Stockton Poll Shows Clinton Leading Trump in New Jersey

Voters Also Oppose Upstate Casinos, Disapprove of Christie
By RICK MELLERUP | Oct 19, 2016

When you watch cable news channels such as Fox, CNN and MSNBC, you are, on an almost daily basis, flooded with new presidential polls from the so-called battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. Chances are, though, no matter how much of a political junkie you are, you have never seen the results of a New Jersey presidential poll on TV this season. The Garden State is traditionally as blue as a crisp autumnal sky, so not much attention is paid to it by pollsters who figure it is going to go Democratic in the end.

Yet presidential polls have been conducted in New Jersey this fall. As expected, all of them show Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump. The only thing they differ about – sometimes dramatically – is how many points separate the two candidates.

Boston’s Emerson College conducted a poll Sept. 2-5 that showed Clinton winning 47 to 43. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll of Sept. 6-10 had Clinton up 59 to 35. A Richard Stockton University poll conducted Sept. 22-29 had Clinton receiving 46 percent of the vote while Trump garnered 40. Finally, a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll taken Oct. 12-16 had Clinton winning by 11 points, 51-40.

The Real Clear Politics average has Clinton up by 11.3 points.

Let’s pay particular attention to our “local” poll from Stockton, which was, in fact, conducted on a statewide basis. First of all, an explanation of the 46-40 result. That, after all, doesn’t add up to 100 percent.

Well, 10 percent of the poll’s respondents said they were going to vote third party or write in a name or vote for “nobody.” Four percent were still undecided or refused to say for whom they would cast their ballot. Interesting – only 4 percent at most undecided, showing the result of the election may already be baked in.

The first presidential debate was held while the poll was being conducted. Partial results had Clinton up by four points before the debate; she gained two points afterward.

The poll showed men were split, 41-40 percent, for Clinton. Women, however, gave Clinton the edge by 48-34 percent. Trump won the white vote, 45-38, but was blasted by black voters by an 83-8 margin. Hispanic voters favored Clinton by 20 points, 53-33 percent.

The candidates basically tied on the issues of managing the economy (45-45) and honesty and trustworthiness (38 Clinton; 37 Trump). Clinton squeaked past Trump, 45-43, for keeping the country safe from terrorism, while 67 percent of the respondents thought she had a better temperament than Trump, who got only 20 percent in that category. Voters also said, by a 57-33 percent margin, she would be better than the businessman in handling foreign policy.

All in all, neither candidate is particularly beloved. The poll showed 42 percent of the respondents had somewhat or very favorable views of Clinton, while 55 percent had somewhat or very unfavorable opinions about the former First Lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Trump faired even worse, with the magnate being viewed as somewhat or very unfavorable by 61 percent of the respondents while just 36 percent saw him as somewhat or very favorable.

The advice Democratic strategist James Carville gave to Bill Clinton during his successful 1992 presidential campaign – “it’s the economy, stupid” – apparently still holds true. The poll showed 24 percent of New Jersey voters think the economy is the most important issue in the 2016 campaign, followed by terrorism (11 percent), jobs (6 percent) and foreign policy and security issues (5 percent each).

Christie, Casinos

Both Rejected

Several other questions were asked of respondents. What did they think, for example, of a proposal to amend the New Jersey Constitution to allow casinos in North Jersey?

Not much! The poll found 68 percent opposed the amendment while only 27 percent supported casino expansion and 5 percent weren’t sure or refused to say. Interestingly, 63 percent of northerners didn’t want upstate casinos, while 74 percent of residents in the state’s eight southernmost counties opposed the idea.

“These results should provide some comfort to residents of the Atlantic City region, which has seen the loss of 5,400 casino industry jobs since the start of 2014,” said Sharon Schulman, special adviser to the president and executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. “Clearly the voters – especially those in South Jersey – do not want to see Atlantic City casino competition within the state.”

Respondents were also asked about a second question that will appear on ballots statewide in November. There was 72 percent supporting a proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate more of the state gasoline tax to highway and road projects, while 23 percent oppose it and 5 percent are undecided or refuse to say.

