Friday, November 9, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and the Election in New Jersey

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

An unknown number of provisional ballots remain to be counted in New Jersey, but a few threads are emerging on the presidential election.  Turnout in the Garden State was down by a lot.  Currently, the number of people who casts votes in the presidential election about 500,000 less than in 2008 – about a 14% drop.

That gap will certainly shrink as provisional ballots are tallied, but it will still mark the biggest drop in turnout of all the states.  Nationwide estimates provided by Edison Research of Somerville – the firm that conducts the TV networks’ exit poll – suggest that turnout will only have dropped by about 2% nationally compared to 2008.  New Jersey’s turnout is far behind that figure.
Let’s assume that total turnout in New Jersey ends up being nearly 3.5 million.  This represents about 63% of registered voters, which would be the lowest percentage on record since 1972, when 18-year olds were given the right to vote.  But the voter rolls may not be the best base for comparison.  Registration numbers took a big jump in 2008 because of concerted registration efforts and in 1996 because of the Motor Voter law. Prior to that, fewer eligible voters were actually registered.
If we consider turnout as a percentage of the total voting age population (VAP) or of the voting eligible population (VEP), this year’s numbers hold up against past elections.  Using about 3.5 million voters as a final estimate, New Jersey turnout may wind up being 51% of VAP or 59% of VEP.  Those results either match or exceed statewide turnout in both 1996 and 2000.
Given what the state has gone through over the past two weeks, these turnout numbers don’t look all that bad.
Now let’s look at how New Jersey voted in the presidential contest.  Nationwide, Barack Obama’s winning margin was smaller than it was in 2008.  This trend was true in nearly every state.  In fact, only four states showed Obama improve on his margin from four years ago.
These four states include Alaska, where he narrowed his losing gap by 8 points, and the Gulf States of Louisiana and Mississippi, where he lost by about a point and a half less than in 2008.
And this group also includes one blue state where Obama actually increased his winning margin.  That would be New Jersey, where the president’s margin went from about 15.5 points in 2008 to 17 points this year.
It’s worth noting that polls conducted before Hurricane Sandy hit the state showed Obama with only a 12 point lead on average.  It’s also worth noting that those same polls showed U.S. Senate incumbent Bob Menendez with an average 19 point lead – which is what he actually got on Election Day.
There is no doubt that Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy had an impact on how New Jersey voted in the presidential race -- 54% of New Jersey voters told exit pollsters that Obama's response to the disaster was an important factor in their vote.  Some observers, though, put Obama's winning margin down to a lower turnout in the harder hit Republican shore towns.  This certainly happened, but Democratic urban areas were also affected.
Using the preliminary vote counts, turnout in Ocean County was down about 19% compared to 2008.  But it was also down 19% in Essex County and 17% in Hudson County.
The difference is who turned out in those counties.  Obama cut his losing margin in Ocean County from about 18.5 points in 2008 to 17.5 points in 2012.  And he improved his winning margins in Essex by 3 points and Hudson by 9 points.
In Gloucester County, an area of the state spared most of Sandy’s wrath, turnout was down by just 4%.  Obama’s winning margin there went from 12 points in 2008 to just under 11 points this year.  Based on this result, even if more voters could have made it out to vote, Obama’s statewide margin may have dropped by only a couple of points.  This is still better than how he was doing in Garden State polls prior to Sandy.
A note on national polling:
It appears that nearly all national polls performed well within their individual margins of error, but most – including Monmouth’s – had a slight Republican skew in the nominal horse race.  So all those folks who claimed that we needed to “unskew” the polls were partially right.  They just had it in the wrong direction – which they would never admit, of course.  As Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Karl Rove, “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better or is this real?”  As we now know, it’s definitely not the latter.
My first-read suggests that the pollsters who came closest to the mark – which may end up being as much as a 3 point win for Obama when all the votes are counted – employed samples with more voters who are contactable by cell phone only.  This gibes with the exit poll findings that showed an increase in the proportion of the electorate who were under the age 30 or not Caucasian (i.e. Black, Latino, and Asian).  Young voters made up 19% of the electorate – compared to 18% in 2008 – and non-white voters comprised 28% of the electorate – up from a then-record 26% in 2008.
These groups are emerging as solid Democratic voting blocs.  As recently as eight years ago, young voters and Asians, and to a lesser extent Latinos, were much more up for grabs to the GOP.  Now they are solidly Democratic – and they are reachable only by cell phone or other electronic device.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Will the Sun Shine for Mitt Romney?

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Which state is the must-watch harbinger for this year’s election?  Is it Ohio, or Iowa, or even Wisconsin?  All of those states are keys to victory in one way or another.  But the make or break state this year is Florida.

This is not the same situation as the nail-biter in 2000.  It is unlikely that Florida’s 29 electoral votes will ultimately be responsible for putting either candidate over the top in this year’s Electoral College count.  Florida, though, will determine whether Mitt Romney can win.

Political pundits of the bean counter ilk have come up with a variety of Electoral College scenarios that would put Mitt Romney in the White House (a good one is here).  But it’s important to note that all of these scenarios hinge on the assumption that Romney takes Florida.

A win in Florida does not guarantee a Mitt Romney victory, but a Sunshine State loss almost certainly hands Barack Obama another term.

With little more than three weeks to go before Election Day, eight states are currently considered to be the battlegrounds based on polling and where the candidates are spending their resources.  These are New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada.  Among this group, Florida is probably the most likely to go for Romney based on recent electoral performance.

In 2008, John McCain lost Florida by less than 3 percentage points.  He lost Ohio by 4, Virginia by 6 and each of the remaining 2012 toss-up states by 9 points or more.  In 2004, George W. Bush won Florida by 5 points, second only to his 8 point margin in Virginia among these eight states.  Bush won Colorado by just under 5 points, Ohio and Nevada by about 2 points each, and Iowa by 1 point.  He narrowly lost Wisconsin and New Hampshire to John Kerry.

In other words, if Mitt Romney loses Florida, he is unlikely to have an edge in any other battleground state.  In fact, if he loses Florida, he would have to run the table in those seven other states in order to be elected.  Highly improbable.

On the other hand, if Romney does take Florida, his path to victory is a little easier than it appeared just two weeks ago.  For instance, he could sweep the five smallest states (NH, WI, IA, CO, and NV).  Or swap out Iowa and Nevada for Virginia and Romney would still win.  All without Ohio!  Based on recent polling, this is not outside the realm of possibility.

