NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Although he still is viewed favorably by 55 percent of New Jersey’s voters, President Obama’s favorability rating has dipped five percentage points since his high-water mark in February, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. One-third of voters hold unfavorable views of the president and 12 percent have no opinion.
Conversely, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has gained four percentage points since a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in March, yet only 32 percent of voters have a favorable impression of the former Massachusetts governor. Forty-six percent still have an unfavorable view and 23 percent have not yet made up their mind.
Obama handily beats Romney in a 2012 election matchup, 56 percent to 33 percent, the margin virtually unchanged the past several months. Romney’s single area of strength comes from voters who see strong leadership as a president’s most important trait, where he ties Obama. On all other characteristics, Obama leads. The incumbent also leads across the most important issues identified by New Jersey voters – the economy and jobs, health care and education. Romney leads among the far fewer voters who call the federal deficit their most important issue.
“This poll again confirms the conventional wisdom that New Jersey is simply not competitive in the presidential campaign,” said Poll Director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers. “While Obama’s numbers have slipped slightly, mirroring some national trends, Romney is not yet getting enough traction here to catch up.”
Results are from a poll of 1,191 adults with a subsample of 1,065 registered voters conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from May 31 to June 4. The registered voter subsample has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.
Obama’s grades vary among groups
After improving from last August to February, Obama’s favorability rating began drifting downward in March, the trend driven by independents and the unemployed (each down eight points since February). Republican support has declined five points to 12 percent. Democrats, at 89 percent favorable, have held strong showing no significant change.
After ticking up from February to March among less-educated voters, Obama’s favorability with this group has dropped 10 points to 52 percent. Concurrently, among those in the lowest income bracket, the president’s favorability is down five points to 62 percent. Fifty-one percent of high-income voters view him favorably. The incumbent’s popularity had declined equally among men and women; 59 percent of women and 51 percent of men now have favorable impressions of Obama.
On presidential job performance, 47 percent of respondents award A or B (down 3 points since March), about a 2-to-1 margin over those who give Obama a C. Twenty-eight percent fail Obama with D or F.
While earning slightly higher grades from Democrats and liberals compared to March, independent voters are less pleased. Only 39 percent (a decline of five points) now award A or B. Voters who are not employed have also lowered Obama’s job performance. While the same percentage (16 percent) gives Obama an A, B’s are down 13 points to 29 percent, with increases in those assigning C, D or F to his efforts.
“While the negative trends are not dramatic, there are some areas where Obama could stand to shore up his support,” said Redlawsk. “In particular, the campaign cannot afford to have independents become more disillusioned”
Romney favorability up with Republicans and unemployed
Republicans (up 15 points) and to a lesser extent conservatives (three points) are happier with Romney than in March, now
that he is the GOP standard-bearer. “While conservatives remain less positive than other Republicans, they are slowly becoming more favorable,” Redlawsk noted.
Romney’s favorability also is up among those with lower levels of education – now at 30 percent for those with at least a high school degree and 29 percent for those with some college – as well as with college graduates, up seven points to 37 percent. Romney is down, however, among the most educated voters. His favorability also has improved among both the youngest and oldest cohorts (to 30 percent for 18 to 29-year-olds and 43 percent favorable among the oldest voters).
The Republican candidate’s favorability also has jumped among unemployed voters (13 points to 31 percent) and the lowest-income voters (10 points to 27 percent). He gained six points among the wealthiest and dropped the same in each of the middle two income brackets.
The gender gap in favorability toward Romney has widened considerably, with men increasing 10 points to 39 percent favorable, while women stay virtually the same at 26 percent.
Obama maintains lead but slips with independents, unemployed
Some groups have shifted toward Romney the last two months. Independent support for Obama has dropped five percentage points to 46 percent, with a corresponding increase to 33 percent who say they will vote for Romney. While still strong, Obama’s lead among these swing voters has dropped from 22 points to 14 points.
Support for Obama by voters who are not employed has fallen 10 points to 55 percent, while Romney has experienced an eight-point gain to 29 percent. While still favoring Obama, 63 percent to 26 percent, more low-income voters are supporting Romney than in March, Redlawsk said. Among the highest-income voters, Obama leads Romney, 50 percent to 41 percent.
Voters want a strong leader and economy and jobs are most important
Echoing the March Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, strong leadership remains a candidate’s most important trait at 27 percent. Thirty-eight percent of Romney backers feel that way compared to 22 percent of Obama supporters. The president’s supporters are more likely to say that a candidate’s most important quality is that he “cares about people like me” followed closely by “strong leader.”
Across character traits, Obama wins in every category except “strong leader,” where he trails Romney by one percentage point. The president easily beats the challenger among voters who believe it is important for the candidate to “share my values,” “care about people like me,” have “high moral character,” be “consistent in his beliefs” and “bring people together.”
More than 60 percent of voters – regardless of candidate preference – say jobs and the economy is the most important issue, well ahead of health care (11 percent) and education (9 percent). Obama wins easily on the economy – 53 percent to 36 percent for Romney. He also wins three-quarters of the vote among those who say that health care or education is the most important issue. Romney wins a majority of voters who say the federal budget deficit is their top priority.
“While Romney is running heavily on the economic challenges we face, this issue does not seem to get him much traction in New Jersey, at least not to date,” said Redlawsk. “This is most likely a consequence of not being a battleground. There is essentially no active campaigning here, though the candidates do come to New Jersey to raise money.”
Media Contact: David Redlawsk
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