FDU Poll: NJ Residents Want Smaller Role for County Parties

NJ Residents Want Smaller Role for County Parties

County parties have outsize influence in NJ primaries

Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ, November 15, 2022 – New Jersey gives a greater role to county parties in shaping primary elections than any other state, but that doesn’t mean that residents like it. According to the latest results from the FDU Poll, only 19 percent of New Jersey say that county parties should have a role in officially endorsing candidates and giving them preferential placement on the ballot, while 2/3rds oppose such a role.

“New Jersey political parties have been better able to hold on to their influence than parties almost anywhere else,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the Executive Director of the Poll. “The push to make changes to the system has been coming from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which wants to push the state’s Democratic establishment to the left.”

While some counties in New Jersey have changed the way they handle endorsements and ballot placement, in most of the state, county parties endorse preferred candidates in primary elections and give their preferred candidates placement at the top of the ballot. While voters are free to choose whomever they like in the primary election, cues like the official endorsement and the placement of a candidate are powerful, especially in a primary.

Opposition to the system is still present in most counties and goes across party lines. Just eighteen percent of Democrats and Republicans say that parties should be allowed to favor candidates in the primaries, no different than the 22 percent of Republicans who say so.

“The big question isn’t whether voters like the current system,” said Cassino. “It’s whether it’s a voting issue for people. If it’s not driving people to vote differently, it’s going to be hard to convince parties to give up this kind of influence.”

Support for the role of parties in shaping primaries is highest among Black and Asian New Jerseyans. Only 18 percent of white residents support the current system – no different than the 17 percent of Hispanics who do – but support is 29 percent among Blacks, and 30 percent among Asian residents.

Support also varies widely across counties. For instance, 31 percent of Essex County residents support letting the county part officially influence the primary, compared to just 13 percent in Bergen and Passaic counties, and 9 percent in Monmouth.

“In counties like Essex, voters have seen benefits from the county government, so they may be less inclined to limit the party,” said Cassino. “If voters like and trust the county party, they’re not going to be interested in reducing its power.”

Political scientists have lamented the loss of power for political parties generally in US politics, with arguments going back to Woodrow Wilson that parties can help create accountability and incentivize good behavior among elected officials. However, this is counter to the perceived role of primary elections, which is to allow members of a party to choose their own candidate.

“For most of the country, the era of strong parties ended a long time ago,” said Cassino. “But that doesn’t mean that politics have gotten better since the parties in most places stopped being able to pick candidates.”

 

Methodology

The survey was conducted between October 24 and November 1, 2022, using a certified list of adult New Jersey residents carried out by Ironwood Insights. Respondents were randomly chosen from the list and contacted via either live-caller telephone interviews or text-to-web surveys sent to cellular phones, resulting in an overall sample of 801 respondents. 174 of the surveys were carried out via live-caller telephone interviews on both cell phones (70%) and landlines (30%), and the remainder (627) were done on a web platform via web links sent via SMS to cell phones. Surveys were conducted only in English.

The data were weighted to be representative of the population of adult NJ residents, as of the 2020 US Census. The weights used, like all weights, balance the demographic characteristics of the sample to match known population parameters. The weighted results used here are balanced to match parameters for sex, age, education and race/ethnicity.

SPSSINC RAKE, an SPSS extension module that simultaneously balances the distributions of all variables using the GENLOG procedure, was used to produce final weights. Weights were trimmed to prevent individual interviews from having too much influence on the final results. The use of these weights in statistical analysis helps to ensure that the demographic characteristics of the sample approximate the demographic characteristics of the target population. The size of these weights is used to construct the measure of design effects, which indicates the extent to which the reported results are being driven by the weights applied to the data, rather than found in the data itself. Simply put, these design effects tell us how many additional respondents would have been needed to get the weighted number of respondents across weighted categories: larger design effects indicate greater levels of under-representation in the data. In this case, the calculated design effects are approximately 1.4.

All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. Sampling error should be adjusted to recognize the effect of weighting the data to better match the population. In this poll, the simple sampling error for 801 registered voters is +/-3.5 percentage points, at a 95 percent confidence interval. Including the design effects, the margin of error would be +/-4.9 percentage points, though the figure not including them is much more commonly reported.