We’ll find out – hopefully – on November 6th.  As Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Veep Debate has Consequences

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ 

Joe Biden mugged, laughed and interrupted.  Paul Ryan was more composed, but perhaps a little geeky.  Both sides firmly believe their candidate won.  And that could be bad news for the Republican ticket.
There is little doubt that Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate last week.  Even Barack Obama’s most ardent supporters had to concede this fact.  Some – read Chris Matthews – reacted as if their team’s ace closer gave up a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.
What caught many less partisan observers by surprise, though, is the extent to which that debate changed the election’s dynamic.  Usually, it takes an outright gaffe to move the needle on horse race numbers.  However, Mitt Romney’s solid and workmanlike performance coupled with Barack Obama’s lack of game revealed just how volatile this electorate is.
In the national Monmouth University Poll released yesterday, 9% of likely voters claim that they changed their vote intention as a result of the debate.  Taking into account this group’s current support, this accounts for up to a 4 or 5 point swing in intended vote over the past week.  That is precisely the size of the shift most poll aggregators have shown since the debate.
It’s worth noting that Pres. Obama’s poll lead peaked at 4 points the week before the debate on both the RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster trackers.  It was already on a downward trend leading into the debate and stood at 3 points on October 3.  However, that downward trajectory accelerated immediately following the debate.
So why won’t the VP debate help the Romney-Ryan ticket or at least maintain the status quo for the Republicans?  Because Thursday’s face-off reinstated the highly charged partisan rhetoric that had dominated this race and was turning off those independent voters who were positively impressed by Romney in the first debate.
During the past week, voters have enjoyed a bit of a hiatus – at least on the national level if not in swing states – of the partisan flame-throwing that has characterized this campaign.  Starting with last week’s presidential debate through to Mitt Romney’s recent stump speeches, we have seen a more moderate campaign theme from the Republican side while the Democrats have been forced into a defensive posture.
The VP debate now gives both sides’ supporters permission to re-engage in the “My guy is right, your guy sucks” line of attacks that only serve to turn off voters in the middle.  These are the voters whom Romney tentatively won over last week.  But they are not fully committed to him.
If the campaign returns to 24/7 partisan bickering – as I sense it will – those voters will likely desert Romney.  They will either stick with the devil they know or choose not to vote at all.  In this scenario, the incumbent benefits.
Paul Ryan may have held his own and Joe Biden may have been off-putting.  But the end result is that we are likely back to the campaign we saw before the first presidential debate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Chris Christie Really Said

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ 
The reaction to Chris Christie’s speech in a nutshell?  Hard core Republicans are disappointed he didn’t call Barack Obama an “idiot” and hard core Democrats are disappointed he did not say he was “tired of dealing with the crazies” in his own party.  If you look past these unrealistic expectations, though, you will find a speech that is a throwback to loftier days of partisan battles.  Chris Christie  engaged in the kind of rhetoric that politicians should use more often.
Yes, you read that correctly!  Let me explain.
First we need to acknowledge that this speech was more about Chris Christie than anything else.  I think the Romney camp would have been happier if he delivered only the middle part of the speech, where he laid out the differences between Republican and Democratic ideas and gave a rousing call for Mitt Romney’s leadership. 
If you read between the lines, though, he laid out a clear and compelling vision of where he wants the Republican Party to position itself.  He told us what he feels the Republican Party – and by extension, American politics – should be about.
Keep in mind, I am not judging his speech on its accuracy.  Certainly, when he talked about balancing the budget with “lower taxes,” a typical New Jerseyan’s income and property tax statements may tell a different story.  Moreover, claims that his brand of “bipartisanship” is transferable are debatable. 
However, to judge his speech solely on its accuracy is an unfair test.  All political speeches bend the truth.  The question is how much confidence in our political system was evident in this speech. 
An odd question, to be sure.  But if you listen to the partisan din coming from both the left and the right, our country’s political dialogue has degenerated.  Political debate has boiled down to competing assertions that Armageddon is imminent if the other side wins.
Hard-core partisans of both stripes give lip service to the “genius” of our system of government, but their words tell a much different story.  Their fire and brimstone rhetoric reveals a deep-seated lack of faith that our republic can survive four years of being governed under a political philosophy other than their own.
It’s not that they simply disagree with the other party’s agenda – it’s that the other party’s agenda by definition, is the handiwork of Satan.  And unfortunately, when these hard core ideologues gain power, they create the kind of gridlock that proves them right.  Perhaps our system of government is in peril – not because either side is completely wrong, but because neither side is completely right and isn’t humble enough to admit it.
It’s on this measure that I judge Chris Christie’s speech a success.
The governor talked about the Republican Party being the party that is willing to talk in hard truths and hard choices.  And how Republican leadership leads to success.  He also drew clear distinctions between the two parties – about who they stand with and what they believe.  He attacked Democrats to be sure – as the party afraid to face hard truths and make tough choices; the party that believes people are not willing to make sacrifices; and the party that stands more with unions than workers.  He even got in a dig against the incumbent president being overly concerned with opinion polls.
He summed up his view of the Republican brand by saying “Our ideas are right for America and their ideas have failed America.”  He could have easily said that the Democrats’ ideas have “destroyed” America, as others in his party have.  So, it is commendable that he did not engage in, literally, destructive rhetoric.
What he avoided talking about at all is also revealing.  Earlier in the convention, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell summed up much of the day by boiling down the GOP platform to “the sanctity of life, the 2nd amendment, and a balanced budget” – apparently in that order.
That’s why it was glaringly obvious that priorities number 1 and 2 were completely absent from Christie’s speech. He was saying regardless of what we personally believe on social issues they should not dominate our political discourse.  Christie’s ability to separate his views on social issues from his governing agenda has brought him success in New Jersey.  Of course, the question remains whether he can become a national contender without taking on those issues, but his speech indicated that he’s going to try.
In the end, hardcore partisans – those who reside in their respective echo chambers – emerged with strongly divergent views of Christie’s performance.  But I was most intrigued by the feedback I heard from some longtime Democratic voters who watched the speech.
They are not fans of Chris Christie and don’t agree with his policies here in New Jersey.  As may be expected, they didn’t think he gave a great speech.  However, the most telling commentary from these Democrats was that the speech “didn’t bother” them.  They would never vote Republican, but they weren’t fearful of the vision Christie laid out.
So, I judge Chris Christie’s speech a success because he was able to be partisan without demonizing the other side.  And that is a major step in the right direction.
Of course, we’ll have to see if this kindler, gentler Christie is still evident at his next Jersey Shore boardwalk confrontation.  For one night, though, Chris Christie gave us a glimpse of what a respectful, partisan campaign can look like.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paul Ryan’s Impact on Undecided Voters

