As we said in Friday’s release, opinion about NJ Gov. Chris Christie remains split. But it is also the case that his favorable rating has shifted quite a lot over the last 18 months. Back when we first asked this right after his inauguration, 45 percent of voters had a favorable impression of the Governor, while only 26 percent had an unfavorable impression.Lots of people said they didn’t know. Since then, Christie’s favorable rating has drifted in a very narrow range, and in our most recent poll it is back at 45 percent. But his unfavorable rating has increased substantially, from 26 to 47 percent.
So the interesting question is what’s going on? We asked voters this time if their opinion has changed and if so has it gotten better or worse. As you’ll see from the release below, more people say it has gotten worse than either stayed the same or gotten better. We then wanted to see if we could figure out reasons, so we asked people to say whether a series of reasons applied. As it turns out, there is little to distinguish those whose opinion “got better” from those who “got worse”. Large majorities of both groups cited many of the same reasons. From our list – including the budget, state employees, education, speculation about running for president, how he treats the public, property taxes, and a catch-all “just how he’s doing his job as governor” – education is the only one that really discriminates, with more people citing it as a reason their opinion has gotten worse.
At the same time, it turns out that speculation on Christie running for president does not influence opinion change for very many, and his interaction with members of the public and how he’s handled property taxes are both lower than the other issues and his general job performance as reasons for changing opinions.
Maybe more interesting here are the series of emotions questions we repeated from last April. More voters are worried and fewer are either proud or enthusiastic about Christie. Even Republicans are less likely to be proud or enthusiastic, and independents are more worried by the governor than they were in April.
Text of the release follows:
Plurality of NJ Voters Say Opinion of Gov. Christie has “Gotten Worse” since He Took Office
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has had recent legislative successes, including dramatic changes in public employee pension and health benefits, more New Jersey registered voters say their opinion of the governor had “gotten worse” since he took office, than say they feel better, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. While one-third of Garden Staters say there has been no change in their opinion of the governor, 38 percent say they have a worse opinion now and 28 percent say their opinion has gotten better. Favorability ratings over time also show an increase in negative feelings. In February 2010 right after his inauguration, 45 percent of voters had a favorable impression of the governor, while only 26 percent felt unfavorable. In this poll, 45 percent still have a favorable impression, but 47 percent now say they feel unfavorable, an increase of 21 points.
“Most leaders find their ratings slipping over time, often as they put their priorities in place,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “While people often start out willing to give the benefit of the doubt to new officeholders, as decisions get made, more people begin to feel either positive or negative about them. In this case, Governor Christie has generated strong feelings, and thus polarized opinion.”
Results are from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 615 registered voters conducted among both landline and cell phone households from Aug. 9 – 15, with a margin of error for the full sample of +/- 3.9 percentage points.
Younger Voters, Moderates, Public Employee Union Members More Negative
While voters overall say their opinion has not gotten better, younger voters, moderates and members of public employee unions are particularly more likely to say they feel worse over time. Nearly half of voters under 30, and 42 percent of those 30 to 49 years old say their opinion had gotten worse, while only 29 percent of those over 65 are more negative. And while few conservatives (19 percent) feel worse, 41 percent of moderates say their opinion has gotten worse, along with 50 percent of liberals. Unsurprisingly, given Christie’s efforts to change benefits for public employees, nearly half of voters with a public employee union member in their household say their opinion is worse now, while only 17 percent say it has gotten better.
“That these groups feel worse about Christie is not necessarily unexpected, “said Redlawsk. “Younger voters and public union members are not really part of his natural base. And moderates in New Jersey tend to lean more Democratic than Republican. As Christie has made clear his direction, groups like this are less and less happy with him.” Lower income and less educated voters show the same pattern of increased negativity.
Women are also more likely to say they feel worse about Christie, with 44 percent having a negative view, while 34 percent say there has been no change and 22 percent say their opinion has improved. Men are evenly split, with 35 percent feeling better, 34 percent feeling worse, and 31 percent saying there has been no change in their opinion about the governor.
Few 2009 Voters Converted
The past 18 months have done little to change the opinion of those who voted in the 2009 gubernatorial election. While only 15 percent of Christie voters say their opinion has gotten worse, 58 percent of Corzine voters feel more negative. At the same time, only 15 percent of Corzine voters feel better about Christie now, compared to 45 percent of those who voted for Christie in the first place.
