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Random Thoughts on this Month in NJ Politics

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Voter Enthusiasm

No one really thinks that Barack Obama is going to win New Jersey by the 15 point margin he commanded in 2008.  But his current lead among registered voters – 11 points in last week’s Quinnipiac Poll and 13 points in this week’s Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll suggests he might not be far from that mark.

Those results are among registered voters, though.  Among likely voters it will be closer.  Monmouth’s model has the lead narrowing to 8 points.  Voters who cast their ballots in any given election tend to be slightly more Republican than the total registered voter pool.  GOP voters are simply more consistent.  This difference is usually very small in presidential elections when the vast majority of registered voters show up.

It’s important to keep in mind that summer polls are still subject to the whims of an unsettled electorate.  Wide variations from poll to poll, and from registered voter samples to likely voter samples, are not unusual.  Two recent national polls using registered voter samples showed either Barack Obama up by 6 points (NBC/Wall Street Journal) or the race as a tie (Gallup).  Another poll, using a likely voter sample, showed Mitt Romney ahead by 4 points (Rasmussen, which tends to be Republican-leaning).

Where the summer polls are really useful is understanding the dynamics behind voter attitudes.  A big difference between this year and 2008 is the shifting partisan enthusiasm gap.  Four years ago, a national Gallup poll showed that 61% of Democrats reported feeling more enthusiastic than usual about voting, while only 35% of Republicans felt the same.  The voters in New Jersey mirrored that sentiment, with 66% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans feeling more enthusiastic.

That sentiment has reversed this year.  Gallup reports that 51% of Republicans are now more enthusiastic than usual, while only 39% of Democrats feel the same.   Here in New Jersey, we’ve also seen a shift, with 53% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats feeling more enthused.  While the Garden State numbers have moved, they haven’t moved as far as the national numbers.  This is why Mitt Romney will look elsewhere for a 2008 Obama state to flip into his column.

Endless Summer Tax Cut Tour

An across-the-board tax cut was supposed to be Gov. Chris Christie’s major accomplishment in his 2013 re-election bid.  Some sort of tax cut, for which he would have received most of the credit, looked to be in the offing.  That was until negative revenue projections gave Democrats an opening to put the kibosh on it.

The governor believes that he can move recalcitrant legislators by rallying the public to his side.  The polling indicates that he should be able to shift opinion on this.  The question is by how much.

This week’s Monmouth poll found that 54% of New Jerseyans feel it is better to hold any tax cuts until revenues improve.  Just 37% say it would be better to go ahead with a cut now.  These numbers are slightly different from last week’s Quinnipiac poll, which found 49% support for the wait-and-see approach and 43% who wanted to forge ahead.

The main difference between the two polls is that Quinnipiac ‘s poll question attached these options to the Democrats and Gov. Christie, respectively.  The Monmouth poll question did not anchor these positions to any elected official.  This suggests that the governor’s support leads some residents to overcome their initial reluctance on moving ahead with a cut.

This interpretation is supported by another Monmouth poll finding that those less tuned in to the tax cut debate are more likely to prefer the wait and see approach than those who have been keeping track of where the major players stand on the issue.

The more people hear where the governor stands, the more people he can sway to his side.  Hence, the Endless Summer Tax Cut Tour.  The question is whether Gov. Christie can break above the 43% mark set by the Quinnipiac Poll.  Stay tuned.

Judicial Pensions

In addition to the tax cut, Democrats have handed Gov. Christie a few tough losses this year.  Topping the list is the unprecedented rejection of not just one, but two, Supreme Court nominees.

When the Supreme Court – or at least two justices and a fill-in – decided that increasing judges’ benefits contributions is unconstitutional, I expected legislators to talk a good game but drag their heals on any real action.

I have to admit my surprise that the State Senate moved so quickly to put a constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot.  Of course, the Senate resolution had already cleared committee.  So it wasn’t a heavy lift to hold the required public hearing this week – bet you missed that – and schedule a vote next week.

The resolution needs to be approved next week, because the Constitutions stipulates a three month timeline for public notification. Which means the amendment needs to be printed in local newspapers by August 6.

The Constitution also requires that proposed amendments “shall be printed and placed on the desks of the members of each house” at least 20 days before being voted upon.  Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

While the resolution was placed on senators’ desks on June 21st, there has been no such action with the companion resolution in the Assembly.  Apparently, the legislature is able to move this through the Assembly using “emergency procedures” to replace the Assembly resolution with the Senate version as read.

I am fully aware that the Constitution allows the legislature to suspend requirements for 2nd and 3rd readings of a resolution.   But I did not realize they could also suspend other Constitutional provisions pertaining to amendments.  In other words, the legislature can deem that a “virtual reality” resolution had been placed on Assembly members’ desks.

As one observer remarked to me, “It’s the magic of Trenton.”

Update 7/30 — The Legislature now reports that the Senate version of the concurrent resolution was in fact placed on Assembly members’ desks on June 21, in accordance with Assembly rule 20:1.