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Looking at it from a number of ways, it’s difficult to see how the selection of Paul Ryan as vice presidential nominee makes Mitt Romney’s path to 270 Electoral College votes any easier.
This has nothing to do with Congressman Ryan’s qualifications to be Vice President.  He’s smart, thoughtful and policy driven.  He clearly passes the primary hurdle:  Can this person step in if something happens to the President.  By that measure, Mitt Romney made a solid pick that reflects well on his decision-making ability as a potential Chief Executive – which is after all how voters really assess the meaning of the VP selection.
Moreover, Paul Ryan has the potential – albeit untested – to be good on the stump.  His personable demeanor and command of the issues should serve him well in that capacity.
The primary reason for rating this pick as a net negative is how it changes the narrative in a way that likely makes it easier for Barack Obama’s campaign to pick up voters who matter most.
As with other recent presidential contests, this race comes down to just 20% of the potential electorate in about a dozen swing states.  Most states are too “red” or “blue” to be in play. And even in the few competitive states, about 4-in-5 voters have already locked in their choice.
Many proponents of the choice point out that Paul Ryan should play well among voters in those states.  And I fully expect that polls from now through the Tampa convention will give Romney a bounce.  But it’s important to look past the ephemeral horse race numbers and examine the underlying dynamic on the issue that may now drive this race – namely, who is better positioned to use Medicare to their advantage.
While polls show that voters tend to side with Ryan on debt reduction, past history shows that national debt and federal budget deficits take a back seat to other issues for undecided voters.
Here’s my initial take on why the pick was made and why it may be a net negative.
Some say Romney needed to energize his base.  That’s baloney.  As the GOP primary exit polls indicated – supporters of Romney’s more conservative opponents would eventually get in line.  He might have some trouble with the Ron Paul crowd, but they lack an alternative in November.
By election day, antipathy toward Obama would make the GOP electorate a sure bet to turn out.  Furthermore, Romney’s stellar fundraising numbers suggest that any lack of enthusiasm his campaign is hearing from conservative activists is out of proportion to its practical impact.
Some also say a “boring” pick would have dragged down the ticket.  Wrong.  That news “story” would have lasted a week.  It would have taken a back seat by Tampa specifically because of its lack of controversy.
Some say Romney needed to take control of the narrative.  This part is true.  But the Ryan pick doesn’t do that.  And here’s where the risk lies.
Up until now the election was about jobs and the economy.  Paul Ryan charged in his first appearance as the putative nominee that Pres. Obama was able to get every item on his agenda passed in his first two years and things still didn’t get better.  The Romney campaign has not been able to focus undecided voters fully on this message.
However, rather than changing the narrative, the Ryan pick actually amplifies the trajectory of the current one.
To date, the Obama camp has nullified the Romney attacks by basically making a tacit admission that they haven’t been successful in sparking job growth, but they have tried. The underlying message is that at least they care about it, whereas Mitt Romney is, at best out of touch and at worst contemptuous of the middle class.
Mitt Romney now has to answer for the Ryan budget plan, despite his claim that he has his own plan.  And that doesn’t change the narrative, but amplifies the current one.  The Obama line now will be:  “Not only does Romney want to kill jobs, he wants to take away your safety net too.”
Those attacks can be characterized as distortions and perhaps outright lies.  But it doesn’t matter when you understand what best motivates the 20% of voters up for grabs in those swing states.  And that is fear.
These are people who, for the most part, have been able to hold on to their jobs and muddle through the economic doldrums.  But they aren’t enthused about the incumbent’s performance.
A good number of these potential voters were Obama supporters in 2008.  They won’t vote for a Republican, but were likely to sit this one out.  They are doing okay and don’t see Romney as a threat to their current well-being.  However, they are counting on Medicare coverage because they won’t have enough money to pay for private health care when they retire.  These are the sleeping dogs that the Ryan pick now threatens to waken.
Other voters in that 20% block are typical undecided voters.  They don’t pay close attention to policy and tend to vote with their gut.  It’s much easier to make someone afraid of the unknown than the known.  And that probably means that Florida, where the current polling average has the race at 1 or 2 point margin, is probably now off the table.
On the face of it, the Ryan pick should have been a boon to voters.  It took an esoteric debate about management style and potentially raises it to a dialogue about clearly different visions on government’s role in society.
Unfortunately, that conversation will be drowned out by what will probably be the nastiest presidential campaign of the media age.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Don’t Forget the Guys!

 Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

While her husband John spent the sweltering summer of 1776 pushing for a new American government, Abigail Adams famously reminded him: “Don’t forget the ladies.” That certainly seems to be a rallying cry for the current U.S. Senate race in New Jersey. 

The bottom line, as described in more detail here, is that GOP challenger Joe Kyrillos took a week in August to make a public push for the “women’s vote.”  The campaign of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez immediately pushed back, saying that Kyrillos’ legislative voting record was poor on “women’s issues.”

The partisan gender gap in voting has been well established. While the Republican nominee doesn’t expect to win New Jersey women outright, he is probably hoping to lose by a narrow margin, similar to what Chris Christie accomplished in his successful 2009 run for governor.

It’s worth taking a look at how the exit poll that year broke down the vote by gender.

2009 Christie  Corzine    Net
 Women    45%    50%    -5
 Men    53%    40%  +13

Christie lost the female vote by just 5 points on the strength of questioning whether Corzine’s policies benefited New Jersey families. But gubernatorial elections are not the same as campaigns for national office, where a different set of issues are at play.

So it’s also worth looking at the vote by gender for the last two U.S. Senate races, both won by Democrats

2008 Zimmer  Lautenberg    Net
 Women     41%       58%   -17
 Men     45%       54%     -9

2006  Kean     Menendez     Net
 Women     41%          57%    -16
 Men     48%          49%      -1

In each of those two races, the Republican candidate lost the vote of women by 16 to 17 points. So, how does the current race look when it comes to voting by gender?

2012 Women Kyrillos  Menendez   Net
Quinnipiac 7/18     30%      52%  -22
Monmouth/APP 7/26     29%      43%  -14
FDU Public Mind 8/2     30%      44%  -14

According to the last three polls covering this race, Joe Kyrillos is trailing among women by anywhere from 14 to 22 points. This is much more in line with recent senate elections than it is with the most recent gubernatorial contest.

The polls also reveal another interesting dynamic of this race. Currently, Joe Kyrillos trails among men in the polls, by anywhere from 4 to 10 points.

2012 Men Kyrillos   Menendez   Net
Quinnipiac 7/18     38%      43%    -5
Monmouth/APP 7/26     36%      40%    -4
FDU Public Mind 8/2     36%      46%  -10

Chris Christie may have lost the female vote in 2009, but he won the male vote by 13 points, accounting for his more than 3 point win that year. The two GOP Senate candidates lost the male vote – Dick Zimmer by 9 points in 2008 and Tom Kean, Jr. by 1 point in 2006.

In other words, Christie did not win in 2009 by closing the gender gap. In fact the gap was even wider than the two prior senate contests. He won men by 13 points and lost women by 5 points – an 18 point net gender gap. This compares to a net gap of 8 points in the 2008 senate race and 15 points in 2006.

If Joe Kyrillos wants to close in on Bob Menendez, does he need to do better among women or among men? The answer is both.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Random Thoughts on this Month in NJ Politics