Remember, both Clinton and Trump had high unfavorable ratings. It turns out they have plenty of company. The poll said 85 percent rated the performance of the U.S. Congress as fair or poor. Only 22 percent gave Gov. Chris Christie the thumbs up, rating his performance as good or excellent; 30 percent ranked it as fair; 47 percent said he was doing a poor job. It must be noted that the poll was conducted shortly after both prosecuting and defense attorneys and witnesses appeared in court at the “Bridgegate” trial of two former Christie aides and claimed the governor knew while it was happening that George Washington Bridge lanes had been closed as political retaliation.

President Barack Obama fared the best in the poll, with half of the respondents rating his job performance as good or excellent, while the other half rated him as fair or poor.

The poll was conducted with 638 adults who said they were likely voters. Live interviewers from the Stockton Polling Institute, part of the Hughes Center, called them on both landlines and cell phones. The poll’s margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.9 percentage points, although it is higher for certain subsets. Data are weighted based on U.S. Census Bureau demographics for the Garden State population.

Polling Center

Rather Unusual

The Hughes Center has been sponsoring polls since 2008. The Stockton Polling Institute, though, was created in 2012. Previous to that, Stockton had hired a private company, Zogby Analytics, to actually conduct its polls. Since 2012, students at Stockton have manned the phones.

A number of universities in New Jersey – Princeton, Rutgers, Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth – have polls. But according to John Froonjian, a senior research associate with the Stockton Polling Institute, Stockton is the only one that actually employs students to conduct its polls, at least as far as he knows.

They’re paid $8.38 an hour and usually are employed on evenings and weekends in shifts of four to eight hours at one of 30 call stations located in one large room on campus. It is not a telemarketing, sales or fundraising job. Instead, the purpose is to conduct research related to elections and issues of importance in southern New Jersey and across the state.

“I tell them it is a better campus job than cleaning tables or washing dishes,” said Froonjian.

They quickly learn, though, to deal with rejection.

First of all, they are calling cell as well as landline numbers, with the cell phone numbers being provided by private companies who collect such numbers. So, said Froonjian, the most common response when calling a cell phone customer is “How did you get my number?”

“They make about 25 calls for every person who will talk to them,” said Schulman. “That means we make a lot of calls: figure 800 interviews times 25.”

“They’re (the people who are called) better when they hear it is Stockton University,” said Froonjian. “Still, it takes a certain stick-to-it attitude.”

What kind of student applies for the polling jobs? Political science majors? Budding mathematicians interested in statistics and probability?

“About 500 students have been hired by the Polling Institute,” said Froonjian. “Most are not political science majors. We’ve had a broad spread (of majors); for some reason, a lot of biology majors.”

The Polling Institute also conducts outside contract work, according to Schulman, but “not for political parties.” Instead it might conduct market research, sometimes online, a step not taken when conducting a political poll.

Froonjian is very proud of his students’ work.

“We’ve never got the winner wrong,” he said. “All of our polls have gotten the winner.”

Polls like Clinton vs. Trump are difficult to get wrong in New Jersey. But Froonjian said some polls are very close. He cited the example of a hard-fought, four-way Assembly race in New Jersey’s 1st Legislative District in 2015.

“It is very difficult to poll very low turnout elections,” he said, “and this election was very tight.”

That poll’s results were released less than two weeks before the election. It had incumbent Democrat Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak with 25 percent of the vote while his running mate, Bruce Land, had 23 percent. Republican incumbent Sam Fiocchi and running mate Jim Sauro were both at 22 percent.

In the end Andrzejczak garnered 27.9 percent of the vote while Land landed 26.4 percent. Fiocchi got 23.2 percent, and Sauro 22.6 percent, said Froonjian.

Meanwhile, Real Clear Politics, which rates scores of polling operations throughout the country, gives the Stockton Polling Institute a solid B grade. No wonder Froonjian is proud.

Schulman said the Hughes Center is much more than the Polling Institute. Via its Legislator-in-Residence Program, it brings in legislators to educate students about how government works. (Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, who represents all of Southern Ocean County in Trenton, filled that spot in the spring of 2015. Earlier, state Sen. Christpher J. Connors, also from the 9th District, took that role.) It sponsors debates. It has a speaker’s bureau. It displays parts of the personal archive of the man it was named for, William J. Hughes, a South Jersey congressman from 1975 to 1995 who went on to serve as United States ambassador to Panama, where he was deeply involved with the return of the Panama Canal to Panamanian control.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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