NEW JERSEYANS’ VERDICT ON MENENDEZ? DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Posted at 11:00 am November 30, 2017, in Cory Booker, Robert Menendez

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez has emerged from a hung jury in his federal corruption case seriously damaged but by no means dead, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. The senior senator is now at a low point in his ratings: more New Jersey residents disapprove than approve of his job performance (36 percent to 29 percent), and more have an unfavorable than favorable impression of him (33 percent to 20 percent), following the trial. Half (49 percent) feel Menendez should resign, and about the same number (51 percent) think he does not deserve to be reelected in 2018 should he decide to run again; four in ten (40 percent) believe Menendez should continue serving his term, and just a quarter of New Jerseyans (26 percent) feel Menendez deserves to be reelected next year.

Yet the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, conducted just after the verdict was announced, finds as much indecision as negativity about Menendez: large numbers give no opinion on how they feel about him or the job he is doing, reflecting both a lack of knowledge and ambivalence, and a notable portion of residents are unsure whether or not Menendez should keep his seat. This is nothing new when it comes to Menendez’s ratings: a sizeable number has always been uncertain when it comes to Menendez’s likeability and success as a senator.

He remains popular with his Democratic base, however. Among those Democrats and independents who lean Democratic who report having voted in the recent gubernatorial election, more approve than disapprove of Menendez by a margin of 42 percent to 28 percent, and more have a favorable than an unfavorable opinion of him (29 percent to 22 percent).

“Menendez will still be a formidable candidate for reelection for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “New Jersey remains a very blue state, and since the mistrial, Menendez has already received Governor-elect Phil Murphy’s blessing, as well as support from others in his party – including rumored primary challengers. He may still have some bumps in the road ahead, but as of now, he is well funded, has ample constituent experience, and there is no well-known Republican opponent in sight.”

What may be troubling for Menendez, however, is the degree to which he is vulnerable once potential opponents make the corruption charges more widely known. The Poll tested the order in which it asked the two questions about Menendez’s reelection and trial. One random half of the sample was asked about his reelection first and the trial second, while the other half was asked the reverse. Those asked about the trial first – in which they were told about Menendez’s federal corruption charges – are markedly more likely to believe the senator does not deserve to be reelected (63 percent) compared to those asked first about reelection before any mention of the trial (39 percent). Much of this change is driven by undecideds: telling New Jerseyans first about Menendez’s charges, trial, and hung jury cuts the number of those unsure about his reelection in half, compared to those given the questions in the opposite order (32 percent versus 14 percent).

“Making Menendez’s corruption charges and current trouble salient clearly takes a toll on his reelection prospects with New Jerseyans,” said Koning. “Menendez can still face a new trial and will face an ethics investigation in the Senate, so this issue for him will not go away anytime soon and have the potential to become – to Menendez’s detriment – a key part of any opponent’s campaign.”

New Jersey’s junior senator, Cory Booker, continues to shine brightly in the Garden State. Forty-four percent have a favorable impression of him, compared to just 19 percent who have an unfavorable one; another 32 percent have no opinion, and 4 percent do not know who he is. Likewise, 49 percent approve of the job he is doing, versus 20 percent who disapprove; 31 percent are unsure.

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,203 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 15-27, 2017, including the 600 New Jersey residents reported on in this release. The sample has a margin of error of +/-4.3 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

 

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