Iraq Looms Over NJ Presidential Primary

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New York Senator Hillary Clinton still has major obstacles to overcome in her bid for the presidency, as one-third of New Jersey voters (33%) and three of four (73%) Republicans name her as the candidate that they would be least likely to vote for.  But according to a new study from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind which tested two groups, reminding voters of the war in Iraq softens opposition to Clinton.

When voters were not asked first about the war in Iraq and other national issues, 76% of Republicans named Clinton as the candidate that they would be least likely to vote for.  But that resistance declined seven percentage points to 69% when voters in a second group were reminded of national issues.  And in addition to the decline in opposition among Republican voters, the percent of conservatives citing her as the least favorite candidate also declined, as it did among men.

“This is what Clinton and other Democrats are really counting on,” said Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and a survey analyst for PublicMind. “Even if voters don’t like them personally, they’re hoping that the status quo is bad enough that there will be votes for change.”

Meanwhile, President Bush’s approval rating in the Garden State is very low at 26% and the percent of voters saying that the country is on the wrong track increased from 67% to a new high of 71%.  At the same time, the percent of voters who say the country is on the right track dipped to a new low of 18%. Similarly, the percent of voters saying that going into Iraq was the right thing dropped from 32% to 27%, erasing gains made last month in the wake of General Petraeus’ testimony before Congress. Overall, 35% of New Jersey voters say that the war is going “very well” or “fairly well,” unchanged from September. However, the percent that say that it is going “very well” has doubled, from 5% to 10%, bringing it to its highest level since last summer.

“At this point, New Jersey voters seem to have made up their minds about this President, and nothing seems likely to change those views,” said Dan Cassino. “However, he is still critical to the outcome of the next election, if only because the Republican nominee is going to have to decide how close to hold him.”

In the race for the Republican nomination, Giuliani retains his strong lead in New Jersey, holding the support of just under half (48%) of Republicans—unchanged from September. Arizona Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney have maintained their numbers as well. The one notable difference is support for Fred Thompson.  In September, Thompson’s support put him in second place behind Giuliani, with 12% of Republicans supporting him.  In the latest poll, he lost 2/3rds of that support, with only 4% of Republicans saying that they will vote for the politician turned actor.  And as Thompson’s numbers fell, the percentage of Republicans saying they don’t know who they will support increased from 14% to 20%.

“Thompson’s support seems to have peaked as soon as he entered the race,” said Cassino. “Republicans were expecting a lot of him, and they seem to have been disappointed. That constituency has yet to turn to another candidate and they could prove important down the line.”

In contrast, the Democratic nomination fight seems orderly. Clinton holds a strong lead over all other contenders, with the support of 48% of New Jersey Democrats. Illinois Senator Barack Obama remains in second place, holding the support of 14% of Democrats, and Senator John Edwards has 5% of Democrats.

“The compressed primary schedule means that this race may well be decided by February 5th,” said Cassino. “If any of the Democrats are going to move against Clinton, they have to do so very soon, or it will be too late.”

The PublicMind poll of 701 likely voters statewide was conducted by telephone from October 22 through October 28 and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.  The effect of national issues on the race, such as changes in opposition to Clinton, is observed in a portion of the survey in which half of respondents, chosen randomly, are asked questions about President Bush and the war in Iraq before being asked about which presidential candidates they most or least prefer (N=364). The other half are only asked about President Bush and the war after answering questions about their presidential preferences (N=337).


Contact: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239 Dan Cassino 973.896.7072

For more information, please call (973) 443-8661.

Copyright © 2007, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 071102]