Gov. Christie’s Anti-abortion Speech Lowers Opinion in One-Third of New Jersey Voters

Gov. Christie’s Anti-abortion Speech Lowers Opinion in One-Third of New Jersey Voters

Eagleton Institute of Politics

Eagleton Institute of Politics

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – A small minority – 10 percent – of registered voters in New Jersey believes abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Just over a third (37 percent) say abortion should be legal under all conditions, and another 50 percent support legal abortion with restrictions.

Gov. Chris Christie brought abortion back into the spotlight when he spoke at an anti-abortion rally in Trenton in January, where he proclaimed himself an “ally” of anti-abortion efforts. While 54 percent of registered voters say his speech did not affect their opinion of the governor, 31 percent say it made them feel worse about Christie, while 14 percent say his participation in the rally made them feel better.

“New Jersey’s attitudes on abortion have not changed much since we last asked, seven years ago,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Abortion rights continue to have support in the state. It’s not surprising that Governor Christie’s public entrance into this issue has had somewhat negative consequences for him.”

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Most New Jerseyans support legal abortion, at least in some circumstances

Nearly nine-in-10 voters (87 percent) favor legalized abortion under at least some circumstances; 37 percent want no limits on the procedure, but 10 percent want it banned with no exceptions, the poll finds.

When last asked in January 2004, 31 percent supported abortion in all instances, while another 51 percents supported abortion rights only under certain circumstances. At that time, 13 percent opposed abortion in all cases. “Few in New Jersey want to see abortion rights eliminated entirely,” said Redlawsk. “We did not ask about the specific limits people support, but there is clearly little support for a total ban on abortions.”

While Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support abortion rights, even the latter generally support access to abortion under some conditions: 52 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of GOP voters say abortion should be legal under any circumstance. Another 38 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. Independents, too, support the procedure: 32 percent under all conditions and 57 percent in certain instances. Only 16 percent of Republicans, 8 percent of Democrats, and 9 percent of independents support banning abortion entirely.

Perhaps surprisingly, nearly equal percentages of New Jersey Catholics and Protestants favor unconditional access to abortion (30 percent and 29 percent, respectively). An additional 55 percent of each group support legal abortion only under limited circumstances. The small sample of Jewish voters, however, strongly supports abortion rights; 71 percent say abortion should be legal in all cases. Only 13 percent of Catholics, 11 percent of Protestants, and 2 percent of Jews think that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances.

Attendance at religious services has some effect on support for abortion rights, according to the poll. Those who attend most often are much less in favor: 23 percent say abortion should be legal under all circumstances, compared to 46 percent of those who attend once a month or less. Only 6 percent who attend services less regularly support banning all abortion, compared to 16 percent who attend more than once a month.

There is a very small gender gap on abortion in the Garden State. Women are slightly more likely than men (40 percent to 34 percent) to support legal abortion under any circumstance. Fifty-two percent of men and 48 percent of women support limited legalized abortion. Another 11 percent of men and 9 percent of women say abortion should be completely banned.

Nearly one-third thinks less of Christie after address to anti-abortion rally

Given the small number of New Jerseyans who support a ban on abortions, the governor’s January pro-life speech resulted in a negative reaction from nearly one-third of respondents (31 percent), though most (54 percent) say his remarks had no effect on their opinion of the governor. Only 14 percent say they feel more positive about Christie after the speech.

Of the 10 percent who oppose all abortions, 49 percent have a better opinion of Christie, while 40 percent say their feelings have not changed, and 11 percent say they feel worse. Those in the middle – the majority who believe abortion should be legal with restrictions – were overwhelmingly unaffected by Christie’s speech, with 62 percent reporting that it had no effect on their feeling toward him. Seventeen percent of these voters have a better view of Christie following his speech, while 19 percent have a worse opinion.

Among the 37 percent of voters who support legal abortion in all cases, a majority (54 percent) feels worse about the governor and 45 percent say the speech had no effect. Perhaps more critically, 38 percent of strongly pro-choice voters who initially support Christie say they feel worse about him after his speech.

“Wading into the abortion issue was clearly not about winning additional votes in New Jersey,” said Redlawsk. “The governor’s expression of solidarity with the pro-life movement hurts him among many of the pro-choice voters who have been Christie supporters. On the other hand, it may be a good way to nail down the base and present conservative credentials nationally. But it comes with some risk here at home.”  

Predictably, GOP backers are more likely to say the speech improved their opinion of Christie: 29 percent say they feel better after the speech, while 16 percent say the speech made them feel worse. On the other hand, only 4 percent of Democrats say they feel better about the governor, while 39 percent say they feel worse. By about a 2-to-1 margin, independents say they feel worse. But across all parties, 54 percent say the speech had no effect on their feelings about the governor.

Protestants seem least swayed by Christie’s speech, with 61 percent reporting it had no effect on their opinion, compared to 55 percent of Catholics and 36 percent of Jewish voters. Among Jewish voters, 58 percent reported feeling worse after the governor’s remarks, while 25 percent of Catholics and 21 percent of Protestants say their opinion of the governor worsened. Eighteen percent of Catholics, 15 percent of Protestants, and 6 percent of Jews hold better opinions of the governor in light of his speech.

 

Media Contact: David Redlawsk
732-932-9384, ext. 285
E-mail: redlawsk@rutgers.edu