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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Obama Takes Summer Lead in Jersey

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Economy and Iraq Trump Doubts About Democrat’s Religious Ties

Barack Obama holds a sizeable lead over John McCain among New Jersey voters as the presidential candidates lay the groundwork for the fall contest.  The latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll  finds that 42% of registered voters prefer the Democrat to 28% supporting the Republican, or a 48% to 34% margin if undecided voters who lean toward a candidate are included.  Among likely voters, Obama leads McCain by 50% to 36% including leaners.

Each candidate currently garners the support of 3-in-4 of their fellow partisans - 75% of Democrats support Obama and 74% of Republicans support McCain.  Independents are split 30% for Obama and 26% for McCain, with 33% on the fence and 10% saying they may vote for a third party candidate.

The poll found that 4-in-10 registered voters could be considered uncommitted or "swing" voters, which is not unusual at this stage of a presidential race.  This includes 23% who are undecided, 6% who are considering a third party candidate and 11% who choose a candidate but say they could change their mind.  While this indicates possible volatility, the poll also found limited opportunities for McCain to sway those swing voters.

The one area where the poll found potential voter doubt about the Democratic candidate was in reference to religion - or more accurately the views of religious leaders close to Obama.  Nearly half of Garden State voters (46%) say they are comfortable with Obama's personal religious views (just 21% are uncomfortable), a similar number (50%) say they are uncomfortable with the views of religious leaders he has been associated with (with 22% comfortable).  [ Note:About 8% of New Jersey voters incorrectly assume Obama is Muslim, which is slightly lower than in most national polls .]

And while John McCain has had his share of issues with outspoken conservative religious leaders who support his campaign, this does not seem to translate into the same level of concern.  Overall, 39% of New Jersey voters are comfortable with McCain's own religious views (compared to 15% who are uncomfortable) and about equal number are comfortable (29%) as are uncomfortable (25%) with the views of religious leaders who support or are close to McCain.

"It appears that the one area where McCain may be able to gain traction in New Jersey is if he can make the campaign a referendum on Obama's personal judgment," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.  "At this time, though, that appears to be a slim hope.  Everything else on the electoral horizon benefits the Democrat."

Currently, Obama leads among practically every demographic group in New Jersey and registers especially strong support among women (46%-25%) and voters under the age of 35 (54%-23%).  He also leads among men (39%-32%), and voters age 35 to 54 (39%-33%) or 55 and older (39%-27%).

As may be expected, the Democrat has strong support among black voters (85%-3%), but he splits white voters with McCain (34%-34%).  For perspective, though, when John Kerry won New Jersey by 7 points in 2004, he actually lost the white vote by 8 points, according to the Edison/Mitofsky exit poll.

Obama also has a natural advantage on the issues which most concern voters.  When asked to name their top one or two issues, voters hone in on the economy (53%) and the war in Iraq (47%).  Compared to a poll taken last fall, there has been little change in the number of voters who consider Iraq a top concern.  However, the economy has now skyrocketed into the top slot, after being mentioned by just 20% in September 2007.  Among voters who name the economy as their top concern, Obama leads McCain by 44% to 26%.  Among those who name Iraq, the Democrat's advantage is 49% to 22%.

Among the other issues mentioned by New Jersey voters, only health care (9%), gas prices (9%), terrorism (6%), foreign policy (6%), and federal taxes (6%) crack the 5% threshold.  Notably, concerns about health care have dropped substantially from the 45% level measured in September 2007.

The Democrat also benefits from an energized party base.  Overall, half (50%) of New Jersey's electorate say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year than they have been in the past, compared to 29% who are less enthusiastic and 19% who feel the same level of enthusiasm.  However, Democrats are significantly more enthusiastic (66% more to 16% less) than Republicans (39% more to 37% less).  Independents are split (39% more and 39% less).

"We're seeing a clear enthusiasm gap between party bases.  This could result in a differential party turnout on November 4 th  that benefits Democratic candidates in down-ballot races," said Murray.

