For the first time since April 2003, a majority of Garden Staters (51 percent) say the country is headed in the right direction, up from a low of 13 percent before November’s elections, according to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.
Two in three Garden State voters (66 percent) say they approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing as President, including 89 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of independent voters and 36 percent of Republicans. Obama’s approval ratings are down slightly from measures taken before his inauguration, but are still more than triple the figures former President Bush received in his last months in office. Both liberals and moderates hold very positive views of Obama, with 86 percent and 74 percent approving of his job performance along with 41 percent of self-described conservatives.
“Traditionally, a presidential honeymoon—during which he enjoys broad support among voters—lasts for about six months,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a survey analyst for PublicMind. “Absent a brief spike here or there caused by a sudden crisis, these are the highest approval numbers Obama can expect to see during his time in office.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey voters have negative views of radio host Rush Limbaugh, who is currently enjoying high visibility as a critic of the president. While 89 percent say they have heard of Limbaugh, only 19 percent have a favorable view of him, and 46 percent have an unfavorable view. Only 7 percent of voters who say they have favorable view of Limbaugh also say they approve of Obama’s job performance.
“Favorable views of Limbaugh are a better predictor of Obama disapproval than being a Republican or being a conservative,” said Cassino.
Obama’s popularity would not necessarily help Democratic Governor Jon Corzine’s bid for reelection. While 25 percent of voters—most of them Democrats—say they would be more likely to vote for Corzine in this year’s elections if Obama campaigned for him, this is offset by the 23 percent of voters–most of them Republicans–who say that they would be less likely to vote for Corzine. A plurality of voters (48 percent), say it wouldn’t make a difference to them.
Moreover, while 51 percent say the country is headed in the right direction, only 25 percent say the state is headed in the right direction, a number essentially unchanged from many previous measures. “Still, he’d rather have a popular president come to the state than not come,” said Cassino, “and it may benefit him with turnout.”
Two-thirds of voters (68 percent), including 9 of 10 of Democrats, and 4 of 10 Republicans, say they support the economic stimulus package recently passed by Congress. Stimulus support is closely tied to support for Obama: 86 percent of those who approve of Obama’s job performance also approve of the stimulus: only 1 in 5 of those who disapprove of Obama approve of the stimulus.
But New Jerseyans are skeptical that their own state lawmakers will use the stimulus money wisely or fairly. Only 4 percent say that they are “very confident” that New Jersey will use the money wisely; 60 percent are “not very” or “not at all” confident that it will be. “They have a general perception that the state is ill-managed,” said Cassino, “but they don’t currently have that view of the federal government.”
Less popular than the stimulus bill is the plan to help homeowners facing foreclosure: 52 percent of voters say they approve of such a plan; but that support cuts along party lines: 3 in 4 Democrats (74 percent) approve, independents split, and 3 in 5 (63 percent) Republicans disapprove.
At the same time, 47 percent disapprove of the use of government money to support banks, investment firms and insurance companies compared to 39 percent who say they approve of these bailouts. Only 52 percent of Democrats, and only 50 percent of those who approve of Obama’s job performance, approve of the government bailout of financial institutions.
Similarly, 52 percent of voters disapprove of U.S. government aid to auto manufacturers. Even those who approve of Obama’s job performance split 45 percent-44 percent on the bailouts for carmakers. “When it comes to bailouts that seem to help companies rather than individuals, Obama is having a tough time selling those policies to his base,” said Cassino. “These results tell us that many voters don’t see a connection between what happens to these big companies and what happens to them personally. That could prove to be a serious problem for the president.”
Despite their reservations about the bailout, 2 of 3 voters say Republicans in Congress should cooperate with the president rather than focusing on providing criticism.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 751 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from Feb. 25 through March 2, and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.