>How’s The Governor Doing? The Latest from the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll

>As a wrap up to a very busy year of polling, we present one final release on our December poll. Since it’s close to the end of the first year for NJ Governor Chris Christie, it seemed appropriate to take a look at his job performance ratings in some kind of context. So we went back to old Eagleton polls (available here) to see how other governors were doing at a similar point in their first terms.

Christie gets some of the highest AND some of the lowest ratings – that’s right, he is more polarizing than any other governor for whom we have data (back to Brendan Byrne in 1974). And his overall job rating – which nets out negatively at the moment – is actually about the middle of the pack, equal to Tom Kean’s first year rating.

New Jersey tends to be pretty hard on its governors, at least in terms of their first year ratings.

One small problem with our data – for the last two governors the poll asked the question differently than before or since. Instead of giving a four point scale – excellent, good, fair, poor – the pollsters back then asked if people “approved” or “disapproved” the job the governor was doing. So that limits us somewhat for both Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine, but even so we have some interesting data to look at.

The press release follows. A PDF with tables and questions included can be found here.

Governor Christie Generates Divided Responses as First Year Ends

Job Rating More Polarized than Most First-year NJ Governors; Overall in Middle of the Pack

NEW BRUNSWICK – As his first year draws to a close, New Jerseyans are split about Gov. Chris Christie’s job performance with a majority rating him only fair or poor, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today. Only 39 percent of Garden State residents rate the governor’s job performance either excellent (17 percent) or good (22 percent), compared to 54 percent who rate him fair (26 percent) or poor (28 percent), and 6 percent who are unsure. Support is stronger among those who say they voted in the recent congressional election: 21 percent of voters rate his performance excellent, and 23 percent rate him as good. Another 23 percent say he is doing a fair job and 29 percent say he is doing a poor job, while 4 percent of voters are unsure.

Gov. Christie’s “poor” rating is the second highest over the history of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in the first year of a new governor, while his “excellent” rating is also among the highest. Since Gov. Brendan Byrne, only Gov. Jim Florio has performed worse, while Christie’s overall positive job rating of 39 percent equals or beats other first-year governors except Jon Corzine (53 percent approval) and Christie Whitman (52 percent good or excellent).

“Historically, New Jerseyans are pretty hard on their governors in the first year,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “And Gov. Christie has clearly polarized the Garden State. The 45 percent of adults who rate his job at one extreme or the other is exceeded only by the 48 percent who did so with Gov. Florio during September of his first year.”

The poll of 906 New Jersey adults was conducted December 2-6. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. The sample includes 666 respondents who say they voted in the 2010 congressional elections. This subsample has a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.

Christie job performance rating stable; middle of the first-year governor pack

Gov. Christie’s job performance rating has been consistent over the past few months. His favorable ratings (excellent and good) have generally been between 40 and 45 percent with little change despite controversies like the Race to the Top education funding, the recent ARC tunnel cancellation, and other events. Likewise negative views have generally hovered between 52 and 58 percent. Since August his job performance rating has been more negative than positive.

However, compared to Governors since 1974, Christie’s job ratings are similar to or better than most early in the first term. The highest-rated was Gov. Christie Whitman, with 52 to 56 percent giving her positive ratings in her first year, followed by 53 percent approval of Corzine’s performance at about the same point. Gov. Tom Kean’s rating of 39 percent positive in 1982 is equal to Christie’s while only 27 to 33 percent rated Gov. Brendan Byrne positively late in 1974. Gov. Jim McGreevey’s job performance was approved of by 34 percent after his first year, while Gov. Jim Florio did worst with an 18 percent positive rating in late 1990 and 21 percent in early 1991.

“One thing is clear from this historical data – we cannot make predictions on the rest of the term based on how citizens view governors in the first year,” said Redlawsk. “Both Gov. Corzine and Gov. Whitman had high positive ratings at the beginning. But in the end Whitman barely hung on for a second term, and Corzine was defeated. Likewise, Gov. Kean’s rating was middling at best, and he won a second term by an unprecedented margin.”

Governor Christie more polarizing

Christie’s ratings are more polarized than those of previous governors where data exists, with half of voters and 45 percent of all respondents giving his job performance either an “excellent” or a “poor” rating. In comparison, for most governors back to Brendan Byrne, fewer than 25 percent chose one of the more extreme categories. More Garden Staters say that Christie is doing an excellent job (17 percent of all, and 21 percent of voters) than gave an excellent rating to the next highest, Gov. Whitman (about 13 percent), early in her term.

Similarly, Christie’s “poor” rating beats everyone except Gov. Florio by a wide margin. Twenty-eight percent of adults (29 percent of voters) rate his job performance as “poor” compared to Florio’s 38 to 45 percent at a similar time in his term. No other governor is above the 20 percent “poor” given to Gov. Byrne in January 1975.

“The image of Gov. Christie as polarizing is borne out in the data,” said Redlawsk. “While many Garden Staters see him as a breath of fresh air making needed changes in Trenton, even more rank him as low as they can on our rating scale. The events of his term so far have done little to temper this polarization. If anything, polarization has increased since September.”

Christie support highest among Tea Party supporters

Christie’s job performance is rated highest among Republicans with a favorable impression of the Tea Party movement, offering a clue to why he may be so polarizing. Eighty percent of Republicans holding a favorable opinion of the Tea Party rate Christie positively with 43 percent saying he is doing an excellent job and 37 percent rating his job performance as good. Only 17 percent say he is doing a fair job and 3 percent say he is doing a poor job. Republicans who are not favorable towards the Tea Party movement feel more negative towards the governor. Overall 57 percent of this group – which makes up 45 percent of all Republicans – rate the governor as good or excellent, while 41 percent give him a fair or poor rating.

Independents and Democrats feel negatively about Christie’s job performance after nearly a year in office. While 40 percent of independents say the governor is doing an excellent or good job, 52 percent rate him only fair or poor. Democrats, not surprisingly, are very negative: 18 percent say the governor is doing a good or excellent job while 76 percent call his performance fair or poor.

“Tea Party supporters clearly form the governor’s base and are generally very happy with his performance to date,” said Redlawsk. “However, his negative ratings among independents and his less positive ratings among non-Tea Party Republicans suggests potential trouble getting support for some of his major reform proposals. The polarization in these data is unlikely to subside any time soon.”

Impressions of Christie more positive than job performance

Despite his job performance ratings, more New Jerseyans say they have a favorable impression of the governor overall. While 38 percent view him unfavorably, 45 percent express a favorable impression, with 17 percent either neutral or unsure of their feelings toward the governor.

Over the first year of his term, Christie has been seen favorably by fewer than 50 percent of Garden Staters. While in April 2010 his 33 percent favorable rating was substantially lower, in five out of six polls over the year about 45 percent of respondents had a favorable impression of the Governor. Overall his rating has been slightly more favorable than unfavorable most of the year.

“Despite qualms about the job he is doing, Garden Staters on average see Christie in a fairly favorable light,” said Redlawsk. “Even where they may disagree with his policies or see his job performance more negatively, as an individual they tend to like him more than dislike him.”

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