The poll also found high personal ratings for Senator Obama - 56% of voters have a favorable opinion of him compared to 19% unfavorable.  John McCain's personal ratings are 48% favorable to 25% unfavorable.  While this marks an 9-point improvement in the Arizona Senator's favorables since April, it is still lower than those attained by his Illinois colleague.

Other personal issues which have attracted national attention - McCain's age and Obama's race - aren't having much of an impact on New Jersey's electorate. 

John McCain, who turns 72 next month, would be the oldest first-term president if he were to win in November.  Currently, just 21% of Garden State voters think he is too old to be effective as president.  Furthermore, just 28% of voters think that 72 year old is probably too old for the office in general, suggesting little room to make this more of a campaign issue.

Turning to the issue of Obama's race, just 15% of voters say the fact that he is black would impact his presidential decisions.  Nearly half (46%) this group say the impact would be positive for the country while a similar number (41%) say the effect would be negative or mixed.  Further analysis suggests that latent racial attitudes, as measured in this question, would only lessen Obama's current support level in New Jersey by 2 or 3 percentage points at most.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll  was conducted by telephone with 874 New Jersey registered voters July 17-21, 2008.  This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.3 percent.  This report also includes analysis on a smaller group of 698 "likely voters" with a ±  3.7 percent margin of error.   The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Gannett New Jersey newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).

The questions referred to in this release are as follows:

1.      As you may know, there will be an election for President in November.  How much interest do you have in the upcoming election – a lot, some, a little, or none at all?

2.      If the election for President was held today, would you vote for John McCain the Republican, Barack Obama the Democrat, or some other candidate? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Composite Table: Strength of Vote Choice

2         If the election for President was held today, would you vote for [ROTATE] John McCain the Republican, Barack Obama the Democrat, or some other candidate?

3.        At this moment do you lean more towards McCain or more towards Obama?

4.        Are you very sure about voting for [Name]; or might you change your mind before Election Day?

[QUESTIONS 5 AND 6 WERE ROTATED]

5.      Is your general impression of Barack Obama favorable or unfavorable, or don't you really have an opinion about him?

6.      Is your general impression of John McCain favorable or unfavorable, or don't you really have an opinion about him?

7.      What are the one or two most important issues in determining how you will vote for president?

[Note: Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted] 

8.      How closely have you been following the campaign for president so far – very closely,   somewhat closely, or not very closely?

9.      Compared to past elections, are you more enthusiastic than usual about voting, or less enthusiastic?   

10.    Do you think the campaign between Obama and McCain is more likely to be positive where the candidates talk about the issues or more likely to be negative where the candidate’s attack each other?

[Question 11 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

11.    In general, do you agree or disagree that someone 72 years of age is probably too old to be an effective president?

 [Question 12 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

12.    Do you agree or disagree that John McCain is too old to be an effective president?

13.    Do you think the fact that Barack Obama is black would have an impact on the decisions he would make as president, or not?

[The following question was asked only of those who said “Yes” to Q13moe= ± 8.9%]

14.    On the whole, would this impact tend to be more positive or more negative for the country?

[Question 15 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

15.    Do you think religious faith plays an important role in John McCain’s life, or not?

[Question 16 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

16.    Are you personally comfortable or not comfortable with John McCain’s religious views?

[Question 17 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

17.    Are you comfortable or not comfortable with the views of those religious leaders who have been close to John McCain or support his campaign?

[Question 18 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

18.    What religion do you think John McCain is, if any?

[Question 19 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

19.    Do you think religious faith plays an important role in Barack Obama’s life, or not?

[Question 20 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

20.    Are you personally comfortable or not comfortable with Barack Obama’s religious views?

[Question 21 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

21.    Are you comfortable or not comfortable with the views of those religious leaders who have been close to Barack Obama or support his campaign?

[Question 22 was asked of a random half-sample: moe= ± 4.7%]

22.    What religion do you think Barack Obama is, if any?

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted and analyzed by the Monmouth University Polling Institute research staff.  The telephone interviews were collected by Braun Research on July 17-21, 2008 with a statewide random sample of 874 registered voters. For results based on this voter sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.3 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 which 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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