State of the Union? On the Wrong Track

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Just 19% of New Jersey voters who say they’re going to the polls on Super Tuesday believe the country is headed in the right direction.  As the president makes his last State of the Union address, three of four presidential primary voters (74%) say the country is on the wrong track, according to the most recent poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. “Under the circumstances it’s not surprising the candidates either attack the president or at the very least avoid being associated with him,” said Krista Jenkins, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson and a survey analyst for PublicMind.

Only a third of Republicans (33%) now maintain the country is headed in the right direction while a majority (54%) say it’s on the wrong track.  Over the past two years, Republicans have typically split on this question or maintained that the country is headed in the right direction. “That more Republicans now say the country on the wrong track under a Republican president is reflected by the scattered field of Republican candidates this year,” added Jenkins. “An unpopular president cannot throw his weight behind a successor.”

Only 23% of New Jersey’s likely primary voters approve of the way George Bush is handling his job as president.  Disapproval among Democrats approaches unanimity with 92%.  A little more than half of Republicans (54%) approve of the president’s handling of his job and two-thirds of independents (67%) disapprove. Despite a recent reduction in Iraqi war casualties, more than half of voters (54%) continue to say the military effort in Iraq is not going well.  A majority (65%) also say the war was a mistake: 86% of Democrats agree but three of five Republicans, 60%, say it was the right thing to do. “In the Republican campaign, references to a president to emulate are to Ronald Reagan, not to George Bush,” observed Jenkins.  “Among the Democratic candidates, the campaign has been, in large part, about being as different from the sitting president as possible.”

The dynamic of the primary race does not appear to have shifted in the past week. Senator Hillary Clinton is the preference of a plurality of all voters (27%), a plurality of all women voters (30%), and a plurality of Democrats (45%).  Senator Barack Obama has strength among younger voters and among African-American voters.  However, Clinton runs well ahead of Obama among older voters. “While many have noted Obama’s pull on youthful and potentially new voters, it is an older, white, female and, perhaps, more likely-to-vote group who support Clinton,” said Jenkins.  “More telling for the spirit of the times is that all voters under 30 prefer Democratic candidates over Republicans ones by 3 to 1.” Voters aged 30-44 also prefer Democratic candidates over Republican ones by a margin of 2 to1 (55%-28%).

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain, who polled just 4% among all New Jersey voters and 9% among Republicans in November of 2007 against 48% of Republicans for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, appears strongest in a field now fractured by four-way competition. He is preferred by 13% of all voters regardless of party affiliation and by 29% of Republicans.  McCain also does well when voters are asked whom they prefer least: only 5% of all voters point to McCain.

“The outcome of Florida’s primary will likely ripple through the Super-Tuesday states,” said Jenkins. “Clinton needs to win Florida after her defeat in South Carolina. Guiliani needs to meet expectations in Florida or his tide will have completely reversed: Giuliani, not McCain, will be seen as unelectable.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 likely primary voters statewide was conducted by telephone from January 20 through January 27 and has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points. More detail on methods is available on the Web.


Contacts:  Krista Jenkins: 973.443.8390;
Dan Cassino 973.896.7072;
or 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 080128]