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ
Voter Enthusiasm -
No one really thinks that Barack Obama is going to win New Jersey by the 15 point margin he commanded in 2008.  But his current lead among registered voters – 11 points in last week’s Quinnipiac Poll and 13 points in this week’s Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll suggests he might not be far from that mark. 
Those results are among registered voters, though.  Among likely voters it will be closer.  Monmouth’s model has the lead narrowing to 8 points.  Voters who cast their ballots in any given election tend to be slightly more Republican than the total registered voter pool.  GOP voters are simply more consistent.  This difference is usually very small in presidential elections when the vast majority of registered voters show up.
It’s important to keep in mind that summer polls are still subject to the whims of an unsettled electorate.  Wide variations from poll to poll, and from registered voter samples to likely voter samples, are not unusual.  Two recent national polls using registered voter samples showed either Barack Obama up by 6 points (NBC/Wall Street Journal) or the race as a tie (Gallup).  Another poll, using a likely voter sample, showed Mitt Romney ahead by 4 points (Rasmussen, which tends to be Republican-leaning).
Where the summer polls are really useful is understanding the dynamics behind voter attitudes.  A big difference between this year and 2008 is the shifting partisan enthusiasm gap.  Four years ago, a national Gallup poll showed that 61% of Democrats reported feeling more enthusiastic than usual about voting, while only 35% of Republicans felt the same.  The voters in New Jersey mirrored that sentiment, with 66% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans feeling more enthusiastic.
That sentiment has reversed this year.  Gallup reports that 51% of Republicans are now more enthusiastic than usual, while only 39% of Democrats feel the same.   Here in New Jersey, we’ve also seen a shift, with 53% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats feeling more enthused.  While the Garden State numbers have moved, they haven’t moved as far as the national numbers.  This is why Mitt Romney will look elsewhere for a 2008 Obama state to flip into his column.
Endless Summer Tax Cut Tour -
An across-the-board tax cut was supposed to be Gov. Chris Christie’s major accomplishment in his 2013 re-election bid.  Some sort of tax cut, for which he would have received most of the credit, looked to be in the offing.  That was until negative revenue projections gave Democrats an opening to put the kibosh on it.
The governor believes that he can move recalcitrant legislators by rallying the public to his side.  The polling indicates that he should be able to shift opinion on this.  The question is by how much.
This week’s Monmouth poll found that 54% of New Jerseyans feel it is better to hold any tax cuts until revenues improve.  Just 37% say it would be better to go ahead with a cut now.  These numbers are slightly different from last week’s Quinnipiac poll, which found 49% support for the wait-and-see approach and 43% who wanted to forge ahead.
The main difference between the two polls is that Quinnipiac ‘s poll question attached these options to the Democrats and Gov. Christie, respectively.  The Monmouth poll question did not anchor these positions to any elected official.  This suggests that the governor’s support leads some residents to overcome their initial reluctance on moving ahead with a cut. 
This interpretation is supported by another Monmouth poll finding that those less tuned in to the tax cut debate are more likely to prefer the wait and see approach than those who have been keeping track of where the major players stand on the issue.
The more people hear where the governor stands, the more people he can sway to his side.  Hence, the Endless Summer Tax Cut Tour.  The question is whether Gov. Christie can break above the 43% mark set by the Quinnipiac Poll.  Stay tuned.
Judicial Pensions -
In addition to the tax cut, Democrats have handed Gov. Christie a few tough losses this year.  Topping the list is the unprecedented rejection of not just one, but two, Supreme Court nominees. 
When the Supreme Court – or at least two justices and a fill-in – decided that increasing judges’ benefits contributions is unconstitutional, I expected legislators to talk a good game but drag their heals on any real action.
I have to admit my surprise that the State Senate moved so quickly to put a constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot.  Of course, the Senate resolution had already cleared committee.  So it wasn’t a heavy lift to hold the required public hearing this week – bet you missed that – and schedule a vote next week. 
The resolution needs to be approved next week, because the Constitutions stipulates a three month timeline for public notification. Which means the amendment needs to be printed in local newspapers by August 6.
The Constitution also requires that proposed amendments “shall be printed and placed on the desks of the members of each house” at least 20 days before being voted upon.  Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
While the resolution was placed on senators’ desks on June 21st, there has been no such action with the companion resolution in the Assembly.  Apparently, the legislature is able to move this through the Assembly using “emergency procedures” to replace the Assembly resolution with the Senate version as read.

I am fully aware that the Constitution allows the legislature to suspend requirements for 2nd and 3rd readings of a resolution.   But I did not realize they could also suspend other Constitutional provisions pertaining to amendments.  In other words, the legislature can deem that a “virtual reality” resolution had been placed on Assembly members’ desks.

As one observer remarked to me, “It’s the magic of Trenton.”

Update 7/30 -- The Legislature now reports that the Senate version of the concurrent resolution was in fact placed on Assembly members' desks on June 21, in accordance with Assembly rule 20:1.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Jersey Elections: The View from June

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

If June’s Garden State polls are any indication, 2012 is shaping up a lot like 1996 – at least as far as the Presidential contest is concerned.  And maybe the U.S. Senate race, too... maybe.

The latest Eagleton-Rutgers Poll gives President Barack Obama a 55% favorable to 33% unfavorable rating from Garden State voters.  Sixteen years ago, then-incumbent Bill Clinton held a nearly identical 53% to 35% June rating in New Jersey.
The 1996 poll also gave Clinton a 46% “excellent+good” to 52% “fair+poor” rating.  We don’t have a comparable job rating question this time around.  Nowadays, polls tend to ask a straight “approve/disapprove” question.  However, Eagleton did ask New Jersey voters whether Bill Clinton deserved to be re-elected – to which 51% said yes.  A Quinnipiac Poll last month put Obama’s re-elect number at a nearly identical 52%.
What does this mean? Anything can happen, but given that incumbent elections tend to be referenda on their first terms, Obama is doing as well as Clinton on these underlying benchmark measures.
The 1996 also asked about vote intention.  I am wary of making a direct comparison to current polls because that question was the 17th asked, after a series of questions about familiarity with the candidates.  Current polls tend to ask the vote preference question much sooner in the interview – which has a differential impact on the results.
For what it’s worth, though, the 1996 Eagleton Poll showed Clinton leading Bob Dole by 19 points (53% to 34%).  He won the state by a nearly identical 18 points that November.  Recent New Jersey polls have Obama over Mitt Romney by anywhere from 10 points (Quinnipiac, May 16) to 14 points (Eagleton, June 16).
There’s another interesting factor shared by these two elections – a U.S. Senate seat is also at stake.  The June 1996 Eagleton Poll showed Democrat Bob Torricelli leading Republican Dick Zimmer by 8 points (39% to 31%) in that contest – about half the incumbent President’s poll margin.  Torricelli eventually won that race by 10 points – again, about half the incumbent President’s winning margin.
Recent polls on this year’s New Jersey Senate race put the gap at about the same as the Presidential contest.  A Quinnipiac Poll released last month had incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez leading GOP challenger Joe Kyrillos by 10 points – the same as their Obama-Romney margin.
Of course, GOP boosters point to the 2000 anomaly, where Al Gore bested George W. Bush by 16 points in the Garden State, but had no coattails.  Jon Corzine squeaked past Bob Franks by 3 points, despite spending an astronomical $60 million on the effort.
In June 2000, both Eagleton and Quinnipiac gave Gore a narrow 4 point polling edge in New Jersey, while Corzine held a much wider lead – 10 points in the Eagleton poll and 20 points according to Quinnipiac.  Obviously, these trends flipped by Election Day.
On the other hand, 2012 may be more like 1996 than 2000 since the top-of-ticket coattails belong to an incumbent President.  There is also a difference between 2012 and 1996 that shouldn’t be overlooked.  The current race involves an incumbent Senator while the 1996 contest was for an open seat.
Sixteen years ago, only 1-in-5 voters had formed an opinion of either Senate nominee by this point in the race.  In the current cycle, that 1-in-5 number holds true for Kyrillos – 12% favorable to 8% unfavorable according to Eagleton.  As may be expected, voters are much more familiar with the sitting incumbent, giving Menendez a 33% positive to 20% negative rating in the same poll.  It is worth noting, though, that this six year officeholder is still largely unknown to 4 out of 10 of his constituents.
One factor that could make this race interesting is that the low level of familiarity means that only 26% of voters in an April Monmouth University Poll would definitively state that Menendez deserves to be re-elected.  Another 32% said he did not and 41% couldn’t make a determination either way.
That leaves a lot to ponder.  If these presidential ratings track as they did in 1996, does Obama win by 10 points in November?  And if so, does Menendez hold on to his current lead as well?  Or does the other 1996 dynamic emerge, with Menendez claiming only half the margin that the President gets – thus making it a close race with Kyrillos?
Or does Obama’s vote share start to climb and Menendez’s start to drop over the next few months, a la 2000?
These are just a few potential scenarios based on past performance.  Something to ponder this summer while you are down the shore enjoying a Windmill hot dog or Kohr’s custard.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

