This is part 9 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing? Today, we will zoom in on the 7th Congressional District in New Jersey.
NJ-07: Traditional on race, high approval for the president, with strong preferences for moderate progressive issues, such as regulation of assault weapons, and strengthening of the Affordable Care Act. This district sees Democratic candidate Tom Malinowski squaring off against incumbent Leonard Lance, who has made a name as a rare opponent to President Trump, and has voted against key Bills, against the majority of his Republican Caucus, in Congress. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around healthcare, taxation and regulation, but Democratic strategists need to be more careful on immigration and stay clear of identity politics and the president.
Demographically, this district is majority-White (79%), with a sizable part of the population having Asian ethnicity. It is one of the wealthiest and most educated districts in the country, with a median annual household income of $107,000 and a college graduation rate of 51% (!), compared to the 32% at the national level. This district has been in Republican hands for more than 35 years but the political climate this year is not too friendly to incumbent Leonard Lance (R). Lance used to be generally well respected in the district, but his approval has been in free-fall, clocking in at just 32% at the end of 2017. Lance dissented with President Trump's position in two high-stakes votes – on the Republican tax cuts, and on the American Health Care Act 2017 – and has been an outspoken critic of President Trump in numerous occasions, for example in his support of investigating whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia.
Nonetheless, this district is projected to be much closer than it had been in the past. The Cook PVI – comparing a congressional district’s average Democratic or Republican Party share of the two-party presidential vote in the past two presidential elections to the national average share for those elections – is set at R+3. More importantly, Cook rates the district as "Republican Toss Up" for 2018. While there is no public polling available as of yet, PredictWise has Lance up by a double-digit lead. Signals from the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, suggest that they see the race closer than PredictWise does: Malinowski is currently on the coveted DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) Red-to-Blue list that identifies Democratic candidates who are key to taking back the House in 2018.
Politically, Malinowski supports stabilizing the Affordable Care Act (as opposed to universal healthcare), strengthening gun regulation, such as banning military-style assault rifles and high capacity magazines, universal background checks or limiting ammunition purchases, protecting air and water, Planned Parenthood, keeping multilateral commitments such as NATO, and the Justice Department investigation looking at what happened in the 2016 election. Leonard Lance voted "No" on Trump's border wall, "Yes" on withholding federal funds from states and localities that chose not to follow federal immigration laws, such as sanctuary cities, and "No" on the American Health Care Act of 2017.
NJ-07: Strong Trump Approval and racially conservatibve
This district is still quite fond on Trump. Statewide, the president's approval rating registers at 40%, but in this district, approval climbs to 50% – a strong outlier in the state. And, the district is racially conservative, no surprise with only 6% of its population being African American. When asked whether kneeling during the national anthem is a proper form for African-American athletes of bringing awareness to injustices against minorities in the US, 65% disagree, and that include sizable chunks of Democrats (45%), and an overwhelming majority of Republicans (78%). In comparison, only 56% – 10 percentage points less – disagree with African American Athletes kneeling nationally.
NJ-07: Progressive on (Gun) Regulation and Taxation, in Favor of strengthening the Affordable Care Act
There certainly is a host of progressive issues that resonate in this uber-wealthy district. First, likely voters here are strongly in favor of regulations, especially regulations of workplace safety. When asked whether government regulations of workplace safety are necessary to protect the public interest, 78% of all likely voters agree, including 84% of likely voters affiliating with the Democratic party, and even 75% of likely voters affiliating with the Republican party.
It may turn out well that Tom Malinowski, the Democratic challenger, is not running on universal healthcare, such as Medicare for All, but stabilizing adjustments to the Affordable Care Act instead. In this wealthy district, a vast majority believes that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure coverage when it comes to people over 65 years of age and healthcare insurance. And, partisan differences are very small, with 73% of all likely voters, and 83% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans in agreement.Another progressive issue that resonates here is a more progressive taxation system. When asked whether the government should lower taxes on households with income over $250,000, and cut government services, or raise taxes to provide more, 52% of all likely voters in this northwest New Jersey district agree, 62% of Democrats, and 45% of Republicans (still a majority, with only 37% of Republicans in disagreement!!!).
One more issue on which Democrats look good here: gun regulation. Democratic candidate Tom Malinowski campaigns on moderate gun regulation, such as banning assault weapons – a position hugely popular in this district: 74% of all likely voters here think that the right to buy assault weapons should be restricted, and again this includes majorities of both parties, with 87% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans believing rights should be restricted.
In general, likely voters in this district harbor sympathies for the poor. The vast majority here – 56% of all likely voters – believe that poor people today have it hard when it comes to education, without enough government benefits to be able to succeed. This includes 72% of Democrats, and even 45% of Republicans – a sizable fraction.
NJ-07: Conservative on Immigration; Progressive on Gun Regulation
Immigration is a different story. Low proportions of minorities in this district translate into conservative attitudes on immigration. 68% of all likely voters here believe that recent undocumented (illegal) immigrants have burdened the country in regard to national security, and that includes a majority of Democrats (53%)!
And, the district skews conservative when it comes to energy. 56% of likely voters in this wealthy Jersey district favor new oil and gas exploration of the state. While this includes a minority of Democrats (40%), a vast majority of Republicans here (69%) are in support!
NJ-07; target regulations, healthcare, restrictions on assault weapons
In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district, especially around the assault weapons ban, workplace regulation and taxation. Tom Malinowski is in particularly powerful position to make gun regulations and strengthening of the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of his campaign, given that his platform resonates well with public opinion in this district. But, this is also a fairly conservative district, with a very high approval rating of Trump. And, it is a racially staunchly conservative district, with almost no share of minority voters (except for Asian immigrants), making identity politics a tough sell in this district. Progressive immigration policies and Clean Energy likewise don't sell well in this uber-wealthy New Jersey district. What we propose to Malinowski: Run on the issues, stay clear of the president, and the broader arena of identity politics!