NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As Donald Trump looks poised for victory in New York, he continues to lead with Republican voters on this side of the Hudson as well, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Breaking the 50-percent mark in New Jersey for the first time since announcing his candidacy last summer, Trump was named by 52 percent of registered Republican voters as their first choice if they had to cast their primary vote today.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has ascended to a distant second in the Garden State, with 24 percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz comes in third at 18 percent, though support for the senator grew here in the days following his Wisconsin primary win.
“For perhaps the first time ever, the New Jersey primary will matter this June, giving the state a rare opportunity to impact the presidential selection process,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Despite gains by Cruz and especially Kasich since February, Trump’s large lead puts him on track to claim all 51 delegates in New Jersey’s winner-take-all primary, bringing him that much closer to clinching the nomination.”On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to lead Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the nomination but – for the first time – only by single digits, 51 percent (down four points) to 42 percent (up 10 points). Democratic-leaning independents appear to be fueling Sanders’ momentum, with just over half of this group choosing the Vermont senator. Confirmed Democrats, on the other hand, firmly support Clinton, at 57 percent.
“The preferences of unaffiliated voters could be an important factor in the primary,” said Koning. “New Jerseyans who have not yet declared a party affiliation may do so at the polls on primary day, and those who want to switch parties could have done so up until just a few days ago.”
When it comes to the general election, Clinton wins most hypothetical match-ups, handily beating both Trump (50 percent to 36 percent) and Cruz (50 percent to 35 percent). Sanders similarly leads Trump if the two became their parties’ nominees, 55 percent to 34 percent.
Despite not being the first choice among New Jersey Republicans, Kasich shows the most promise among the field by far to take back the White House in 2016. Kasich is the only GOP candidate who is competitive against Clinton in New Jersey, with voters split at 43 percent – fueled, in most part, by Kasich’s ability to win over independents by double digits (45 percent to 35 percent).
“Much like we have seen nationally, the comparatively moderate Kasich is the GOP’s best chance when it comes to the general,” said Koning. “Even in ‘blue Jersey,’ he gives Clinton a run for her money, and he garners better ratings than any of his fellow GOP candidates across the board. Nevertheless, he continues to fall short of the number one spot among his base here and elsewhere.”
Kasich is one of the most liked candidates in the race: 41 percent are favorable toward the Ohio governor, just 21 percent are unfavorable, and 38 percent either have no opinion or do not know him. Fellow GOP candidates Cruz (at 22 percent favorable, 58 percent unfavorable) and Trump (30 percent favorable, 62 percent unfavorable) pale in comparison, as their ratings continue to decline.
Counting only Republicans, Kasich does almost as well as Trump (59 percent favorable, compared to 63 percent favorable); Cruz, on the other hand, does poorly among his own party base – 39 percent favorable to 48 percent unfavorable. Kasich is also viewed more favorably than either of his fellow candidates among women and nonwhite voters.
Kasich even draws slightly more positive reviews than Clinton, who hits a new low at 39 percent favorable to 50 percent unfavorable – quite the reverse from Clinton’s ratings just over a year ago. Kasich edges out Clinton with independents here as well (39 percent favorable, versus 31 percent favorable). Clinton has even slipped a few points with her own party base, now at 70 percent favorable (down eight points) to 17 percent unfavorable (up seven points).
Sanders still garners the highest favorability rating among all the candidates – 54 percent favorable (up eight points) to 32 percent unfavorable (up three points). He is now viewed more favorably than Clinton by Democrats (74 percent versus 70 percent), independents (53 percent versus 31 percent), women (56 percent versus 46 percent), and nonwhite voters (61 percent versus 49 percent).
New Jersey voters are definitely tuned in to this year’s election: 45 percent say they are following election-related news very closely, 42 percent say somewhat closely, 11 percent say not too closely, and just 2 percent say not closely at all.
Results are from a statewide poll of 886 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from April 1 to 8, 2016, including 738 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-4.0 percentage points; the subsample of 244 Republican and Republican-leaning voters has a margin of error of +/-6.9 percentage points, and the subsample of 292 Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters has a margin of error of +/-6.3 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
EDITOR'S NOTE: ATTENTION POLITICAL, ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, This Rutgers-Eagleton Poll overlapped the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, April 5. Poll Assistant Director Ashley Koning may be contacted at 908-872-1186 (cell), 848-932-8940 (office), or firstname.lastname@example.org. Poll Director David Redlawsk may be reached at 319-400-1134 (cell) or email@example.com. Questions and tables are available at: http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/rutgers-eagleton-2016-presidential-elect.... Find all releases at http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu, and visit our blog at http://eagletonpollblog.wordpress.com for additional commentary. Follow the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RutgersEagletonPoll and Twitter @EagletonPoll.