NJ Primary Takeaway

Well, not everything turned out as I expected, but I’ll fall back on the fact that I called the winner in every raced involving someone who will actually serve in Congress next year.  (How’s that for spin?)

Turnout was a little higher than I expected.  When all the votes are counted it looks like it might be about 11%.  Specifically, GOP turnout was about 40,000 voters greater than in a typical primary, driven by the novelty of an already-decided Presidential nomination.  But it was Democratic turnout in just two Congressional Districts that put the statewide turnout figure over the 10% mark.  Approximately 110,000 Democratics voted in those two districts alone.  That's about 60-70,000 more than we would expect in a typical primary!
On the headline event of the night, I was right on the winner, Bill Pascrell, but no one – including the victor’s camp – ever dreamed of the numbers he would put up in Passaic County.  Steve Rothman’s negative campaign led to the expected low turnout in Bergen, but not in Passaic, where Pascrell’s ground game – aided by Bill Clinton’s endorsement – contributed to the stunner of the night.
In the 10th district, the race wasn’t as close as I thought it would be – not anywhere close to where I thought it would be. Ron Rice, Jr. intended to challenge the incumbent Congressman, Donald Payne, Sr. before he died, and so had been preparing for a battle.  The Essex County machine had a point to prove against this rabble rouser and turned out monster numbers in the Oranges and elsewhere. Moreover, they were able to produce the same margins in Union County.  Rice may be a tenacious campaigner in Newark, but he go his hat handed to him, barely edging out Nia Gill for a dismal second place finish, 40 percentage points behind the winner, Donald Payne, Jr.
I also, thought that the Monmouth County GOP organizational pick in CD6 would take the nomination over 2010 upstart, Anna Little.  While Little had the Middlesex line, there seemed to be less overall enthusiasm for her grass-roots candidacy this time around.  Moreover, I thought – foolish me – that the Monmouth GOP would make sure it did not suffer a repeat of their candidate’s loss two years ago.
I guess I gave them too much credit.  In 2010, only 14,000 Republicans showed up to vote in the CD6 primary.  In the newly expanded district, that number actually dropped to less than 11,000.  Monmouth party pick, Ernesto Cullari claimed only 2,400 votes in the Monmouth portion of the district! District-wide, he got his clock cleaned, losing the nomination by 40 points.  The Monmouth County GOP has a history of anemic GOTV operations and I know there was little real enthusiasm for Cullari.

But really?! Only 2,400 votes? In some cultures, the Monmouth GOP would be compelled to light itself on fire in the village square from the shame of it all.
Alright, that’s enough ragging.  So what’s the big takeaway for New Jersey from yesterday’s primary?
The few competitive races hinged on settling personal scores more than articulating differing visions of government or the future of the party. 
With that behind us, it’s on to November.  And to save us all some time, I’ll just make most of my picks right now, thanks to the New Jersey redistricting commission:
President: Obama wins the state’s 14 electoral votes
US Senate: Too early to call
CD1: Andrews
CD2: LoBiondo
CD3: Too early too call
CD4: Smith
CD5: Garrett
CD6: Pallone
CD7: Lance
CD8: Sires
CD9: Pascrell
CD10: Payne
CD11: Frelinghuysen
CD12: Holt
LD4: Mosquera
LD16: Too early to call
LD26: DeCroce

Monday, June 4, 2012

NJ Primary Day Outlook

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ
New Jersey primary day is upon us.  There is no significant, over-arching story here.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is just making up things.
Expect a little over 400,000 voters to show up.  That’s less than 10% of eligible voters.  Or about 15% if you just count registered Democrats and Republicans.  This turnout level has been typical for the past decade or so.  [One exception: the February 2008 Presidential primary turnout of more than a third of New Jersey’s electorate.]
So with nothing driving a statewide narrative, let’s go to the play-by-play.
The Bergen-Passaic Smackdown.  Early money gave the edge to Steve Rothman because more voters in this newly-redrawn district knew him as their incumbent Congressman.  But the tide has shifted over the past couple of weeks.  Rothman launched an attack on Bill Pascrell’s “progressive” credentials.  And then kept piling on.  Democratic primary voters predisposed to identify with Rothman’s strident ideology grew a little uneasy with his relentless assault against a fellow Democrat.  That tinge of doubt was enough to provide Pascrell an opening.  And he was handed the golden ticket of a Bill Clinton endorsement.  There are only two people who could possibly sway on-the-fence Democratic primary voters and they are Presidents # 42 and 44.  Bottom line: a photo op in the White House with the incumbent (or the endorsement of a surrogate) is no match for the full-throated support of a Democratic Party Goliath.  Winner:  Pascrell
What could have, and perhaps should have, been a wide open race to fill the seat of deceased Congressman Donald Payne ended up being an endorsement of his legacy – in the form of Donald Payne, Jr. – by most of the party faithful in Essex County.  Most, but not all.  Newark Councilman Ron Rice is a tenacious campaigner.  Importantly, he claims support from the CWA and the SEIU – two unions who can be counted on to actually put feet on the street for GOTV.  If it were just a race between these two, I might give the edge to Rice.  However, the presence of State Senator Nia Gill (who has the line in a divided Hudson County) and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, along with two other candidates, will serve to split the “anti-legacy” vote.  Rice will take a fair share of the Newark vote and do well in the Union County portion of the district, but will come up short. Winner:  Payne (in a close contest)
2010 nominee Anna Little hopes lightning strikes twice and she knocks off the Monmouth County organization’s preferred candidate – this time, Ernesto Cullari.  But it just ain’t gonna happen.  It’s not because the party has gotten any better at GOTV.  Fewer than 14,000 Republicans voted in the last primary – and the only reason more will vote this year is that native son Joe Kyrillos is running for Senate.  The bigger issue is that some of Little’s key supporters have fallen out with her since the last race.  Winner:  Cullari
Conservative David Larsen is taking another crack at incumbent Leonard Lance.  Larsen has positioned himself as a true Reagan conservative.  Lance counters that Larsen didn’t even vote in the 1980 and 1984 Presidential elections.  Larsen fell 8,000 votes short two years ago and will do the same this time around.  Winner:  Lance
Other Races
Incumbents Rob Andrews (D1), Frank LoBiondo (R2), Chris Smith (R4), Scott Garrett (R5), and Albio Sires (D8) have token opposition.  State legislator Joe Kyrillos is facing three un-funded opponents in his bid for the GOP nomination to take on incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Menendez.  The party line picks will win easily in all those contests.
There are also battles to tilt at windmills – I mean, take on the incumbent from 3 Democrats in CD2, 3 Democrats in CD5, and 3 Republicans in CD9.  I don’t have any picks in those races, but it’s worth noting that one of the candidates is running under the slogan, “My Shelter Dog’s Name is Roscoe.”
There are also state legislative primaries in two seats.  Assemblywoman Betty DeCroce  (R26), who was appointed to fill her late husband’s seat, faces a challenge from Anthony Pio Costa.  DeCroce should win easily on name recognition alone.
The more interesting – interesting being a relative term here – primary is in the 16th District.  Democrats Marie Corfield and Sue Nemeth are battling it out to take on incumbent Assemblywoman Donna Simon, who was picked to fill the late Peter Biondi’s seat when he died shortly after the 2011 election.  Corfield – a teacher whose prior claim to fame was as the foil in one of Gov. Christie’s ubiquitous You-Tube moments – ran in that prior election and made a tight race out of what was expected to be an easy Republican win.  Princeton Councilwoman Nemeth claims to have a good ground game, but it will be difficult to overcome the fact that Corfield has the party line in 3 out of the district’s 4 counties.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What the Harris Defeat Means for Christie

