A rose might smell as sweet by any other name, but would a ballot question pass or fail depending on how difficult it is to understand? According to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, New Jersey voters are of two minds with a 29 point difference when it comes to approving this year’s Public Question # 1.
Three-quarters of voters (75%) approve of an “amendment to the state constitution to require all state agencies to get voter approval for any money they borrow through issuing bonds.” Only 9% disapprove; 10% can’t decide and 6% say they’ll just skip the question. That question was formulated by FDU pollsters.
But voters react very differently when the question is put to them using the “interpretive language” actually found on the ballot and intended to explain the proposal: “This amendment to the State Constitution will require voter approval of new laws that allow the State to borrow money by issuing bonds through any State agency or independent authority backed by a pledge of an annual appropriation to pay the principal and interest on the bonds.” After trolling through the official verbiage just 46% approve and 28% disapprove of the amendment. Another 17% say they don’t know and 9% say they won’t vote on it.
“When the question is in clear language, voters have the opportunity to form a definite opinion,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “When the question is put in legalese many people won’t sort it out and can’t make an intelligent choice.” Democrats agreed with the simpler language by 69%-11% but agreed with the interpretive statement by 46%-25%. Republicans agreed with the simpler questions by 83%-7% but gave the nod to the interpretative statement by just 48%-32%.
“Democracy is not served when important questions put to voters are obscured,” said Woolley.
Turning to Gov. Jon Corzine, his job rating is up a little from a month ago: 34% rate his performance as “good” or “excellent,” while 39% rate it as “only fair” and 24% rate it as “poor.” His job approval is also up since the start of the fall campaign season: 46% approve and 37% disapprove with another 17% having mixed views or unsure. The governor’s positive approval comes despite that most voters, 65%, say the state is on the wrong track. Just one in four, 24%, say the state is headed in the right direction.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 846 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from Oct 23, 2008 through Oct 28, 2008, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. 401 respondents answered the first version of Public Question #1 and 405 answered the second. Each has a MoE of +/- 5 percentage points. The full text of Public Question #1 and the accompanying “interpretive statement” are found at: http://www.state.nj.us/state/elections/2008results/08generalelection/08-pq1-state-appropriations.pdf The League of Women Voters offers background and commentary at: http://www.lwvnj.org/VotersService/2008-1104_Ballot%20Questions.pdf.