Controlling spending and taxes should be the top priority of candidates running for Governor this year say a majority of New Jersey voters. According to the most recent survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, controlling spending and taxes is the top choice of Democrats, Independents and Republicans, men and women, conservatives, moderates and liberals, and every age category.
“This is a perennially popular issue in New Jersey,” said Bruce Larson, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and survey analyst for the PublicMind, “but with budget pressures mounting in schools and towns as well at the state level, it’s the central issue.” No other issue could muster more than a quarter of the voters either as a first priority or as the next priority. “But it’s a difficult issue to translate into campaigning,” added Larson. “Fiscal restraint sounds great until you get into the details of the actual budget cuts.”
Asked whether they intend to vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate for governor considering that New Jersey has had a Democratic governor since 2002, voters split 38% for a Republican, 40% for a Democrat, and 21% waiting to decide.
“This is a state that clearly leans Democratic,” said Larson. “But campaigns matter, and at least some voters will hold off on making a decision until they hear what the candidates have to say.” Currently, 75% of Democrats and 81% of Republicans say they will vote for a candidate of their own party, whereas 47% of independents say they are not sure. “It has become difficult for Republicans to win statewide in New Jersey,” said Larson, “but it’s not at all out of reach.”
Nevertheless, despite campaigning by seven Republican candidates over three months, the contours of the Republican race for the gubernatorial nomination have changed little. Two former candidates for statewide office lead the pack in name recognition leaving far behind five others. “It remains a two-tiered race for the Republicans, with the well-known candidates in front and the others struggling to be known,” said Larson.
Doug Forrester, former Republican nominee for federal Senate is recognized by 80% of voters while Bret Schundler, former Republican nominee for governor, is recognized by 66% of voters. Among those who recognize the former statewide candidates, Schundler has a somewhat better favorable-to-unfavorable ratio within the Republican Party; Forrester has a slightly better ratio than Schundler among all voters.
Another five declared candidates for the Republican nomination have name recognition ranging from just 6% to 30%. Half to two-thirds of those who recognize these five candidates have no opinion, favorable or unfavorable, of the would-be nominees. George Norcross, reputed power-broker from South Jersey, has better name recognition than these Republican candidates for governor. “Campaigning does make a difference, but it’s difficult to rise above the din in such a crowded field of candidates,” said Larson.
Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll of 800 registered voters statewide was conducted from April 4 through April 10 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. Note that margins of error for subsets of the sample are greater.
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