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney sent Gov. Chris Christie a very clear message yesterday.  It wasn’t about the defeated Supreme Court nominee Bruce Harris or even the Court itself.  It was about the balance of power within the State House.
Ever since the calendar turned to 2012, legislative Democrats – specifically the leadership who worked closely with the Republican governor in his first two years – have looked for every opportunity to make life uncomfortable for Chris Christie. 
Part of this has to do with turning their attention to their own political ambitions – be it a run for Governor in 2013 or U.S. Senate in 2014.  Indeed, the governor himself has clearly switched to re-election mode, with Exhibit A being a tax cut proposal based on projected revenue growth that would have to outpace the Chinese economy.
While the next election is certainly a driving force in the Democrats’ increasing opposition to Christie, there is something more basic at work.  They’re ticked off at what they see as shabby treatment by the governor.
There are only so many times the governor can take the rhetorical bat out on you before it sticks.  Senator Sweeney’s final straw came last year when the governor caught his legislative compadre unawares on line-item vetoes.  The sense was that the governor understood the Democrats needed to pass their own alternative budget to save political face.  And that the leadership would be given the opportunity, behind closed doors, to protect specific items from the red pen, while the governor could still claim to have sliced the Democrats’ budget.  Christie was having none of that.
So this year, the Democrats embarked on a new tactic, forcing the governor to go on the record with a gay marriage veto and pushing for their own version(s) of a tax cut.  They made it clear that they would not approve Phillip Kwon’s nomination in March and let the governor know it.  That gave Christie the opportunity to rail that “the fix was in” before the process even started and that it was the Democrats, not him, who had politicized the process.
With the Harris nominations, the Democrats appear to have closed ranks and did not inform the governor beforehand.  They did not want to give him the same ammunition, even though it was clear to anyone at the hearing that the die had already been cast.  In fact, Senator Sweeney’s presence throughout the hearing sent the clear message that he was fully behind what transpired.
At the end of the hearing, a number of Democratic Judiciary Committee members said that their decision was about partisan balance – the unwritten tradition that no more than four members of the Supreme Court belong to the same party.
But it wasn’t really about partisan balance on the Court, it was about “Christie balance” between the executive and legislative branches.  Ever since the governor announced his choice of Kwon as the first Asian-American nominee and Harris as the first openly gay nominee, there was a palpable sense in Trenton that Christie was daring the legislature to shoot them down.  Well, they did.  Both sides played partisan politics.
By the way, if Governor Christie truly wants to challenge the Democrats, how about nominating two sitting judges with clear records of jurisprudence, who just happen to be Republicans?  I disagree with the Democrats’ view that Justice Jaynee LaVecchia should be “counted” as a Republican.  But putting up two known, well-qualified judges would make it clear that a refusal to approve would be purely partisan on the Democrats’ part.
During the hearing, Sen. Jen Beck remarked that Harris’s bond experience would bring some fresh perspective to the bench. Wouldn’t appointing Justices with a track record of appellate rulings bring an equally fresh perspective to the current Court?  Just a thought.
At the end of the day, all this intrigue is “inside Trenton” stuff.  The public doesn’t follow Supreme Court nominations and so it will have no direct impact on the governor’s positive approval rating.  However, the message that the Harris vote sends is that the Democratic leadership grows more and more willing to take on the Governor.  This could have a major public impact if this new approach continues throughout the budget process.
Gov. Christie still has very powerful tools on his side, namely the bully pulpit and the veto pen.  You still have to give him the edge in a battle of wills with the legislature.  But Sen. Sweeney and his fellow Democrats are finding ways to make life increasingly difficult.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gov. Christie Poll Rating Differences

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

There have been a couple of queries about Gov. Christie’s poll ratings released by Monmouth University/NJ Press Media this week compared to the numbers put out by Quinnipiac University last week.  Among registered voters, Monmouth has the governor’s positive job rating at 50% while Quinnipiac put it at 59%.

Each organization’s prior polls put the governor’s approval at 55%.  In other words, Quinnipiac zigged (up 4 points) while Monmouth zagged (down 5 points).  Why?

There have been 17 occasions over the past six years where Monmouth and Quinnipiac released New Jersey governor ratings within two weeks of one another.  These most recent results mark the largest ever difference between the two.

Since Chris Christie took office, the two organizations released three polls prior to today that were conducted within two weeks of one another.  In each of those instances, the governor’s job approval rating differed by exactly 3 points – in two instances the Quinnipiac number was higher, while it was lower in the other.

It’s worth taking a dive into the two polls’ demographics to see if anything there accounts for the difference.  Overall, the polls have very similar racial compositions, but Monmouth includes more cell phone interviews (19% compared to 12.5% for Quinnipiac).  This probably leads to a somewhat younger voter group for Monmouth.  In our most recent poll, 24% of the voter sample was under the age of 30.  Quinnipiac did not release their age demographics, but past polls hovered between 18% and 20%.  Younger voters tend to be more Democratic in their political leaning, so this could have an impact.

In fact, there are notable differences in the partisan composition of the two samples.  Monmouth’s poll puts self-identified Democrats at 37% and Republicans at 23% – a 14 point difference.  Quinnipiac’s sample is 34% Democratic and 25% Republican – a smaller 9 point gap.

Over the last 9 months, Quinnipiac released 6 New Jersey polls and Monmouth released 4.  The Democratic advantage in Quinnipiac’s sample ranged from 6 to 12 points during that time.  Monmouth’s Democratic edge was larger, but more stable at 13 to 14 points. New Jersey’s voter rolls puts the registered partisan split at 33% Democratic to 20% Republican – a 13 point gap.