This error calculation does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question-wording, differences in translated forms, or context effects. While such errors are known to exist, they are often unquantifiable within a particular survey, and all efforts, such as randomization and extensive pre-testing of items, have been used to minimize them. 

Weighted Telephone Sample Characteristics

801 New Jersey Residents

Figures are weighted to overall voter characteristics from the 2020 US Census. Respondents who refused to answer a demographic item are not included.

Man

42%                 N = 341

Woman

55%                 N = 436

Some Other Way

3%                  N = 22

 

18-30

21%                N = 162

31-44

25%                 N = 207

45-64

32%                 N = 261

65+

19%                 N = 154

 

Democrat (with leaners)

50%                 N = 354

Independent

17%                 N = 118

Republican (with leaners)

33%                 N = 240

 

White

53%                N = 400

Black

14%                N = 104

Hispanic/Latino/a

24%                N = 178

Asian

7%                  N = 55

Other/Multi-racial

2%                  N = 16

 

No college degree

55%                N = 447

College degree or more

45%                N = 350

 

Question Wording and Order

First off, we’d like to ask you a few questions about government here in New Jersey.

NJ1. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Phil Murphy is handling his job as governor?

  1. Approve
  2. Disapprove
  3. Not Sure/Don’t Know [Vol]
  4. Refused [Vol]

 

NJ2. Right now, casino gambling in New Jersey is limited to Atlantic City. Do you favor or oppose [rotate] expanding casino gambling to other areas in the state?

  1. Favor
  2. Oppose
  3. [DK /REF]

NJ3. Do you think smoking should be banned entirely in Atlantic City casinos, or just limited to certain areas, or allowed anywhere?

  1. Banned Entirely
  2. Limited to Certain Areas
  3. Allowed Anywhere
  4. [Don’t Know/Refused]

NJ4. New Jersey is the only state in the country where county political parties can officially endorse candidates in primary elections and give those candidates preferential placement on the ballot, helping them win. What do you think? Should county parties be allowed to favor some candidates in primary elections?

  1. Parties should have control
  2. Parties shouldn’t have control
  3. [Don’t Know/Refused]

NJ5. The local media has an important role in informing the public, covering important issues, and holding officials accountable. On the whole, do you think the local media in New Jersey is doing a good job in these roles, a fair job, or a poor job?

  1. Good
  2. Fair
  3. Poor
  4. [Don’t Know/Refused]

 

Release Tables

New Jersey is the only state in the country where county political parties can officially endorse candidates in primary elections and give those candidates preferential placement on the ballot, helping them win. What do you think? Should county parties be allowed to favor some candidates in primary elections?
  All Under 30 31 to 44 45 to 64 65+
Parties should have control 19% 23% 17% 21% 19%
Parties shouldn’t have control 65% 60% 68% 65% 61%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused 16% 17% 15% 14% 20%

 

New Jersey is the only state in the country where county political parties can officially endorse candidates in primary elections and give those candidates preferential placement on the ballot, helping them win. What do you think? Should county parties be allowed to favor some candidates in primary elections?
  All Dem Indp Rep
Parties should have control 19% 18% 18% 22%
Parties shouldn’t have control 65% 61% 74% 68%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused 16% 21% 8% 10%

 

New Jersey is the only state in the country where county political parties can officially endorse candidates in primary elections and give those candidates preferential placement on the ballot, helping them win. What do you think? Should county parties be allowed to favor some candidates in primary elections?
  All White Black/AA Hisp Asian
Parties should have control 19% 18% 29% 17% 30%
Parties shouldn’t have control 65% 69% 57% 60% 50%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused 16% 13% 14% 23% 20%

 

New Jersey is the only state in the country where county political parties can officially endorse candidates in primary elections and give those candidates preferential placement on the ballot, helping them win. What do you think? Should county parties be allowed to favor some candidates in primary elections?
  Bergen Essex Middlesex Passaic Monmouth
Parties should have control 13% 31% 9% 13% 22%
Parties shouldn’t have control 74% 54% 55% 86% 60%
[Vol] Don’t Know/Refused 13% 14% 36% 2% 19%
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