numbers, 19 percent of those living in Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties support the plan, while 71 percent oppose it. South Jersey voters are much less likely to be unsure, at only 10 percent. Residents of the Shore counties are least opposed, with 44 percent negative, the only region to have less than a majority against the merger, and 27 percent in favor. But 30 percent of these voters are unsure of their position on the issue, the highest in the state.
“The stunning thing about these numbers is simply how negative voters are about the plan,” Redlawsk said. “We thought those living in South Jersey would be more supportive than most, since the proposal is put forward as significant enhancement for the region. But the reality is this is a deeply disliked proposal.”