Since we last polled, President Obama has apparently decided to adopt a somewhat less than conciliatory tone towards the Republicans in Congress, pushing hard for his jobs bill and taking on a new self-proclaimed role as underdog for 2012. Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie decided not to run for president this time around. Here at the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll we were a little disappointed by his decision, mainly because we had already written the questions on Gov. Christie running for president for our next poll. But we’re well prepared – we also had questions ready if he didn’t run, or if he did not make his intentions clear before we went into the field on October 6.
As it turns out, he did make his intentions clear, so we included two questions on this in our latest poll, which just came out of the field on October 9. As we report as part of our release today, New Jersey voters are pretty happy the governor is not running: 64% say they are somewhat or very happy with the decision. Even a majority (54%) of Republicans are glad he is staying home. Given that fewer than one-quarter thought he should run back when we asked in April, the result is not surprising. Our second question on Christie’s ambitions asked if his personality would help him be a good president. New Jersey voters are less sure about that – 49% say his personality would not help, while 47% think it would.
As for the president, as the release below details, he is doing a bit better in New Jersey than he was two months ago. His favorability and job performance ratings are both up, and now 50% say he deserves a second term, compared to 43% in August. So for him, that’s good. But remember, this is a “blue” state – and Obama won it easily in 2008. At this point the positive news rests more on Democrats with a more positive view (and some independents) more than it does on wholesale change.
We’ll have more releases on the latest poll in the coming days, including an overview of the 2011 legislative election, some more on how NJ voters view Gov. Christie, and we’ll look at the very first question ever asked in a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, back in September 1971, 40 years ago.
The text of the release on 2012 is below. A PDF of the full text with questions and tables is available here.
RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL FINDS OBAMA REBOUNDS IN NEW JERSEY; VOTERS HAPPY CHRISTIE IS NOT RUNNING
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – President Barack Obama’s support in New Jersey has rebounded from its low in August, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Half of Garden State voters now say the president deserves a second term, up from 43 percent two months ago. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of voters are happy with Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement that he will not run for president in 2012. Voters are somewhat unsure whether Christie has the personality to make a good president, with 47 percent agreeing, and 49 percent disagreeing, much along partisan lines.
“As the presidential race start to jell, President Obama may have benefited from Christie’s decision to stay out,” said poll Director David Redlawsk, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Had the governor jumped in, New Jersey voters would have had a tougher decision: support the home state guy, or a Democratic president. What we’re seeing now is at least some movement back to New Jersey’s blue-state history. Even so, the election is far off and the Republican race is still not settled. Obama can take nothing for granted.”
Results are from a poll of 903 adults, including a sample of 821 registered voters conducted among both landline and cell phone households from Oct. 6-9. The full sample of registered voters reported here has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Obama re-elect returns to positive territory
Obama has seen a significant turnaround in his New Jersey favorability ratings since August, when more voters wanted to deny a second term than thought he deserved it. Half of voters now feel favorable toward the president, while 41 percent are unfavorable. Independent voters remain one of the keys to shifts in support. In August independents were very negative, with 49 percent unfavorable and 36 percent favorable. Independents are still slightly negative, but only by 47 percent to 41 percent. Democrats’ favorability also has increased, from 76 percent in August to 83 percent.
Voters are also more positive about the president’s job performance than they were in August: 38 percent give him an A or B grade, compared to only 33 percent in the summer. Meanwhile, 31 percent now give him a D or F, down from 37 percent.
As a result, by 50 percent to 42 percent, voters are more likely to say Obama deserves a second term. This compares to only 43 percent for re-election with 47 percent opposed two months ago. Democrats’ support for re-election has increased 5 percent since August to 85 percent. Independents also have become slightly more positive; 50 percent oppose a second term, a drop of 5 points. Thirty-eight percent now say he deserves a second term, compared to 33 percent in August.
“What Obama has going for him in New Jersey is simply that it is still a Democratic state when it comes to voting at the national level,” said Redlawsk. “We also see some evidence that both Democrats and many independents are happier with Obama now as he more frequently defends his positions and blames Republicans for the gridlock in Washington.”
Happy he’s not running, voters give Christie improved ratings
New Jersey voters roundly agree with Christie’s decision to not run for president: nearly two-thirds are happy he is not running. Just over half with a favorable impression of Christie are happy, as are three-quarters of those with an unfavorable impression. While only 54 percent of Republicans are pleased, 61 percent of independents and 72 percent of Democrat feel the same.
Those who like the governor also think he has the personality to be president: 76 percent agree that his personality “would help him be a successful president.” Those less favorable disagree, with only 14 percent saying his personality would lead to success. Independents are split: 49 percent agree, 47 percent disagree. Still, 53 percent who think his personality would help him be a good president are happy he is not a candidate this time around.
Overall, Christie now enjoys a 49 percent to 39 percent favorability margin. In August, he was upside down, 45 percent to 47 percent. This improvement is mostly driven by independents, who now favor the governor by 19 points, up 17 points since August. Favorability among Democrats stands at 26 percent, a gain of six points over two months ago.
“Since our last poll, New Jersey has faced natural disasters and most observers say the governor handled them well,” said Redlawsk. “That and his decision not to run for president leave us unsurprised about the improvement in Christie’s favorability ratings. He is at the highest point since last December, but he still remains in the same relatively narrow range of support he has had since taking office.”
Forty-four percent of voters grade Christie’s job performance A or B; 38 percent did so in August. Those assigning failing or near-failing grades have declined from 42 percent to 28 percent.
Many Republicans remain unsatisfied with choices
While voters overall are pleased that Christie is not a candidate, GOP voters are more mixed, with 54 percent at least somewhat happy with the decision, and 39 percent somewhat or very unhappy. Christie’s decision, along with the failure of Texas Gov. Rick Perry to sustain his initial momentum, has left Republicans somewhat less satisfied with their options than they were immediately after Perry announced in August. At that time, 65 percent of a small sample of Republican and Republican-leaning voters was satisfied with their choices. Now, only 59 percent are, though more (11 percent) are very satisfied than in August (4 percent).
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be benefiting from both Christie’s decision and Perry’s collapse. Among GOP and GOP-leaners, Romney has gained eight percentage points to 24 percent since August in an open-ended question about the party’s nomination. Perry drops from 14 percent to 6 percent. Herman Cain, up to 10 percent from essentially no following, is well behind in second place. Despite not running, Christie remains third at 7 percent, followed by Perry. No other candidate gets more than 5 percent of mentions. Another 5 percent say they don’t like any of the candidates and 38 percent are not sure who they support.
Tea Party Republicans continue to support Romney as Cain moves up and Perry down
Tea Party supporters (50 percent of New Jersey Republicans) are now just as likely to support Romney as are other Republicans, a gain of four points for Romney. Perry’s support has dropped from 16 percent to 10 percent among Tea Party supporters. Cain, not even mentioned by Tea Party supporters in August, is now supported by 13 percent, second only to Romney. Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has fallen off the radar, from 8 percent to less than 3 percent.
The Republican nomination in New Jersey: stability and change
While Romney improves his lead in New Jersey, the GOP field appears very fluid. Perry’s rapid rise and fall has left many Republicans searching for an alternative. “While Perry initially looked like a serious threat to Romney here, his performance has soured many Garden State Republicans, and Romney has pulled well away,” said Redlawsk. “Cain, now second, is just the latest in a series of candidates Republican voters have considered. Whether he will have the staying power Bachmann and Perry lacked remains to be seen. With only one-quarter of Republicans willing or able to name Romney as their preferred candidate, there remains a lot of room in the race.