February 1st will shift the 2016 Presidential Election into the next phrase of a long electoral cycle. Over the spring and summer of 2015, candidates began to announce their intentions to run or not run for president. Over the course of multiple debates and the fall, a few candidates left the race. Now with the calendar turned to 2016, there have been scrambles across states by candidates to set up structure and networks for what lies ahead over the next week in Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond for many of the remaining field. With that long game in mind and eventually the fall campaign, each candidate has likely looked at the map. Some states like Utah or Wyoming are often viewed as locked in red states for Republicans. While some states like Delaware and Rhode Island are viewed as safe states for Democrats. Among the conversations that come up with viability in different states, the role of home states naturally come up. That is magnified further when a candidate is able to show electoral success in a state that might not trend in favor of their party or a state that will be viewed as a swing state in a general election.
Part of that whole equation and general election scramble comes a state like New Jersey and Governor Chris Christie, who is among the dozen Republicans running for president. Governor Christie has often talked about his electoral success as a two-term governor while running as a Republican in a state viewed among the more safe states for Democrats nationally.
The current breakdown of the state on the national level features two Democratic senators but a split delegation in the U.S. House of six and six. The state once had thirteen members in the U.S. House and a 7-6 edge for Democrats but redistricting took away a seat, which led to Democrats losing a seat under the new map drawn by the redistricting commission.
Despite having a Republican governor and relatively split delegation in Congress, can New Jersey be viewed as a safe state for Democrats and one of the more liberal states in the country?
Based on the result of a Gallup poll last year that showed New Jersey ranking among the top liberal states in the country based on the leanings of the state’s residents with their political views would lead one to initially say yes to that question.
Roughly 25% of the state’s residents identify as liberal. New Jersey squeaked in top 10 with Massachusetts leading the way as the most liberal-leaning state. Rounding out the top 10 behind Massachusetts and ahead of New Jersey were: Vermont, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, California, Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland. A quick overview of that list shows a map that is very blue in the Northeast and the Pacific Coast. Especially important looking towards the fall are the importance of states like California and New York that represent just under a third of the needed delegates to win the presidency.
Conversely, the top ten conservative states come from the rural and less populous western states as well as “SEC” states in the southern part of the country. Topping the list based on the political views of its residents was Mississippi. Following Mississippi in the top ten were: Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, Arkansas, Tennessee, Montana, Idaho, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Looking at this list shows why in the last major election cycle in 2014 Democrats lost crucial races in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Montana.
The political ideologies of those in the red states are more passionate than the ideologies and leanings of those in the blue states. The top three conservative states registered nearly 50% of its residents identifying as conservative while the top three liberal states had about 30% of residents identifying as liberal.
Going further, the survey also painted a map that has a few more right-leaning states than left-leaning states. That aspect is certainly something that might arise throughout the year in the race for 270 electoral votes.
Another note from this survey and watching recent national elections is the interesting dynamic of individual states beyond just particular regions. Like New Hampshire in an otherwise very blue northeast region that tends to be a key swing state and saw a very competitive U.S. Senate race in 2014 and has another one slated in 2016. Other states like North Carolina and Indiana that are near more red states but have voted Democratic in 2008 and Republican in 2012 and could again be swing states in 2016.
Additionally, the survey provided a list of the top ten most moderate states and Delaware led the way based on its residents as it sits between the 9th and 10th most liberal-leaning states. 44% of Delaware’s residents view themselves as moderate. Following Delaware were a few states that showed up on the top ten most liberal states including New Jersey. The full top ten list after Delaware were: Rhode Island, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New Mexico.
Thus, from this; one might say that New Jersey leans blue but not quite navy blue with nearly 38% viewing themselves as moderates. Additionally, the survey showed close to 30% of residents identifying as conservative. That again speaks to the slight edge nationally conservatives have around different regions and states over liberals. The breakdown of liberal and conservative leaning New Jerseyans also speaks to the growing more rural and conservative southern part of the state that matches the larger liberal cities mostly centered in the northern part of the state. That 38% group of moderates are why the last 30 years has seen roughly the same amount of Democratic governors as Republican governors. That also goes back to an earlier point about the U.S. House delegation from the state being evenly split.
Even with all that mind, the state still ranks 44th in terms of conservative edge among voters. The state has a relatively even breakdown of liberals and conservatives and its moderates are what have impacted senatorial, gubernatorial, and presidential races to provide the winning differences. New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972 and something talked about as each senatorial election produces another Democratic winner. Republicans like Governors Christie, Christine Todd Whitman, and Tom Kean, Sr. have typically been successful because of their ability to appeal enough to moderates to lean their way. While Republicans have had some success with governor’s race; their electoral success in presidential races in roughly on par with their success with senatorial races at least since 1992 as Democrats have carried on average 6 in 10 voters in the state.
Is New Jersey blue? It is a question that is a bit complex. Yes, it is blue. Yes, it is one of the more liberal states. It has trended more to the left based on national politics. But, it is a state made up of residents that lean more towards the middle than left or right. At least until 2020, it is state with a balanced delegation in the U.S. House. You’ll likely see the state go blue come November. At the same time, the state isn’t as blue as it may be perceived to be based on its residents.