One of the things we like to do on our polls is ask voters what they feel about politicians who have been out of the spotlight for a while. On our New Jersey poll we looked at Christie Whitman, Jim McGreevey, Bill Bradley, and Robert Torricelli. Only Bradley came out looking good:
-31% of voters have a favorable opinion of Whitman to 52% with an unfavorable one. She seems to have fallen into one what may call the Joe Lieberman trap- her moderation antagonized voters in her own party, who have a favorable opinion of her by only a 43/37 margin. But it didn't win over Democrats or independents either, who rate her at 23/60 and 29/54 respectively. What is it that allows the Scott Browns and Olympia Snowes of the world to ride moderation to incredible popularity while it trips up the Whitmans and Liebermans and Ben Nelsons of the world? I'm not really sure.
-Whitman certainly looks like a popular ex-Governor compared to her elected successor, Jim McGreevey, though. Only 19% of voters view McGreevey favorably to 64% with an unfavorable opinion. The animosity towards him cuts pretty strongly across party lines. Democrats like him the 'best,' such as it is at 31/48. With Republicans (5/85) and independents (12/70) warm feelings are virtually nonexistent. This same poll finds that New Jersey supports gay marriage so that's clearly not the issue- the way he handled it is.
-Eight and a half years after he left the Senate Robert Torricelli has quickly been forgotten by Garden State voters. 56% have no opinion of him. He might want even more to forget about him because among those who do remember only 10% have a positive opinion to 33% with a negative one. Torricelli replicates the McGreevey trifecta of being disliked by Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike. What other elected Senators who have served in the office within the last 10 years do you think would be unpopular/forgotten enough now to have a favorability rating at 10% or lower? John Edwards manages that feat but he may be the only other one.
-There is one ex-pol New Jersey voters still love and that's Bill Bradley, who has a 56/14 favorability rating. There are only 2 sitting Senators in the country who have a net approval better than Bradley's current net favorability- Hawaii's Daniel Inouye and Wyoming's John Barrasso. To be that popular you have to have broad appeal and Bradley is quite well liked across the party spectrum- 67/7 with Democrats, 46/17 with independents, and 47/21 with Republicans.
Other items from our New Jersey poll:
-Voters in the state narrowly think gay marriage should be legal, by a 47/42 margin. That includes a 46/35 spread with independent voters. When you broaden the issue to civil unions 81% of voters support some form of legal recognition for gay couples to only 17% opposed. 41% say full same sex marriage rights would be their preference with another 40% supporting civil unions. Even among Republicans in the state 77% support either gay marriage or civil unions.
-New Jersey's attitude towards its current Senate delegation could be easily summarized as 'meh.' Last week we showed Robert Menendez had tepid approval ratings and Frank Lautenberg does too with 41% of voters approving of him and 36% disapproving. What might be most remarkable is that 23% have no opinion even though Lautenberg's been in the Senate for nearly 30 years. Maybe that lack of familiarity is a product of the state not having its own media markets.
-And finally Democrats lead on the generic legislative ballot 52-39. They're holding their base (91% support from Dems for Dems) better than the Republicans (87% of GOP voters for the GOP) and only trailing by a 39-36 margin with independents. That 3 point deficit is a lot smaller than the advantage Republicans had with independents in 2009 and it's not nearly enough for the party to win in a state with a significant Democratic party id advantage.
Full results here