During the past few months, Monmouth’s voter sample ranged from 34% to 37% Democratic and 20% to 23% Republican.  Quinnipiac’s polls ranged from 32% to 35% Democratic and 23% to 27% Republican.  That means Monmouth’s sample tends to be 1 to 4 points more Democratic and a similar 0 to 3 points more Republican than the official voter rolls.  Quinnipiac’s partisan sample tends to range near the Democratic registration numbers – from 1 point below to 2 points above – but is consistently 3 to 7 points higher in its Republican share of registered voters.

All this explains why Quinnpiac’s gubernatorial ratings have been more “Republican” than Monmouth’s in 7 of the last 8 polls conducted in close proximity of one another.  However, it doesn’t explain why the job ratings diverged so much in their recent poll releases.

So, we turn our attention to another culprit: the questionnaire. Both Monmouth and Quinnipiac use consistent question wording when rating the governor.  Monmouth also makes sure the question appears in exactly the same spot on the questionnaire each time we conduct a non-election poll – for the record, that would be question number 2, after a general evaluation of the state of New Jersey.

Quinnipiac, on the other hand plays around with the order in which they ask the governor’s job rating question.  In 8 polls over the past year, they asked Gov. Christie’s job rating as the first question in 3 cases and the 3rd question in one case.  For the remaining four polls, the governor’s rating question was slotted from #10 and #13 in their questionnaire.

When it was the first question, the governor’s positive job rating was only 44% to 47%.  At the number 3 slot, it was 53%.  At #10 or later in the interview, it ranged from 55% to 59%.  It's worth noting that the lower poll numbers came early last year, and were either closer to or even lower than other polls conducted at that time.  Hmmm.

In the most recent Quinnipiac poll, one of the questions preceding Gov. Christie’s rating presented him as a potential nominee for Vice President.  In other words, the survey framed the governor as a national figure before asking voters to rate his job performance.  Could this be why his rating among Republican voters in particular shot up to an astronomical 92%?

Pollsters know that job approval ratings can be impacted by the context of a poll interview.  That’s why most pollsters try to place these key trend questions in the same place in every questionnaire.  This increases our confidence that any changes in a politician’s ratings are due to real shifts in opinion and not an artifact of questionnaire inconsistencies.

I’m willing to venture that first naming Chris Christie as Mitt Romney’s potential running mate before asking New Jerseyans to rate their governor might have had a wee bit to do with the two polls’ divergent trends.

Other theories are most welcome.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Has New Jersey’s Gender Gap Really Closed?

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

An article in the Star-Ledger today reports on a poll that gives President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie the same job approval rating among New Jersey women. This would be big news if true. But I’m not so sure I buy it.

The poll, only conducted among New Jersey women voters, reports that 59% approve of Obama and 57% approve of Christie. The article claims, “The poll confirms a recent trend for Christie who has, for months, been closing the gender gap. In October, a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media poll found women approved of the governor 53 percent to 40 percent.”

One problem with that statement is that since today's poll only surveyed women, there is no way to assess whether there is a gender gap in the current data.

But a much bigger problem with that statement is that it is patently false – the result of selective, or just plain bad, research on the part of this reporter. Yes, the gender gap was closing in October, but it has since opened up again, as the more recent Monmouth poll in February showed.

In fact, every New Jersey poll released since last month showed a significant gender gap for both Governor Christie and President Obama.

Three recent Garden State polls conducted by Monmouth, Quinnipiac, and FDU show President Obama’s marginal approval rating at 54% to 58% among female voters in New Jersey. This is similar to the 59% result in the poll reported today. However, those same three polls set Governor Christie’s approval rating among women at 46% to 50%, lower than the 57% in today’s poll.

Christie Obama  
Poll Men Women   Men Women
Monmouth 2/7*
Approve 59 50 46 56
Disapprove 32 40 47 38
Net+23+10 -1+18
Quinnipiac 2/29
Approve  62  49  46  54
Disapprove  32  44  50  41
Net+30 +5 -4+13
FDU 3/13
Approve  62  46  43  58
Disapprove  27  40  49  34
Net+35 +6 -6+24

* The Monmouth University Poll releases provide gender breakdowns for all residents. The numbers in this table are for registered voters, to be comparable with the other polls.

For background, among all New Jersey voters, all three polls found Governor Christie had higher net job approval ratings than President Obama – between +17 and +20 for Christie and between +6 and +9 for Obama.

On the gender gap, all three polls showed Christie with a whopping positive net rating among male voters – from +23 to +35 – and a smaller net positive rating among women – from +5 to +10. For Obama, his rating among male voters was in negative territory – from -1 to -6 – while  it was decidedly positive among women – from +13 to +24.

And the trend for the three polls suggests that the gender gap for both politicians may have actually widened rather than narrowed over the past six weeks.

Today's poll was conducted for Kean University. Kean started publishing polls last year, but the methodology (sample design, weighting and analysis) is farmed out to a private polling firm. In the past, they have used a Republican polling firm to conduct their surveys. It‘s unclear whether this was true of the current poll, because the article did not report this key methodological detail.

Unlike the three polls cited in the table above, Kean does not subscribe to the National Council on Public Polls principles of disclosure. In other words, it’s impossible from their press release - which is not available online - to assess how the poll was actually conducted. [Note: I emailed the poll director for methodological information, but have not yet received a response.] Aside from the sampling and weighting issues, it’s unknown whether this poll asked the same job rating question as the other three polls.

I am a strong proponent of having a variety of sound public opinion polls covering the same populations and topics. No one poll can be comprehensive. Having a number of pollsters attack different angles of the same policy issue gives us a richer picture of the state of public opinion on that issue.

And as we have seen with election polling, having a plethora of polls enables us to calculate an aggregate projection which tends to be pretty much on target. In terms of office holder job ratings, multiple polls provide an important validity check.

In this case, that validity check does not pan out. A combination of unknown polling techniques and poor reporting has given us a tantalizing front page story line, regardless of its veracity.

Note to the media: this is a must-read from the National Council on Public Polls – 20 Questions a Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results BEFORE deciding whether to report them.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Super Tuesday Looking Good for Romney

