President Bush and the conflict in Iraq continue to hurt the Republican candidate in New Jersey's senate race. Overall, the race is a statistical dead heat, with Republican Tom Kean, Jr. leading 43 to 39 percent in the latest numbers from Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind survey. However, a portion of the poll designed to test the impact of national issues on the Senate race shows that without the concerns about the war and President Bush, Kean could hold a double digit lead at this point, 47 to 36 percent, rather than being in a tight race with Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
Kean continues to have strong approval numbers across New Jersey's Democrat-leaning electorate. Republicans hold strongly favorable views of their party's nominee by a ratio of about 6:1, with 61% holding favorable views, compared to just 9% unfavorable. But among Democrats, Kean is doing far better than other Republicans in previous statewide polls: 36% of Democrats hold a favorable view of the Republican candidate, while only 18% hold an unfavorable view.
While Menendez has a solid party base, with 49% holding a favorable view and only 17% holding an unfavorable view, he has relatively little support among Republicans, with only 17% holding a favorable view. Also, while 86% of Republicans recognize Tom Kean, Jr., only 70% of Democrats in the latest survey say they know who Bob Menendez is.
The breadth of Kean's favorable ratings is also apparent in the views of women and minorities. Kean is viewed equally well among non-whites and whites, and among both men and women.
“Based on voters' generally favorable views of Tom Kean, he should be running away with this race,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and survey analyst for PublicMind. “The fact that he isn't way ahead shows the importance of national issues in this election. The best explanation for Kean's poor performance relative to his high ratings among voters is national concerns.”
In the study, half of the respondents were asked questions about President Bush and the war in Iraq before answering questions about the Senate race, and half were asked about the Senate race first. Among those respondents who were asked about Bush and Iraq first, Menendez held a two point advantage, 41 to 39 percent. But among the respondents who were not primed to think about the war in Iraq, Kean held an 11 point advantage, 47 to 36 percent.
Among those respondents who say that national issues, such as the economy and the war in Iraq, strongly influence their vote (46%), Menendez holds a nine point lead, 52 to 43 percent. Among all other respondents, Kean holds an 11 point lead, 46 to 35.
“At this point, it isn't Menendez standing between Kean and the Senate: it's Bush,” said Cassino. “Worse, Kean's attempts to distance himself from the President on Iraq don't seem to be making a difference – this month is just as bad as last month.”
National issues seem to be having a substantial impact on New Jerseyans' votes in Congressional races as well. Overall, 38% of voters say they intend to vote for the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives and 28% intend to vote for the Republican candidate in their local House election. However, among those voters who were asked about Bush and Iraq before questions about the Congress, Democratic candidates have an 18 point advantage, 41 to 23. For those who were not asked questions about national issues first, Democratic House candidates led by only two points, 35 to 33 percent.
Asked about the characteristics of the candidates, voters say that Kean is more honest and trustworthy by a margin of 26 to 15 percent. But Menendez is more likely to be considered to have the background and experience necessary to be a Senator by a margin of 27 to 23 percent.
Kean appears to have increased his lead in the honest and trustworthy question over last month, when respondents gave him a 20 to 16 percent edge over Menendez. Respondents rate the candidates equally in terms of understanding the concerns of average people, with Menendez holding a slight 23 to 21 lead, a decrease from his July lead of 14 points, 31 to 17 percent.
The PublicMind poll of 651 randomly selected registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from August 21 through August 27 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 060830]