Voters unfamiliar with Abbott and Mount Laurel

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New Jersey voters know little about major decisions by the state’s Supreme Court that affect the budget process and the quality of life in the state.  According to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, half (51%) say they have heard nothing at all about the Mount Laurel decisions that require the state to actively promote building low- and moderate-income housing. Another quarter (23%) say they have heard “just a little” about this decision. 

Voters are likewise in the dark about the state’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) which is charged with overseeing municipalities’ obligation to build low and moderate income housing: 41% say they’ve never heard of the agency while 32% say they’ve heard just a little.

“Every town in the state is affected by the Mount Laurel decisions and the Council, so it is surprising to find so many voters who know so little about it,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.

A majority (57%) also say they’ve never heard of the Abbott decisions, in which the high court mandated that poorer school districts must be funded at the same level as wealthier ones, and another 19% say they’ve heard “just a little.”

Nonetheless, voters approve broadly of both the Abbott and Mount Laurel decisions. Voters by 55%-28% approve of the Mount Laurel decisions even as liberals approve by a margin of 72%-14% while conservatives split 43%-38%.  Voters approve of the Abbott decisions by 61%-25% with liberals approving by 74%-13% and conservatives agreeing by just 47%-36%.  “Voters don’t know the details but they agree with the principles,” said Woolley. Those who approve of the decisions are also more likely than those who disapprove to have heard little or nothing about them.

“The courts are every bit as important in shaping public policy as the Legislature and governor,” said Woolley. “Yet voters pay even less attention to the courts than they do to the Legislature and governor.”

Those same voters remain pessimistic about the direction of the state: 64% say New Jersey is “on the wrong track” while just 25% say it’s moving in the right direction.  Half of Democrats (51%) say the state is on the wrong track while just a third (33%) say the state is going in the right direction.  Just a quarter of independents (23%) say the state is headed in the right direction while 69% say it’s on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, as Gov. Jon Corzine and the Legislature have been working out plans to borrow billions to build schools in Abbott districts and to expand the mandate for low-income housing, the governor’s approval ratings continue to move sideways: 40% approve of the job he is doing while 41% disapprove. In April he stood at 44%-45% and in February 42%-43%, but in early January, before the legislative session began, he stood at 48% approving to 32% disapproving.

Despite efforts to reform pension benefits for the state’s public employees, the governor’s standing among public-employee union members is not dragging his ratings. Public-employee households give him slightly better ratings than non-union households.

“The twists and turns of the budget process are under the radar of most voters,” said Woolley. “In the end, it’s the taxes they pay, the services they receive and the value of their homes that voters care about.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 608 New Jersey registered voters statewide was conducted from June 17 through June 22 and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

Contact: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239

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

Copyright © 2008, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 080625]