A majority of New Jersey voters say that they want Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to resign, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said they thought the senator should resign. Republicans said by a 2-1 ratio that the Democratic senator should resign, while Democrats were almost evenly divided in their response. Independents were more likely than not to say that he should resign.
A majority of respondents characterized Menendez as dishonest and untrustworthy, a 12-point increase since Quinnipiac asked the same question in April 2013. His approval rating has also taken a hit, dropping 11 points since January. Forty-five percent of voters in the state think his alleged actions are illegal while nearly two out of five people say that they are unethical but not illegal. However, a plurality of respondents still say that the senator has strong leadership qualities and cares about the needs and problems of people like them.
The results of the survey stand in contrast to a poll released last week from Rutgers-Eagleton, which asked the same questions. That poll found that 58 percent of New Jersey voters believe Menendez should stay in office unless he is proven guilty. Only 34 percent expressed that they wanted him to resign immediately.
So what could account for the difference? The Washington Post's Aaron Blake surmises that it could be due to three main factors: timing, question phrasing and answer choice. Blake points out that half of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll was conducted before Menendez was officially charged, while the second half was done after he was charged. The Quinnipiac poll was conducted after charges were formally filed against him. He also notes that the Rutgers-Eagleton poll succinctly describe the charges against Menendez, whereas the Quinnipiac poll explains the indictment in more vivid language before asking if the respondent thinks the senator should resign. And lastly, the answer options in the Rutgers-Eagleton poll are framed with conditional language about how the legal process could play out, making a "no" answer a more appealing option, whereas the Quinnipiac poll gave respondents more direct choices that did not consider the legal outcome.
Menendez was indicted on eight counts of corruption on April 1 for using his position and power in exchange for bribes. Each count carries a 15-year prison sentence. Menendez has denied all of the charges and has vowed to stay in office while he fights to prove his innocence.
This is the first time a senator has been indicted on bribery charges since Sen. Harrison Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) in 1980, according to The New York Times.
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 1,428 New Jersey voters April 9-14 via live interviews over land lines and cell phones.