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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Sen. Menendez Unaffected by Donor Scandal

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jersey voters not keen on Geraldo Senate run

While many New Jersey voters have heard about the potential donor scandal surrounding Sen. Bob Menendez, few have formed an opinion about his role and his job approval rating has held steady.  Looking ahead to 2014, the Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll  also finds that many voters prefer an alternative to incumbent Frank Lautenberg, but Geraldo Rivera is unlikely to be their pick.

Senator Menendez -  

Two thirds (68%) of New Jersey voters have heard about Sen. Menendez's trips to the Dominican Republic on a donor's plane.  However, few have formed an opinion on Sen. Menendez's involvement in any potential illegal or unethical activity.  Just 24% believe he was involved in wrong-doing while 11% say he was not.  Another 65% don't know enough to form an opinion or have not heard about the issue at all.

These views are somewhat less favorable, though, among the one-third of New Jersey voters who have heard a lot about the issue.  Nearly half (47%) of this aware group say Menendez was probably involved in wrong-doing compared to just 18% who say he was not.  Among Democrats who have heard a lot, 36% think the senator was involved in wrong-doing and 31% say he was not.  Among aware independent voters, opinion is 47% involved to 11% not involved, and among aware Republicans it is 65% involved to 12% not involved.

Overall, 28% of voters say the tips leading to the investigation were likely to have been politically motivated compared to 12% who say they were not, while 60% have no opinion or are unaware of the investigation.  Among those who have heard a lot about it, twice as many suspect that the investigation was politically motivated (50%) as say it was not (25%).

"Right now, the unfolding story has not hurt Senator Menendez's standing among New Jersey voters, in part because very few voters have been following it all that closely," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Currently, 41% of Garden State voters approve of the job Sen. Menendez is doing, 31% disapprove and 28% have no opinion.  These results are similar to prior ratings over the last two years. 

Senator Lautenberg -  

More New Jersey voters approve (44%) than disapprove (27%) of Sen. Frank Lautenberg's job performance.  Another 29% offer no opinion on the U.S. Senator who was first took office 30 years ago.  These ratings are comparable to voter opinion measured over the last two years.

While Lautenberg's ratings are more positive than negative, many voters would prefer to have someone else hold that seat after next year's election.  Assuming that a Democrat will win in 2014, just 15% of New Jersey voters prefer that Lautenberg continue to serve, while 35% prefer that a different Democrat take that seat.  Another 42% say it really doesn't matter to them which Democrat holds that seat.  Among Democratic voters, 22% prefer Lautenberg and 31% prefer someone else; among independents, 9% prefer Lautenberg and 43% prefer a different Democrat; and among Republicans, 15% prefer Lautenberg - if it has to be a Democrat - and 33% would prefer another Democrat.

Interestingly, Lautenberg's age does not appear to be a determining factor in the lack of voter enthusiasm for another term.  Just 34% of Garden State voters say he is too old to be an effective senator.  Nearly half (48%) disagree with this view and 18% have no opinion.  These findings are very similar to voter opinion when he was running for re-election in 2008 at the age of 84.

The lack of concern over Sen. Lautenberg's age is probably related to the fact that most voters have no idea how old he is.  Lautenberg turned 89 last month, but just 39% of voters estimate his age at 80 or older while 46% think he is in his 60s or 70s, and 15% cannot make a guess.  These estimates are slightly more accurate than September 2008, when 25% of New Jersey voters thought Lautenberg was in his 80s or older, 45% thought he was in his 60s or 70s, and 30% would not estimate his age.   Among voters who are able to peg Lautenberg's age accurately (at least within a decade of 89), 57% say he is too old to be an effective senator and 33% say his age does not hamper his ability to serve.  Among those who significantly underestimate Lautenberg's age, just 21% say he is too old while 66% say his age is appropriate for the demands of his office.

Senator Booker ? -  

Potential Democratic primary voters were asked who they would choose in a crowded - and extremely hypothetical - field for the 2014 U.S. Senate nomination.  Four-in-ten (40%) say they would choose Newark Mayor Cory Booker, 25% would vote for Lautenberg, 4% would support Congressman Frank Pallone, and 2% would support State Senate President Steve Sweeney. 

Another 2% say they would vote for Alan Rosenthal.  Professor Rosenthal is unlikely to be a candidate and it's unclear that Democratic voters recall his service as the tie-breaking member of the state redistricting commission who sided with the Democrats' legislative map.  But this result indicates the challenges other candidates would have gaining traction in a race that featured Booker and Lautenberg.

If Sen. Lautenberg decides not to run in 2014, Democratic primary voters are unsure whether Mayor Booker should get a clear path to the nomination.  Just under 4-in-10 (38%) say the party should rally around Booker while 31% say other Democratic candidates should get into the race.  Another 23% of potential Democratic primary voters say it doesn't really matter to them what happens in the primary.

