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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Most residents don’t know new primary date, poll says

Majority backs all-VBM primary

By Nikita Biryukov, May 14 2020 3:02 pm

A vast majority of New Jerseyans don’t know when this year’s primary elections will be held, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Thursday.

Just 6% of voters correctly identified the July 7 primary date, and another 10% knew the elections would be held sometime that month.

Voters were more likely to say the election was being held in June, 22%, than they were to identify the correct month, and another 23% picked entirely separate dates while 39% of voters simply said they did not know.

Despite that, 53% of voters said they would definitely vote in the primary, while another 26% said they probably would.

“Primary elections traditionally have notoriously low turnout — typically in the single or low double digits — so do not expect an overwhelming turnout just because voters say they will show up,” said Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. “2019’s primary did see a sizeable boost in turnout, however, and this was due in part to easing restrictions on voting by mail. Who’s at the top of the ballot, how people are able to vote, and the status of the pandemic in July will all affect turnout.”

A slight majority of residents, 54%, said they backed conducting the primaries entirely using mail-in ballots, a plan that 42% of respondents opposed.

Those results were split among party lines. Seven in 10 Democrats said they backed an all-vote-by-mail primary, while 72% or Republicans opposed the plan. The results were slightly more even among unaffiliated voters, 56% of whom supported suspending in-person voting.

“While we have seen bipartisan agreement on many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, how to move forward with voting in the midst of the outbreak is not one of them,” Koning said. “Voting by mail — always a politically charged topic — has become one of the most polarizing issues at the intersection of politics and COVID-19, pitting the health and safety of poll workers and voters against questions of security and accuracy of voting by mail.”

Gov. Phil Murphy is intending to announce his plan for the primaries in the next two days.

Ahead of Tuesday’s municipal non-partisan races, Murphy administration officials were considering a plan that would involve sending mail-in ballots to every registered Republican and Democrat in the state while keeping a small number of in-person polling places open for unaffiliated voters and others who wished to cast provisional ballots.

It’s not clear how, if at all, issues seen Tuesday affect that calculus.

Ballot counts in Passaic County and Irvington have been suspended over voter fraud concerns, and returned mail-in ballots have seen delays that may disenfranchise hundreds — or even thousands — of voters.

President Donald Trump continues to be unpopular in the state.

The Eagleton poll pegged his favorability at 31%-59%, while his approval was a slightly less lackluster 37%-63%.

Former Vice President Joe Biden scored slightly better, earning 45%-37% favorability score.

Biden leads Trump 56%-33% in a projected head to head matchup in the state.

“Partisans take familiar sides with these 2020 candidates, while those politically in the middle are more torn,” Koning said. “While independents go for Biden in a head-to-head with Trump by double digits, their personal impressions of the two men are similar. Independents give both Biden and Trump net negative ratings when it comes to favorability, with the former garnering more uncertainty and the latter slightly more unfavorable impressions.”

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