Poll: ethics questions take toll on Menendez

NJ Sen. Robert Menendez employed as an unpaid intern in his Senate office an illegal immigrant and registered sex offender who has now been arrested by immigration authorities, The Associated Press has learned. The Homeland Security Department instructed federal agents to wait weeks and not to arrest him until after Election Day, a U.S. official involved in the case told the AP. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON -- The ethics allegations surrounding New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez have taken a steep toll on his public image, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

The Q poll gave Menendez an upside-down 36-41 approval rating (36 percent of New Jersey voters approve of his job performance, 41 percent disapprove) - that’s a 15 point drop from Jan. 23. The poll also found that 28 percent labeled him honest and trustworthy, compared to 44 percent who think he is not.

When Quinnipiac last surveyed voters on Menendez, 51 percent approved of his job performance. That was a week before the story broke about Menendez’s close ties to South Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, including details about two flights on Melgen’s private plane and lobbying efforts on behalf of Melgen, a friend and donor. (Allegations involving trysts with prostitutes also pushed into the headlines, though they have been firmly denied and there has been no evidence to back up the accusations).

“Menendez took an overseas trip and the poll numbers he left behind in New Jersey are dreadful,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “So much for a reelection honeymoon. More than two thirds of voters have heard of his troubles and the more they know, the less they approve.”

The poll found that 70 percent of NJ have read or heard something about the allegations.

Two observations: Menendez’s approval rating is the lowest Quinnipiac has found for him since August, 2011, when only 39 percent of voters gave him a thumbs up. Still, Menendez rebounded to win re-election 15 months later, and he doesn’t face voters again until 2018, so he has time to put this controversy behind him, unless damaging information keeps coming out.

Also, this poll directly contradicts the findings in a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released just one week ago. That survey found that 68 percent of NJ voters had heard about the scandal (a similar finding to Quinnipiac) but only 24 percent thought Menendez was involved in wrong-doing. Menendez had a 41-31 approval rating in that poll -- not great, but on the positive side.

Either another week has given time for the allegations to sink in, or the different samples of voters reflect different levels of knowledge. Quinnipiac talked to registered voters -- who, you'd think, would be more engaged with the latest political news.

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,149 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points. Live interviewers call land lines and cell phones. Their survey was from Feb. 13-17.

Monmouth polled 803 New Jersey adults with a margin of error 3.5 percent. Its survey was done Feb. 6-10.

Quinnipiac also found that Newark Mayor Cory Booker has a 59 – 11 percent favorability rating, including 47 – 24 percent among Republicans - affirming his status as the favorite to replace Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg in 2014.