A slew of polls were released on the eve of sorta-Super Tuesday.  It’s not quite the stellar lineup originally planned.  Texas pushed its primary back to May because of Congressional redistricting hiccups and Virginia is already in the Mitt Romney column because Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to qualify for the ballot there.  Regardless, the signs point to the inevitability of a Romney nomination if he does well on March 6.
The polling aggregators at both Real Clear Politics and Huffington Post show the closely watched state of Ohio as a dead heat.   However, the trend lines clearly show Romney gaining and Santorum dropping over the past week.  And as we saw last week in Michigan, that trend was predictive of the final outcome.
Importantly, the March 6 primaries feature the two most socially conservative states to hold contests thus far.  These are states where Santorum was expected to do well, but he now clings to a 2 to 3 point lead in Tennessee.  Even in Oklahoma, his poll lead has fallen from around 20 points to 10 in the few polls conducted over the past month.
In the 2008 Republican primaries, two-thirds of voters from Tennessee and Oklahoma called themselves Evangelical Christians, among the highest concentration in the country.  Furthermore, more than 4-in-10 GOP primary voters in these two states said it mattered a great deal to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs.
These are the voters who have been reticent to back Romney.  Forget about the exit poll analysis you have seen claiming that Romney’s weakness is strong conservatives or strong Tea Party supporters.  Those groups are important, but when you strip away the political and demographic characteristics of these groups, the one thing that differentiates their vote choice is whether they are evangelicals.
It’s the Mormon thing.  Romney’s faith may be a sticking point with Protestants, but it doesn’t really bother Catholics.  It’s little surprise that Romney has won every state where Catholics (or Catholics plus Mormons) made up at least 30% of the electorate.
Other than Massachusetts and Vermont, Ohio is the only state in the Super Tuesday lineup where the Catholic vote is expected to top 25%.  [Idaho’s caucuses should have a sizable Mormon vote.]  This looks good for Romney.
It also helps that Santorum’s appeal to blue collar voters fell short in Michigan and looks to do so again in Ohio.  And Ohio, like Tennessee, has a significant number of voters who cast their ballots early.  The Romney campaign has proven itself effective at pumping up the early vote.  In the end, I think Romney will win Ohio by about 4 or 5 points.
But that’s still not enough to get the Romney inevitability train up to speed.  It’ll be what happens in Tennessee and Oklahoma that determines whether the storyline turns to WHEN rather than IF Romney will clinch.  I think Santorum will take Tennessee by 3 or 4 points and Oklahoma by 12.  But if Romney performs well among the large group of evangelical voters who turn out – picking up at least one-third of that vote – it will be a clear sign that this hold-out group has finally started to accept the idea of Mitt Romney as their standard bearer in November.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Jersey’s 2012 Agenda

With Governor Chris Christie about to unveil his new budget, it’s a good time to reconcile the agenda items of various players in New Jersey’s policy process.  Unfortunately, it appears that very few ledger entries line up.
The governor’s State of the State address last month laid out his key agenda items for the year.  These include a 10% income tax cut, reform of drug sentencing laws, and education initiatives such as teacher tenure and charter school expansion.  He is also pushing the recommendations of the Barer Report to merge units of the state’s higher education system, including Rutgers, Rowan, and UMDNJ.
The legislature’s agenda can be found by examining what the Democratic leadership has put on the docket this session. As we all know, same sex marriage was Priority One. Legislative leaders have also been talking about a push for a minimum wage increase and bringing back the so-called millionaires’ tax.
Hmm.  There appears to be no commonality between the gubernatorial and legislative agendas.  But of course, they are doing this for the good of the New Jersey so some of these items must rank high with the public.  Right?
Not quite.  The recent Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll asked Garden State residents to name, in their own words, the most pressing issues facing the state.

Let’s look at how some of the leaders’ agenda items stack up with the issues that occupy their constituents.
Same-sex marriage?  Only 2% of the public name this as one of the state’s most important concerns.
Higher education?  Just 3% say this needs to top the agenda.
Drugs and crime?  That’s a priority for only 5%.
How about an income tax cut or the millionaires’ tax – those have to be important, right?  Just 8% of New Jerseyans say changes to the state’s income tax needs to be on the front burner.
Public schools?  Well, this one is a little higher at 20%, although it’s not clear that the governor’s specific agenda items are what these concerned residents have in mind.
So, what does top the public agenda here in New Jersey?  What are the burning issues that Garden State residents want their elected leaders to tackle? 
It’s no contest:  Property Taxes and Jobs.  Each was mentioned by a whopping 42% of those polled!  And this was off the top of their heads, mind you – the poll didn’t provide choices.
To be fair, both the governor and legislature claim they have introduced proposals meant to spur job growth, although the comprehensiveness of any jobs plan is not apparent. 
The disappearance of property taxes from the leadership agenda, though, is truly curious.  After pushing for a toolkit of reforms in his first two years in office, the governor seems to have declared Mission Accomplished.
The Democrats have caught on to that and are trying to tag Governor Christie with dropping the ball.  But that is all they have done.  The legislature has a whole raft of property tax legislation from prior years – including from the ill-fated 2006 special session – that they appear to have absolutely no intention of moving through the legislature.
If you’ve paid close attention to the rhetoric out of Trenton over the past few weeks, you’ll notice that both Republicans and Democrats have ramped up the “Property Taxes & Jobs” mantra in their public statements.  At least they now recognize they can’t escape the public’s demand for action on these issues.
The question is whether they will put any meat on those bones by enacting an agenda in line with these goals.  Or will there continue to be a disconnect between Trenton’s agenda and the rest of New Jersey?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Trenton's Referendum Mania

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ
It’s referendum mania in Trenton!  The governor and Republican legislators want to put same sex marriage to a public vote.  Democratic legislators want to put charter school approval to a public vote.
What do they have in common?  In each case, the sponsors are opposed to the policy in question.  Many believe that they are using the referendum option as a “democratic” smokescreen for a policy they don’t want enacted.
Not only is this bald-faced politics, but it’s a slippery slope.  The public lacks both access to information and the ability to deliberate on these types of issues – issues which our founders specifically said should be left to an informed, deliberative system of representative government.
The New Jersey Supreme Court declared that the state must provide and protect identical legal rights for civilly joined same sex couples as it does for married heterosexual couples. Same sex marriage advocates argue this hasn’t happened in practice under the state’s civil union law.  They have provided witnesses who give compelling stories of instances when their rights were denied.  Opponents have argued these are isolated instances that can be corrected with improvements to existing law.
The researcher in me says there is a pretty easy way to determine this.  Take a random sample of same sex civil union couples and a matched sample of heterosexual couples married at the same time and survey them.  If the former group has had significantly more problems with health insurance, parental rights, having next of kin rights honored, etc. – then the argument that civil unions don’t meet the Court’s mandate would be strong.  If not, perhaps the incidents are isolated and modifications to the current bill are all that is needed.  This is something that should be examined honestly by our three governmental branches.
Polls, including a recent one by Monmouth University/NJ Press Media, show that public support for same sex marriage has risen in the past couple of years.  It appears that the debate – particularly the argument that civil unions are not providing equal rights – may be resonating with more New Jerseyans.  Or perhaps, residents are simply getting tired of this debate and want to move in a definitive direction so government will start concentrating on other pressing issues.  Either way, the state of public opinion is absolutely no justification for putting this issue on the ballot.
The bottom line is you don’t put civil rights to a public vote.  The founders were very clear on this.  That is why they created a Republic with (supposedly) deliberative institutions of elected representatives.  Our system was specifically set up to protect the interests of groups who may be in a numerical minority.  The folks in Trenton may do well by brushing up on James Madison’s argument to that effect in the Federalist Papers (#10).
Specifically he wrote that the purpose of our system of government is “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens … [so] that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the People, will be more consonant to the public good, than if pronounced by the people themselves.”
Now, I do agree that limited initiative and referendum, like the type championed by the late Congressman Bob Franks, makes a lot of sense.  Borrowing and bonding – that should always be approved by those who are responsible to pay the debt.  Certain other macro-fiscal issues are also appropriate for a public vote.  And anything that requires an outright change to the state’s Constitution requires voter approval.
But putting anything beyond that on the ballot is an invitation to demagoguery.  And once that door is open, it will be near impossible to close.