NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Despite giving Gov. Chris Christie a lead over state Sen. Barbara Buono, half of likely voters want Democrats to retain control of the New Jersey Legislature in November, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Only 38 percent want to give Republicans a chance to take charge in Trenton.

In another sign that the GOP governor’s legislative coattails seem short, voters say they will choose Democratic candidates for Assembly and Senate seats by double-digit margins. Nearly 50 percent are voting or leaning Democratic for their local Assembly races, while 32 percent support Republicans. Results are similar for state Senate races.

At the same time, voter impressions of the Democrat-controlled Legislature are nearly evenly split: 33 percent have a favorable impression, 32 percent an unfavorable impression and 34 percent have no opinion or remain unsure.

“The statewide ballot tests do not address individual races,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “But they do give us a sense of how the voters are feeling. Right now they seem to be quite happy to split their tickets, supporting a Republican governor and a Democratic Legislature.”

Voters continue to overwhelmingly favor a constitutional amendment raising the state’s minimum wage. By a 76 percent to 22 percent margin, likely voters support the November ballot question to increase the minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 per hour. Over half of Republicans plan to vote for the increase, despite Christie’s earlier veto of a similar measure.

“This level of support for a minimum wage increase has been unwavering since the Legislature defied Christie and placed the question on the ballot,” noted Redlawsk. “Even the governor’s supporters are more likely than not to want the measure passed.”

Results are from a sample of 568 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points, part of a poll of 925 adult New Jerseyans conducted statewide from Sept. 3-9, with both landline and cell phone households. Included were 814 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points, from which the likely voter sample is taken.

Christie coattails seem short

Since April, Democrats have held a wide lead over Republicans in a statewide test of November’s Assembly and Senate races. Likely voters now prefer Democrats for Assembly by a 46 percent to 30 percent margin (49-32, when “leaners” are included) and 48 percent to 33 percent for the Senate (50-35, with leaners.)

At a similar point two years ago, Democrats held a 10- to 12-point advantage over Republicans, going on to hold all their Senate seats and gain one in the Assembly.

Even among those with a favorable impression of the governor, Christie’s sway is limited: 42 percent of these voters will vote GOP for the Assembly, but 30 percent will vote for Democrats. Those who dislike Christie are more united: 75 percent plan to support Democratic Assembly candidates, while only 10 percent will support Republicans.

Among those committed to voting for Christie, Republicans do better – leading 50 percent to 22 percent – but those voting for Buono overwhelmingly choose Democrats, 82 percent to 5 percent.

“While some individual races will be highly competitive and seats could change hands, Democrats seem to be where they need to be statewide,” noted Redlawsk. “History suggests the GOP needs to be much closer in this generic ballot test to make major inroads across the state.”

Since Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans among likely voters here, GOP chances are hurt in statewide ballot tests because most plan to vote their party. In Assembly races, 86 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans will not cross party lines. More importantly, despite their strong support for Christie, independents are less certain when it comes to the Assembly: 34 percent favor Republicans, 26 percent Democrats and 35 percent are undecided or do not plan to cast a ballot. A few plan to split their votes.

Among likely voters with a favorable impression of the Legislature, Democrats lead Republicans by 37 points. Among the Legislature’s detractors, likely Republicans voters hold a nine-point lead. While the large number of undecided independents could still sway things toward the GOP, Redlawsk noted that historically, this has not been the case, with many simply not voting.

A similar story plays out for the Senate, where voters with a favorable impression of Christie are 15 points more likely to vote for a Republican; those who say they will vote for the governor are 31 points more likely to do so. But 78 percent of his detractors and 85 percent of Buono voters will vote for a Senate Democrat, compared to only 11 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of those groups who say they will go for the GOP.

As with the Assembly, voters will stick with their party for the Senate. Independents lean toward the GOP, 35 percent to 28 percent, but the difference is not enough to swing the test ballot.

Voters’ preferences for control the Legislature play out like the vote itself. Democrats and leaners in either the Assembly or Senate races overwhelmingly want Democrats to remain in control, while Republicans and their leaners strongly want their party to be the majority. Independents are 14 points more likely to side with the GOP, but again, this is not a large enough margin to overcome the much greater number of Democrats than Republicans in the state.

While those voting for Christie prefer Republican control of the Legislature by 2 to 1, about eight in 10 Buono supporters want Democrats in control, showing again that Buono supporters are more likely to stick with the party line than are Christie voters.

Minimum wage gets support across partisan divide

With 76 percent of all likely voters favoring the minimum wage constitutional amendment, support is strong and widespread. More than 60 percent of Christie supporters favor the amendment despite the governor’s opposition, while 94 percent of Buono backers favor the increase. Majority support for the amendment crosses party lines, though at different levels: 93 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 58 percent of Republicans want to see the amendment passed.

Women are much stronger supporters, 82 percent to 68 percent. Support decreases as income increases, though 68 percent in the highest income bracket still support the measure. In comparison, 83 percent in the lowest income bracket would vote for the amendment.

“While those working in minimum-wage jobs could certainly be expected to support this amendment, people at all economic levels seem to have sympathy for how hard it is to make ends meet in a low-wage job,” said Redlawsk. “Women may be the most affected by this proposal, since nationally they hold more than 60 percent of minimum-wage jobs. But support is not all about self-interest. Otherwise, it would be far lower than it actually is.”

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