As the 2008 presidential election moves closer to the early primaries, the race in New Jersey is much tighter than it is nationally, largely because of support for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. According to a study from Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind, national support for Hillary Clinton drops – especially among Democrats – when voters are reminded of the war in Iraq. The beneficiary of the war issue at present is Giuliani, whose support among Republicans increases substantially when the war is an issue. The Fairleigh Dickinson University study also shows that, even if Giuliani's presence makes for a tight race in the Garden State, the leaders for the Democratic nomination are far outpacing their Republican counterparts nationwide.
President Bush's approval ratings continue to hang over the race with only 29% of voters nationally, and 24% in New Jersey, approving of how he is performing as President. Support for the war in Iraq is correspondingly low, with only 31% of voters nationally, and 26% of New Jersey voters, saying the war is going “very” or “fairly” well.
Nationally, 62% of respondents who support any candidate prefer one of the major Democratic candidates for the presidency, as opposed to 38% favoring one of the major Republican candidates. Among Democrats nationally who have a preference, nearly half say they favor Clinton, with Senator Barack Obama coming in second. In New Jersey, however, the major Democratic candidates, led by Clinton, carry 56% of all voters with a preference at this point to Republicans' 44%. Still, both nationally and in New Jersey, a large proportion of voters have yet to develop a preference, with more than a third (35% and 37% respectively) saying that they don't know whom they might support. Overall, about half of independents have no leanings whatsoever.
“Democrats seem happier with their choice of candidates than Republicans,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and a survey analyst for PublicMind. “And that may be artificially boosting the numbers for Democratic candidates early on.”
Among all voters nationally, Giuliani does not run significantly ahead of other Republican contenders. In New Jersey, though, Giuliani does much better with a three-to-one margin over his nearest competitor, John McCain.
“New Jersey voters of all stripes give Giuliani points for his post 9/11 leadership,” said Cassino. “At this point, he's running close to the top Democrat in the state, Hillary Clinton: and that's a very good sign for his campaign.”
The effect of the war in Iraq is evident from a portion of the poll designed to test the impact of reminding voters of national issues. Half of respondents were asked questions about President Bush and the war in Iraq before being asked which candidate they preferred. The other half were only asked about Bush and the war only after answering questions about their preferences in the 2008 race. A comparison of the vote choice of the two groups suggests the war is changing voter's views of the race.
In the national poll, when voters were reminded of the war, overall support for Clinton dropped by 6 points, from 23% to 17%. Most of this effect came among Democrats: 39% of those not reminded of the war said that they supported Clinton, as opposed to 31% of those who were. This has the effect of tightening the race between Clinton and her closest rival, Obama. So, for example, among Democrats not reminded of the war, Clinton leads Obama 39% to 19%, a two-to one advantage: but among Democrats who were reminded of the war, Clinton's lead drops from 20 to 11 points (31%-20%), a three-to-two advantage.
“It isn't surprising that a Democrat is being hurt by the war more than any of the Republicans,” said Cassino. “Supporters of Giuliani and McCain are also generally more supportive of the war. It is Democratic voters who are going to be really critical of their candidate's views.”
For now, though, Clinton's fellow Democrats are benefiting from the war only through Clinton's loss: their own support doesn't increase when the voters are reminded of the war. The only candidate whose support increases significantly when voters are reminded of the war in Iraq is the Republican Giuliani. In New Jersey, Giuliani's support increases by 6 points (from 15% to 21%) among all voters primed to think about the war, and by 19 points among Republicans. Nationally, the Republican front runner's support among Republicans goes from 14% among unprimed Republicans to 22% among those who were primed to think about the war. However, this change in support does not affect the race for the Republican nomination to the extent that Clinton's drop does, as Giuliani's opponents register small increases in their numbers upon mention of the war as well.
“Giuliani has tried hard to make this election about security, and we can see it paying off both in New Jersey and nationally with Republicans,” said Cassino. “His best bet is to keep on stressing terrorism and national security, and he seems to know it.”
The survey also suggests that at this early stage, independent voters who have a preference are leaning to Democratic candidates. All told, three of five independents who prefer a candidate choose one of the Democrats, both nationally and in New Jersey. And, while Clinton leads among all voters, Obama leads the pack among independents nationally, with 16% support, placing him seven points ahead of Clinton, though this is within the margin of error for independents. Moreover, Obama's support among independents nationally more than doubles when voters are reminded of the war in Iraq, from 10% to 21%.
“Obama, unlike Clinton and Edwards, has the advantage of having been against the war from the start – and not having had to cast hard votes on it,” said Cassino. “Nationally, when the war is an issue, it puts him within striking range of Clinton: exactly where he wants to be right now.”
The PublicMind poll of 776 randomly selected registered voters nationwide, and 602 voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone from May 29 through June 3 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points nationally, and +/- 4 percentage points in New Jersey.
Contact: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239 or Dan Cassino 973.896.7072
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