NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Following President Barack Obama’s re-election, 49 percent of New Jersey voters say the country will become more divided, while only 40 percent think Americans will become more united, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today. Even so, two-thirds of respondents remain optimistic about the next four years.
Not surprisingly, this feeling of optimism is driven by the 90 percent of Democrats who are positive about the future. Only 25 percent of Republicans are optimistic about the next four years. Independent voters are more optimistic than pessimistic, 56 percent to 38 percent.
Nearly all of Mitt Romney’s GOP backers are pessimistic and expect the country to remain divided. Most Obama voters are optimistic, but 30 percent agree that Americans will be more divided. Voters also are evenly split about the country’s direction.
“New Jersey went heavily for Obama, and his supporters are optimistic,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “But their optimism is tempered by recognition that the election did not eliminate divisions in the country.”
Obama and Romney voters do not agree on much, but 60 percent of both groups say that the economy and jobs are the most important issue today. Romney supporters name the federal budget deficit second (17 percent), while Obama voters call education their runner-up (12 percent).
Asked to name a second-term priority for Obama, 42 percent of all voters reference the economy, jobs, or fiscal responsibility. Reinforcing existing divisions, 15 percent of Republicans simply say Obama should resign and leave office.
“Obama’s victory clearly did little to heal partisan wounds,” said Redlawsk. “National polling gives him a post-election approval bump, but a significant number of voters continues to be implacably opposed to the president.”
Results are from a poll of 1,228 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Nov. 14-17. Within this sample is a subsample of 1,108 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.
Demographics underscore political division
Nearly 80 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents see the country as more divided following the election. Conversely, 60 percent of Democrats say Americans will become more united.
Obama voters – Democrats and independents – are seven times more likely to believe the country will come together (60 percent) than Romney backers (8 percent). By more than 3 to 1, Romney voters expect more division in the country than Obama supporters.
Reflecting the presidential vote, men are more likely than women to believe the country will become more divided (55 percent to 44 percent). About one-third of men expect greater unity, while 44 percent of women feel the same. White voters have a more negative outlook than Hispanic and black voters: 55 percent of whites believe the country will be more divided, compared to 46 percent of Hispanics and only a quarter of blacks.
Perceptions of division decrease with age. Voters under 35 are the most skeptical about Americans uniting, with 55 percent thinking there will be greater division. Seniors are split, with 44 percent expecting division and 41 percent seeing a more united country. This negative outlook also increases with education; more than half of those with at least a college degree believe the country will be more divided.
Beliefs about country’s direction follow a similar pattern. Voters are split with 47 percent saying the country is going in the right direction while 48 percent think it is off on the wrong track. More Democrats (73 percent) say the U.S. is going in the right direction than Republicans (12 percent) or independents (40 percent). Eight-five percent of Republicans say the country is on the wrong track, compared to 57 percent of independents and 21 percent of Democrats. By more than 12 to 1, Obama supporters agree with the country’s direction compared to Romney voters. More than 90 percent of Romney voters believe the country is headed down the wrong path.
The next four years: who is optimistic?
As expected, partisanship defines voter optimism about the next four years. While more than nine in 10 Democrats are optimistic, 56 percent of independents and just 23 percent of Republicans feel the same.
Women are 12 points more likely than men to be optimistic about the next four years (69 percent to 57 percent). While more than half of all white voters are optimistic, blacks and Hispanics are most positive at 89 percent and 72 percent, respectively. Younger voters and those in lower income brackets are most optimistic, while older and higher-income voters show greater pessimism. Still, more than half from each group say they are optimistic. Obama voters are more optimistic about the next four year than Romney’s supporters (92 percent to 17 percent).
Economy and jobs remain top priority
Given a list of issues, voters name the economy and jobs as most important (58 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents, 62 percent of Republicans). Education is a distant second for Democrats (11 percent), while Republicans and independents pick the federal budget deficit second (17 and 13 percent, respectively).
Obama handily won voters who found the economy and jobs most important, 59 percent to 39 percent. Romney was the easy winner among the much smaller group naming the federal budget deficit first, 58 percent to 36 percent.
Asked to say “in just a couple words” what the president’s second-term priorities should be, nearly half of voters cited the economy, jobs, fiscal issues and taxes. Health care is specifically named by 7 percent, followed by 6 percent who want Obama to focus primarily on bipartisanship and compromise.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say fixing the economy is most important, while Republicans are equally likely to talk about establishing fiscal responsibility and about the economy. But 15 percent of Republicans – the largest percentage – simply say Obama should resign and leave office. Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to mention health care, with 11 percent saying the top priority is to change Obama’s health care law.
Motivation for Republicans at the polls
Many Romney voters were motivated primarily by opposition to Obama. The large majority of Obama voters (79 percent) said they voted more for the president than against Romney, while 20 percent said they were voting against the challenger. By contrast, 55 percent of Romney supporters say their vote supported Romney, while 42 percent said they voted against the incumbent.
Eighty-five percent of Democrats who voted for Obama were motivated by their support for the president, rather than by their opposition to Romney (14 percent). Independent Obama voters were somewhat more focused on their opposition to Romney, but 67 percent still said they were voting in support of Obama. Sixty percent of Romney’s GOP supporters voted for him while 38 percent were voting against Obama. Independents supporting Romney were equally likely to say they were motivated in favor of the challenger as they were to be voting in opposition to Obama.
“While opposition to a candidate can motivate voters to show up, studies show that it is enthusiasm that really brings people to the polls,” said Redlawsk. “Obama voters clearly had enthusiasm on their side, while Romney voters were more motivated by their dislike of Obama.”
Obama’s favorability rating has increased five points since October to 61 percent. His unfavorability dropped seven points to 32 percent. Ninety-three percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents like Obama. Three-quarters of Republicans are unfavorable while only 14 percent feel favorably toward the president. Nearly two-thirds of women are favorable, while 57 percent of men agree, reopening a gender gap that had disappeared in a late September Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
While 96 percent of Democrats voted for Obama and 87 percent of Republicans for Romney, independents split evenly, 47 percent for each. Obama won both men and women in New Jersey, but women were much more supportive: 64 percent favored Obama, compared to 54 percent of men. Obama also won virtually all black voters, nearly 70 percent of Hispanics and just half of white voters in the Garden State.
“As Romney closed in during October, the gender gap in attitudes toward Obama briefly disappeared,” noted Redlawsk. “But in the end, women were far more likely to vote for Obama, and that gap continues in Obama’s post-election favorability. Any announcement of the death of the gender gap was obviously premature.”
Media Contact: David Redlawsk
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