War makes race tighter for Democrats in New Jersey

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According to a new study from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, the war in Iraq continues to dominate the New Jersey political debate and to have a substantial impact on the race for the presidential nominations. Just 20% of New Jersey voters say the country is on the right track, while 67% say that it is on the wrong track. Neither of those figures has fluctuated more than 4 percentage points in the past year.

Voters’ views of progress in the war in Iraq have been mostly stable over the past year: only 5% say that it is going very well, and 31% say that it is going “not at all well.” However, some surge in the numbers can be seen in the percent who say the war is going “fairly well,” now at 29%, its highest level since July of last year.

At the same time, approval of President Bush and the war in Iraq have stopped their downward trend: 27% of NJ voters, but 70% of Republicans, approve of how Bush is handling his job as president while 65%, including 89% of Democrats and 72% of Independents, disapprove of his job performance.  “These figures represent a stabilizing of the President’s approval numbers, which had been falling from poll to poll,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and a survey analyst for PublicMind.  “The President has staunched the loss of support among Republicans, and that has helped pull him out of the downward trend.”

Clinton and Giuliani remain well ahead of their rivals in the Garden State with each enjoying the support of almost half of their party: 46% of Democrats supporting Clinton, and 48% of Republicans supporting Giuliani. Illinois Senator Barack Obama holds the support of 19% of Democrats, and recent entrant Fred Thompson has the vote of 12% of Republicans. “New Jersey voters know Clinton and Giuliani, and that name recognition makes them the automatic favorites,” said Dan Cassino, “The race here is really theirs to lose.”  Meanwhile, the war is shaping the race for the nomination in both parties. Senator Clinton is well ahead of her rivals in New Jersey, but the war is costing her support, and Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani continues to benefit from the issue.  

The effect of the war in Iraq on the race is evident from a portion of the poll designed to test the impact of reminding voters of national issues. Half of the respondents to the poll, chosen randomly, were asked questions about President Bush and the war in Iraq before being asked about which candidate they preferred. The other half were only asked about Bush and the war after answering questions about the 2008 race. By comparing the vote choice of the two groups, we can see how the war is changing voters’ views of the race.

Reminding Democrats of the war significantly decreases support for Clinton, while bolstering Obama’s support. Among Democrats not made to think about President Bush and the war in Iraq, Clinton led 51 to 12 over the Illinois Senator.  But among those Democrats made to think about the war, Clinton’s lead dropped from 39 percentage points to just 15 points, (41-26). “All the evidence is telling us that Democratic voters are looking for significant change, especially when it comes to Iraq,” said Cassino.

The current leader for the Republican nomination also sees a significant change in his support among respondents reminded of the war in Iraq: 43% of Republicans who were not reminded of the war expressed support for Giuliani, but that number increased to 53% among Republicans who were thinking about Bush and the war.  The findings are consistent with a similar study done in June of this year in which mentioning the war led to an increase of 19 points in Giuliani’s support among Republicans.   “Giuliani is focusing his candidacy on the war and terrorism,” said Cassino. “That seems to be paying off among Republicans, though it’s not paying large dividends in the overall electorate yet.”

The PublicMind poll of 701 randomly selected registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from September 17 through September 23 and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

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 070928]