Mayor Booker continues to receive high ratings from New Jersey voters, currently clocking in at 55% favorable to 9% unfavorable, with 36% having no opinion. This is a few notches higher than his September 2012 rating of 49% favorable to 13% unfavorable. 

Other potential 2014 Senate candidates don't have anywhere near the positive opinion or name recognition as Booker.  Congressman Pallone has a 20% favorable to 7% unfavorable rating, with 72% offering no opinion.  State Sen. Sweeney has a 22% favorable to 14% unfavorable rating, with 64% offering no opinion.  General Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who has also indicated her interest in the seat, has a 13% favorable to 9% unfavorable rating, with 78% offering no opinion.  Ratings for all three officials are nearly identical to voter opinion of them in September 2012.

Senator Rivera ??? -  

T.V. host Geraldo Rivera had New Jersey and national political circles jumping recently when he suggested he may run for Lautenberg's seat as a Republican.  New Jersey voters do not seem to be keen on the idea.  Just 1-in-4 say they are very (9%) or somewhat (17%) likely to vote for Rivera should he choose to run, while nearly 2-in-3 (65%) say they would not be likely.  This includes a majority (51%) who say they would not consider voting for Rivera at all.  Even among GOP voters, just 44% say they would be at least somewhat likely to vote for Rivera while 48% would be unlikely.

About half of New Jersey voters have formed an opinion of Rivera, and it is evenly divided - 26% have a favorable view of him and 27% have an unfavorable view.  The remaining 47% have no opinion.

President Obama -  

The poll also tabs Pres. Barack Obama's job rating among New Jersey voters at 60% approve to 33% disapprove.  His positive job number is statistically similar to the 58% approve to 35% disapprove rating he received in December.  Nominally, though, this marks only the second time Obama reached 60% approval in the Garden State.  The previous 60% approval rating came in May 2011, shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed.

The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll  was conducted by telephone with 803 New Jersey adults from February 6 to 10, 2013.  This sample has a margin of error of ±  3.5 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Asbury Park Press and its sister publications (Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune). 

The questions referred to in this release are as follows:

1.      Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president?


2.      Do you approve or disapprove of the job Frank Lautenberg is doing as United States Senator?

3.      Do you approve or disapprove of the job Bob Menendez is doing as United States Senator?

4.      I’m going to read you a few names.  Please tell me if your general impression of each is favorable or unfavorable, or if you don’t really have an opinion. [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

         Newark Mayor Cory Booker

         State Senate President Steve Sweeney

         State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver

         U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg

         U.S. Senator Bob Menendez

         Congressman Frank Pallone

         T.V. host Geraldo Rivera


5.      Senator Frank Lautenberg is up for reelection in 2014.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that a Democrat will hold onto that seat.  If it has to be a Democrat, would you prefer that Lautenberg continue serving or would you prefer that another Democrat serve, or doesn’t it matter to you?


6.      If the choices in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate were Frank Lautenberg, Cory Booker, Steve Sweeney, Frank Pallone, or Alan Rosenthal, for whom would you vote?

7.      If Frank Lautenberg decides to step down next year, should state Democrats rally around Cory Booker as the nominee or should other candidates get into the primary race, or doesn’t it matter to you?

8.      Do you agree or disagree that Frank Lautenberg is too old to be an effective senator?

9.      And how old do you think he is?  Your best guess is fine.

10.    How likely would you be to vote for Geraldo Rivera if he ran for U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2014 – very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?

11.    How much have you heard or read about trips Senator Bob Menendez took to the Dominican Republic on a donor’s plane – a lot, a little, or nothing at all?

12.    Do you think Senator Menendez was involved in any wrong-doing or not, or haven’t you heard enough about this?  [IF “YES” ASK:  Do you think this is serious or not too serious?]

13.    Do you think it is likely or not likely that the tips leading to this investigation were politically motivated to hurt Senator Menendez, or haven’t you heard enough about this?


The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from February 6 to 10, 2013 with a statewide random sample of 803 adult residents, including 603 contacted on a landline telephone and 200 on a cell phone.  Live interviewing services were provided by Braun Research, Inc. and the telephone sample was obtained from Survey Sampling International.  Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey questionnaire design, data weighting and analysis.  For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.  Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups, such as separate figures reported by gender or party identification, are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample.  In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

It is the Monmouth University Polling Institute’s policy to conduct surveys of all adult New Jersey residents, including voters and non-voters, on issues that affect the state.  Specific voter surveys are conducted when appropriate during election cycles.

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.

Download this Poll Report with all tables

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