Today we begin releasing results from our latest poll. We start with what’s now become a regular feature – polling on Bridgegate and its releated issues. The quick story is that Gov. Christie appears to have stemmed the decline in his favorability and job approval ratings, but that there has been no rebound. NJ voters remains skeptical of the explanation given by the governor and do not see the recently released internal report as objective. They also believe former staffers who are withholding materials from the legislative committee investigating the scandal should be required to provide them, despite 5th Amendment claims.
CHRISTIE RATINGS STABILIZE, BUT MOST NEW JERSEYANS SEE SCANDAL AS A SERIOUS ISSUE FOR GOVERNOR
Large majorities negative about internal review’s objectivity, Port Authority 9/11 controversies, and administration officials withholding records
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Nearly three months into the George Washington Bridge lane closing controversy, New Jersey registered voters remain skeptical of the response by Gov. Chris Christie and his administration to the burgeoning scandals, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While Christie has stemmed the fall in his personal ratings after a double-digit drop in the wake of “Bridgegate”, voters are generally negative about Christie’s truthfulness and recent developments in the investigation.
Half of voters have a favorable impression of the governor while 42 percent feel unfavorable, essentially unchanged since February. Job performance numbers also show little change: 55 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove. But, just 22 percent fully believe Christie’s explanation regarding the lane closures while 26 percent say they somewhat believe him. The largest group, 49 percent, says they do not believe him at all. As for the recent taxpayer-funded report commissioned by the governor’s office that cleared Christie of all wrongdoing, nearly two-thirds say the internal review does not offer an objective assessment, versus three in ten who say it does.
In addition, a large majority says former Christie administration officials who are refusing to respond to a state legislative committee subpoena should be required to do so despite invoking their Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate themselves. Two-thirds say they should be required to provide the records anyway, while 27 percent believe they should be allowed to withhold them.
Voters overwhelmingly condemn the Port Authority’s alleged use of September 11 artifacts, including steel from the twin towers, as gifts to towns with mayors whose endorsement Christie wanted to win for his 2013 re-election, as reported by The New York Times. Three-quarters say this was not appropriate, while only 14 percent say it was and another 10 percent are unsure.
Taken altogether, almost seven in ten voters see the set of issues surrounding the developing investigations as serious: 26 percent say they are extremely serious for Gov. Christie, while another 41 percent sees them as very serious. Only a quarter of voters say the allegations are not very serious, and just 7 percent say they are not serious at all.
“Governor Christie appears to have stemmed the decline in his personal and job performance ratings, following their precipitous drop with Bridgegate, but he is not out of the woods yet,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Not only has he failed to regain any lost ground, but the news that the U.S. Attorney has convened a grand jury investigation ramps up the stakes. Given the underlying skepticism about the administration’s actions, Christie’s continued positive ratings may not hold up for the long term.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. This release reports on a subsample of 731 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.
Republicans back the governor on scandals; Democrats and independents less so
For the most part, Republicans continue to stick by their fellow GOP governor as the scandals plaguing Christie’s administration continue to develop. Just under half of GOP voters say they fully believe Christie’s explanation for the lane closures while another 31 percent say they somewhat believe him. Only18 percent of Republicans do not believe Christie at all.
This is in stark contrast to the three-quarters of Democrats and 41 percent of independents who do not believe the governor at all. Only 9 percent of Democrats say they believe him fully, and another 13 percent say somewhat. Independents are somewhat more positive, with 22 percent fully and 34 percent somewhat believing.
“Republicans remain fairly convinced the governor has not done anything wrong,” noted Redlawsk. “Even so, they are not nearly as upbeat about Christie as they were before Bridgegate. Democrats are completely dubious about all of this; whatever reservoir of good will Christie once had with them is simply gone.”
A majority of Republicans back Christie’s recently released internal review, with 56 percent seeing the report as an objective assessment of the events and the governor’s role compared to 34 percent who do not. The numbers flip for both Democrats and independents, with 78 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents saying the report is not objective.
Even Republicans condemn alleged political use of 9/11 artifacts
Republicans are not so much on Christie’s side when it comes to some past actions of the Port Authority and refusals by former Christie officials to hand over documents to the legislative committee investigating the scandals, joining Democrats and independents in condemning both, though to differing degrees. Half of GOP voters say it was inappropriate if Port Authority officials used 9/11 artifacts as gifts to help Christie’s reelection, while 34 percent find it permissible and 16 percent are unsure. Democrats and independents overwhelmingly see such an action as improper – at 87 percent and 78 percent, respectively.
Results are similar regarding former Christie staff members who are claiming their Fifth Amendment right to be able to withhold documents. Seventy-six percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents, and even 57 percent of Republicans say that these officials should be required to provide records anyway.
Scandals issues seen as serious for Christie
Between the allegations of Bridgegate, claims about favoritism by the Christie administration in providing Sandy relief funds, the use of the Port Authority to further the administration’s political aims, and conflicts of interest for Christie appointees to the Port Authority, it is unsurprising that most voters see this set of issues as problematic for Christie. Democrats, unsurprisingly, are most likely to believe these allegations are serious: 39 percent say they are extremely serious, while 42 percent see them as very serious. Just 17 percent do not think the issues are particularly serious.
Independents share Democrats’ views for the most part. One quarter says the situation is extremely serious and another 40 percent very serious; 25 percent say not very serious, while just 6 percent say not at all serious. Republicans are not as worried, but almost half still say the allegations are serious, though only 9 percent say extremely so; 35 percent say they are not very serious, and 14 percent say not at all serious.
Christie’s ratings steady; some see a change in his governing tone post-Bridgegate
Christie’s favorability and job numbers have settled back into their pre-Sandy state, with Democrats mostly against and Republicans mostly in support of him. Independents generally continue to support Christie and his performance, though not nearly to the extent that Republicans do. After a large drop in Christie’s Sandy-specific rating, the governor has stabilized at 53 percent approving of his job on Sandy – somewhat better than his now-lukewarm or even negative ratings on other issues like taxes (39 percent approval), education (46 percent approval), the state budget (43 percent approval), and crime and drugs (50 percent approval).
Some observers have suggested that Gov. Christie has become less aggressive in the way he governs now than he was before Bridgegate but most voters see no real change. A quarter of voters say Christie has become less forceful in his tone, while 6 percent say he has become more forceful. But 61 percent say his tone is the same.
The current scandals have also significantly influenced voters’ views of the most important problem facing New Jersey today. While most voters continue to see the economy and jobs (25 percent) or taxes (27 percent) as most important, as usual, 15 percent report that government corruption and abuse of power is the number one issue. In comparison, only 3 percent name Sandy recovery as most important.
“The continuing saga of Bridgegate and its related allegations has become a ‘new normal’ for New Jersey voters,” said Redlawsk. “Christie is weathering this on a personal level, and in the overall perception of his performance. But he has lost Democrats, and overall there has been an increase in disapproval on specific issues. Combined with the fact that Sandy recovery is no longer the positive narrative it was for voters, the governor will likely find getting bipartisan agreement for his agenda harder than it was when he was riding high.”