It's by a narrow margin, but New Jersey voters actually do support a proposed law that would require dog owners to put their animal in a safety restraint or crate when in the car.

Dog in Car
Flickr User Grilled Cheese

According to today's Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll, 45 percent of registered voters in the state support the law, with 40 percent opposing it. The bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Grace Spencer last month, would require that pets not traveling in a crate be restrained by a harness or similar device, with violators subject to a $20 ticket and possible animal cruelty charges.

Earlier this year, officials from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals held a press conference in which they said that failure to restrain animals would be construed as animal cruelty, subject to criminal fines and penalties. Spencer says confusion over the current state of the law led to the introduction of her bill. That confusion has also led to the introduction of a rival measure that would specify that driving with an unrestrained dog does not constitute cruelty to animals.

"These proposals have received both attention and ridicule," says Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson, and a survey analyst for the poll. "But it seems like New Jersey voters are taking this seriously."

Oddly, the divide on the dog restraint proposal falls along party lines. Democrats, and their usual supporters, are much more likely to support it than Republicans. A majority of Democrats, (51 percent) say they support the legislation, compared with just 36 percent of Republicans.

Cassino says, "It's pretty rare that we find such a clear partisan split on an issue that's outside of the normal political discussion, but here we have a clear instance in which Democrats support government intervention in what had been a private sphere, and Republicans oppose it."

Another other major split on the legislation comes from animal ownership: the bill has the support of 48 percent of voters who don't own a dog, compared with only 38 percent support among people who do. A majority of those who own dogs 52 percent oppose the bill. However, only about 1 in 3 New Jersey voters 35 percent own a dog.

"The people who are going to be most impacted by this bill, people who actually own dogs don't like it," explains Cassino. "If nothing else, buying a restraint is going to cost them money. However, if politicians are just looking at the overall numbers, the dog owners are outnumbered pretty badly."

Opinions could change quickly on the issue. Voters still don't know much about it. Thirty-five percent of New Jersey voters say that they've heard "a lot" or "some" about the proposed law, with 44 percent saying that they've heard nothing at all. Those who own dogs seem to be paying attention to the law: 47 percent say that they've heard "a lot" or "some" about the bill.

In a question Cassino concedes was "a lark," 86 percent of Garden State voters, across party lines, say that it is "unacceptable" to transport a dog in a safety crate on the roof of a car, as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney admitted doing during a family road trip.

The poll of 901 registered voters was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from September 6, 2012 through September 12, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points.


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