R-E Poll: What’s Most Important to New Jersey Voters on Election Day?

Despite mudslinging and legislative battles throughout the Garden State echoing national culture wars, New Jersey voters still care most about taxes and the economy and say they will be the biggest factors in casting their ballots on Election Day, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

What voters view as most important varies greatly, but a plurality – a combined 40 percent – volunteer something related to fiscal issues: 18 percent cite the economy, 16 percent say taxes, including property taxes, and six percent cite something about cost of living and affordability.

“At the end of the day, New Jersey voters will always be concerned with pocketbook issues first and foremost,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “The culture wars redux we have seen this election cycle may sound nice in soundbites and mailers and may galvanize some in each party’s base and persuade some in the middle. But Democrats, Republicans and independents alike say they are most concerned about the economy, cost of living and taxes – and plan to vote with these issues in mind.”

Meanwhile, 11 percent mention something about the importance of candidate partisanship or ideology, while nine percent mention something about the candidate’s character, honesty and integrity.

As for the issues that been at the forefront this election cycle, six percent cite something about abortion and reproductive issues as most important to their vote and three percent mention education.

Four percent of voters say immigration is the most important issue to their vote, while three percent mention human and civil rights and another two percent mention guns, whether in terms of rights or control.

When directly asked about certain issues and the impact each will have on their vote, fiscal matters are once again the most powerful: 87 percent say affordability and cost of living is a major factor to their vote, another 87 percent say the same about the economy, and 83 percent say this about taxes. One in 10 say affordability and costing of living as well as the economy at large are a minor factor to their vote; 14 percent say taxes are minor to their vote. Large majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans alike agree that these fiscal issues are major factors to their vote.

“Let’s not forget that these fiscal issues almost cost Governor Murphy reelection in 2021, and they will no doubt be near the top of voters’ minds as they cast their ballots on Election Day,” noted Koning. “Voters in these kinds of low-turnout, low-interest elections grasp at the few pieces of information they know– like their own finances, partisanship, and ideology – when voting, especially when they may not be familiar with the candidates themselves or their platforms.”

As for some of the more prevalent issues discussed this election cycle, 59 percent say abortion will be a major reason for who they choose on Election Day; another 21 percent say it’s a minor factor and 17 percent say it isn’t a factor at all. The importance of this issue is concentrated among Democrats, with 79 percent saying it is a major factor to their vote compared to half of independents and just over a third of Republicans. Forty-six percent of all voters say support of abortion and reproductive rights would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 23 percent say they would be just as likely to vote for a candidate regardless of their support for the issue and 21 percent say it would make them less likely to vote for a candidate; nine percent are unsure.

Additional parental involvement in education – another heated issue this cycle framed by Republicans as “parental rights” – is a factor to some degree for three-quarters of voters: 47 percent say it’s a major factor, and another 29 percent say it’s a minor one. Nineteen percent say parental control isn’t a factor for them at all, however. The issue plays best, unsurprisingly, with Republican voters: 70 percent say it is a major factor to their vote. Forty-six percent of independents feel the same, as do 37 percent of Democrats. Among all voters, 38 percent say support of additional parental involvement in educational issues would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 32 percent say they would be just as likely to vote for a candidate regardless of their support for the issue, and 17 percent say it would make them less likely to vote for a candidate; 12 percent are unsure.

“While about half of independents say abortion and added parental involvement will be a major factor to their vote choice, about one in five among this group say it will have no impact at all,” said Jessica Roman, a research associate at ECPIP. “Election Day will depend, in part, on how these independents decide to swing and which kinds of independents will turn out.”

The electric vehicles mandate and offshore wind are on the minds of voters to some extent, as well: 34 percent say the former is a major factor (another 27 percent say it is a minor factor) to their vote, while 27 percent say the latter is a major factor (another 41 percent say minor). These environmental issues aren’t on the radar at all for a number of voters this election, but electric vehicles in particular are more of a concern for Republicans compared to their partisan counterparts. Among all voters, 12 percent say a candidate’s support of these issues would make them more likely to vote for the candidate. A third say they would be just as likely to vote for the candidate regardless of their support for the electric vehicles mandate; 40 percent say the same regarding offshore wind. About half say supporting the electric vehicles mandate would make them less likely to vote for a candidate, while three in 10 percent say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports offshore wind efforts.

Though not as widely discussed on campaign trails this time around, gun violence is still weighing heavily on voters: 70 percent say it is a major factor to their upcoming vote and another 17 percent say it’s a minor factor. Almost all Democrats (94 percent) say this is a major factor to their vote, as do 60 percent of independents; 41 percent of Republicans feel the same. More than half of all voters say a candidate’s support of limitations and restrictions on firearms would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 15 percent say they would be just as likely to vote for a candidate regardless of their support for the issue and 26 say it would make them less likely to vote for a candidate; four percent are unsure.

Among registered voters, half say they will vote for Democrats for their State Assembly on Election Day, and 33 percent say they will vote for Republicans; eight percent are still unsure just days away from the election. Similarly, half say they will vote for a Democrat for State Senate and 34 percent say they will vote for a Republican; 11 percent are unsure. Independents are slightly more likely to favor Republicans than Democrats in each, but differences are not statistically significant.

Whether questions about election issues were asked before or after asking vote choice for the State Assembly and Senate doesn’t make a difference; in other words, priming the respondent to think about the main issues debated this election cycle didn’t influence their vote choice. Assessing vote choice among those who have already voted or say they will definitely vote makes literal difference in vote choice or how much influence issue priming had.

Regardless of who they plan to vote for, voters’ views of the New Jersey State Legislature are lackluster: 22 percent have a favorable impression of the governing body and 25 percent have an unfavorable impression. A plurality 46 percent – simply have no opinion on the legislature at all; seven percent are unsure of what the state legislature even is.

Results are from a statewide poll of 974 adults contacted through the probability-based Rutgers-Eagleton/SSRS Garden State Panel from November 3 to 5. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points. The registered voter subsample contains 826 registered voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percentage points.

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