New Jersey voters, cranky over a souring economy and suspicious of political leaders, are giving increasingly bad marks to their three statewide elected officials, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday.

Gov. Corzine's approval rating fell from 46 percent in December to 37 percent in the poll released yesterday. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), who is seeking reelection this year, had a 42 percent approval rating in December, compared with 39 percent in the new poll. And Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) slipped from 34 percent in December to 30 percent.

"Voters in New Jersey are not happy, and it's because of the economy," said assistant polling director Clay Richards. In a poll to be released today, he said, 64 percent of the respondents believed the state was in a recession.

On top of that, Richards saw that some voters who had supported Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) for president in New Jersey's Feb. 5 primary were unhappy that most of the Democratic machine, including Corzine and Menendez, supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.).

"The fact that Lautenberg was neutral doesn't give him any points with the Obama voters," said Richards.

Corzine also is paying a price for his plan to raise highway tolls.

Ingrid Reed, director of Rutgers University's New Jersey Project, said that after following the governor around the state at his toll-hike town meetings, she was not surprised by the declining approval ratings. Even in audiences that weren't overtly hostile, she said, she found "a real skepticism, a real distrust, a conviction that public officials were in this for themselves."

The sagging approval ratings reflect "a sense of withholding approval because you really are not sure these people are trustworthy," said Reed. "If I were these officials, I would realize that I have to recapture the trust of the citizens."

Over the last five years, New Jersey has seen corruption convictions of 100 elected officials, a staggering number even by Jersey standards.

The poll released yesterday of 1,803 voters was conducted between Feb. 13 and Monday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Voters polled by Quinnipiac also took on other issues, with an increasing number saying they were concerned that Lautenberg, at 84, was too old to run for reelection. In September and July when the question was asked, 54 percent said he was too old; in this month's poll, 58 percent said he was "too old to effectively serve another six-year term."

Richards said the number went up "because people are talking about it and he had a birthday." Lautenberg turned 84 last month.

He did beat an unnamed Republican challenger, 37 percent to 30 percent - up from September, when results showed 39 percent for Lautenberg and 36 percent for the unnamed Republican.

Three Republicans are vying in the June 3 primary for a chance to face Lautenberg in the fall.

His campaign manager, Brendan Gill, didn't respond to the age question but in a statement said: "Senator Lautenberg consistently earns positive approval ratings and is leading the race because people in New Jersey know he stands strong, he's effective and he makes a real difference in their lives."

Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or