Looking toward the 2013 gubernatorial election, only 42 percent of registered voters would vote for Christie if the election were today, while 49 percent would prefer someone else. As with opinions about Christie, few 2009 voters have changed their mind. While 78 percent of Christie backers would vote for him again, only 12 percent of Corzine voters would switch to Christie if the election were today.
“While asking about an election two years away doesn’t really tell us what will happen in 2013, it does give us a read on what voters are thinking,” said Redlawsk. “For the most part, lines in the sand are as distinct as ever. Most who voted for Christie still feel positive and would still vote for him. Most who voted for Corzine would vote against Christie again given the chance. Overall, he loses at the moment because voters who did not vote in 2009 say they don’t want to re-elect him at this point. This includes young voters who are strongly in favor of change.”
Reasons for Opinion Change Mixed
Given reasons voters might have for feeling better or worse about Christie, a generic “way he is handling the job of governor” garners 90 percent support as a reason for having changed opinions. Of those, 56 percent whose opinion changed say this is a reason their opinion has gotten worse, while 44 percent cite it as a reason for holding a better opinion now.
The issue of education generates the most negative response; 83 percent of voters with changed opinions say education issues are a reason. Sixty-three percent say they feel worse about Christie, while only 37 percent cite it as a reason they feel better.
For Republicans, Christie’s handling of the state budget is the top reason for opinion change; 94 percent choose this reason, with three-quarters of those saying it is why their opinion has gotten better. For Democrats, 89 percent say a reason for opinion change is simply how Christie handles his job, and 78 percent of this group says it makes their opinion of the governor worse. Independents’ top reason (91 percent) for changed opinion also is how the governor is handling his job. They are split, however, on whether this is a reason to feel better (46 percent) or worse (54 percent) about Christie.
More Worry; Less Pride and Enthusiasm since April
Changes in opinion about Christie are also reflected in voters’ emotional responses. Voters have become more “worried” and less “proud” and “enthusiastic” about Christie since an April 2011 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Worry is the dominant emotional response to Christie, with 54 percent saying they experience this emotion when reading or hearing about the governor. This is up from 49 percent in April. Forty-four percent of voters are made “angry” thinking about Christie, not much changed from 42 percent four months ago.
Positive emotional reactions have declined since April, with 30 percent now saying Christie makes them feel “enthusiastic” (38 percent in April) and only 30 percent saying they feel “proud” when reading or hearing about the governor (compared to 36 percent).
“Politics is very much about emotions,” said Redlawsk. “While we like to think people make careful decisions based on the policies they want to see implemented, we know that how people feel about politicians plays a big role in how they evaluate them. The decline in positive emotions and increase in negative ones reinforces that voters in New Jersey are not necessarily being won over by the governor.”
Interesting patterns appear in partisan emotional responses. Not surprisingly, GOP backers are much more positive, with 62 percent proud and 62 percent enthusiastic, while only 19 percent are angry and 27 percent worried. But this represents a drop in positive emotions by eight points among Republicans, 70 percent of whom were proud and enthusiastic in April. While Republicans are no angrier than in April, they are more worried, up six points from 21 percent four months ago.
Democrats show a substantial drop in positive responses to Christie, with 7 percent now saying they are proud, compared to 17 percent in April, and 7 percent expressing enthusiasm, down from 19 percent. At the same time, more Democrats are angry, at 71 percent, up nine points. Worry is up slightly, from 70 percent to 73 percent.
Independents also are more worried by Christie, with 54 percent now saying reading and hearing about him makes them worry, up nine points from April. While there has been no real change in how many are angered or proud, enthusiasm has dropped by seven points; only 30 percent of independents say reading or hearing about Christie makes them enthusiastic.
“While the change among Democrats probably makes no real difference since they are unlikely to support Christie anyway, the decline in positive responses from Republicans, combined with the decrease in enthusiasm and increase in worry among independents, may be more of a concern,” said Redlawsk. “From the governor’s standpoint, he cannot afford to lose independents since there are more Democrats than Republicans here. But it is hard to motivate people who are worried about you and not terribly enthusiastic to support you.”