Poll: Menendez should stay in office

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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez waits to speak outside federal court, Thursday, April 2, 2015, in Newark, N.J. Menendez, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was indicted on corruption charges, accused of using his office to improperly benefit an eye doctor and political donor. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. Most New Jerseyans think Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) should stay in office while he fights corruption charges, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll — though the survey also appears to show a sharp drop in his approval since the senator was indicted last week.

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said Menendez should be allowed to stay in place unless he is proven guilty, compared with 34 percent who said he should leave immediately, the poll found in a relatively small sample.

Half of the 860 residents polled were asked specifically about whether Menendez should resign, and that group was further divided: Some were asked about a potential indictment before the charges were brought, and others were surveyed after the charges were formally announced.

The other half of the people polled were asked generically if a sitting official should leave office while being accused of corruption or could remain unless he or she were found guilty. In that case, 66 percent said the official should stay in office, while 29 percent said the official should leave immediately.

The New York Times and Newark Star-Ledger have both called for Menendez to step down following charges that he offered extraordinary official help to a donor, Salomon Melgen, in exchange for gifts such as vacations at a Dominican Republic villa and numerous flights on private jets. Menendez has said he has followed the law and will be vindicated in a trial.

There "seems to be more support for the idea of 'innocent until proven guilty,' " said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. "Perhaps the senator's strong response that he will fight the charges had some initial effect as the story was breaking."

Menendez was viewed favorably by 34 percent of those surveyed, against 27 percent who saw him unfavorably. But among those polled after the indictment, his ratings were reversed: 31 percent saw Menendez favorably and 36 percent viewed him unfavorably.

Those numbers, though, may be affected by the timing of the poll. The charges were announced by the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday, late into the survey.

"Our pre-indictment sample is much larger than the sample after, which makes us less certain of the changes we see," Redlawsk said in a news release. "But if the trend continues, the drop in favorability may eventually lead to more people preferring that Menendez step down rather than fight."

Overall, the poll surveyed 860 adults from March 27 to April 3. The full sample had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

The subsample of 437 asked specifically about Menendez's facing charges had a margin of error of 5.2 percentage points, while the subsample of 423 asked about a generic official's facing charges had a margin of error of 5.3 percentage points.

— Jonathan Tamari

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