The war in Iraq weighs heavily on voters deciding the New Jersey Senate race. New survey results show Robert Menendez, the Democrat, with a small lead over his Republican opponent Tom Kean, Jr., 43%-40%. But results also show that Iraq is potentially devastating for Kean's numbers. “There's been a lot of talk about Bush and Iraq being a drag on Republican congressional candidates, but this is the first hard evidence that we've seen. If people are thinking about Iraq when they go to the polls, Kean is in deep trouble,” said PublicMind's Dan Cassino, survey analyst and a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The survey was designed to test the impact of national issues on the Senate race in part by asking questions in varying order. When respondents were not primed to think about President Bush and the military action in Iraq, Kean and Menendez were in a virtual dead heat, with Menendez maintaining just a one-point advantage, 43%-42%. However, the mere mention of the conflict in Iraq decreased Kean's support by 6 percentage points, giving Menendez an 8-point advantage, 44%-36%.
More than half of respondents (52%) say that their views in the Senate election are “very strongly” influenced by national concerns – such as the economy and the military action in Iraq – while just 9% say that national concerns have no impact on their views. Among those strongly influenced by national concerns, Menendez leads Kean 50-36. Among those who say that national concerns are “just a little” or “not at all” influential, Kean beats out Menendez by a margin of 55-23.
“The Menendez strategy has been to link his opponent as strongly as possible to the unpopular President,” added Cassino. “The results show that he hasn't been entirely successful yet, but the potential is there, and it's something that Kean should be very worried about.” PublicMind results released earlier in the week showed only 24% say the country is headed in the right direction, only 35% of voters approve of the job the president is doing, and 70% rate his job performance as only fair or poor.
Voters also say by a margin of 42% to 29% that in November's election for the House of Representatives in Washington they will vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress over the Republican. Republicans in these Congressional races were also hurt by the mention of Iraq in the PublicMind study: when Bush and Iraq were not mentioned, 33% of respondents reported an intention to vote for the Republican House candidate. When primed with Bush and Iraq, however, that dropped to 25%.
“The results show that it isn't Bush himself who's dragging down the Republican candidates: people may like Bush personally, but the unpopularity of his policies seems to be dragging down the party,” said Cassino. “It isn't all roses for Menendez, though: there's still a strong potential for him to be hurt by his association with Governor Corzine.”
Voters just barely identify Kean over Menendez as “honest, trustworthy” (20%-16%). The two candidates run about even on the question of who is more “independent of party bosses and large campaign contributors” with Kean getting 18% and Menendez 16%. They run evenly as well on the question of who “can get the job done” for the state with Menendez getting 27% and Kean 24%. But Menendez runs up a large margin on “understands the concerns of the average person (31- 17%) as well as “background and experience” (30-22%). Both candidates were described as negative campaigners in equal numbers.
Four of five voters (79%) recognize the Kean name and among those his favorable to unfavorable ratio is an enviable 2-to-1 (39-18%). Menendez is recognized by 3 of 4 voters (76%) and has a favorable to unfavorable ratio about 3-to-2 (36-25%).
“Nonetheless,” Cassino said, “both Senate candidates have ample opportunity to define themselves to voters. This race isn't yet about Kean versus Menendez: it's about Republicans versus Democrats.” At this stage, only 35% of New Jersey voters can name even one of the candidates without prompting.
The PublicMind poll of 675 randomly selected registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from July 10 through July 16 and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.
Contacts: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239; Dan Cassino 973.896.7072
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Copyright © 2006, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 060720]