NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – On the heels of announcing a special election for the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Gov. Chris Christie’s high job performance ratings hold steady but clear partisan division is evident, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
While Republicans (87 percent), Democrats (85 percent), and independents (88 percent) all overwhelmingly approve Christie’s post-Sandy recovery efforts, partisans show double-digit differences in their support for Christie on virtually every other issue. Division is particularly strong on what most voters continue to say are the two most important problems in New Jersey – the economy (including jobs) and taxes. Just 41 percent of all voters approve Christie’s handling of these issues, with support among Democrats at just over one-quarter, while more than 60 percent of Republicans approve.
The effects of Sandy continue to buoy Christie’s overall ratings: 70 percent approve of his job performance, 64 percent have a favorable impression, and 58 percent award Christie an A or B for his work. Overall ratings show little change from the last Rutgers-Eagleton Poll in April 2013.
“The post-Sandy ‘rally around Christie’ effect has continued much longer than we might have expected,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “By way of contrast, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also initially had sky-high ratings, has come back to earth in recent polls, down 20 points from his peak. Christie, despite negative ratings for key issues, has seen very little long-term erosion in support.”
Results are from a poll of 888 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from June 3-9 with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. The subsample of 763 registered voters reported in this release has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.
Christie and state’s issues: partisanship apparent
Christie’s job performance rating has again hit 70 percent, despite a 31-point difference between Democrats and Republicans in their approval. Fifty-six percent of Democrats approve of how the governor is handling his job overall, up 5 points from April, but still down from the 62 percent high in February. And while Democratic approval moved up over the past two months, Republicans dropped by 6 points; still, a hefty 87 percent approve of Christie’s performance. Perhaps most important for Christie’s long-term future, more than three-quarters of independents continue to approve of his performance.
While Democrats and Republicans alike strongly back Christie’s response to Sandy, they take opposing positions on how Christie has handled virtually every other issue.
Voters name the economy and jobs (30 percent), and taxes (26 percent) New Jersey’s most important problems. Only 41 percent approve his management of both, while 48 percent are negative about how he has handled the economy and 50 percent fault his stance on taxes. Partisan division is stark. Among Democrats, 61 percent disapprove of how he’s managed the economy and 66 percent find fault with how he’s handled taxes. Numbers flip for Republicans: 63 percent approve of Christie’s handling of the economy and jobs, and 62 percent agree with his plan on taxes.
Across all voters, only about one-third of those who say the economy and jobs or taxes are the most important problems facing the state give Christie their approval on these issues.
Approval of the governor’s performance on education has declined since April and is now split; 45 percent approve (down four points), and 46 percent disapprove (up two points). Again, a 40-point approval gap exists between Republicans and Democrats. The 14 percent of voters who call education the state’s most important problem are the least likely of any group to approve Christie’s performance on their issue – only 14 percent approve, compared to 82 percent who disapprove.
Christie does better overall on crime and drugs: 51 percent approve of the job he is doing, 28 percent disapprove while 21 percent are unsure. Christie also does well on the state budget: 51 percent approve of his performance, compared to 37 percent who disapprove and 12 percent who are unsure. But Democrats (38 percent approval) and Republicans (73 percent) are once again at opposite ends of the spectrum. Even so, relatively few voters (18 percent) consider either crime or the budget to be the most important issues facing the state.
In the end, the key to Christie’s overall popularity is the nearly universal approval of his handling of the post-Superstorm Sandy cleanup; 86 percent approve while only 10 percent disapprove. He gets equally high marks from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as from many of his usual detractors: those who view him unfavorably (73 percent approval), women (88 percent), black voters (81 percent), and public union households (87 percent).
“Without having had the chance to show his strengths during and after Sandy, it seems clear that Christie would be back where he was before Sandy, with half the state approving and half disapproving,” said Redlawsk. “Given the sizable split on nearly every specific issue we poll on, it is clearly his image as a strong leader in the aftermath of the storm that continues to make the difference. Many voters may not like the specifics of his job performance, but they appreciate his leadership.”
Also related to Christie’s positive overall numbers in this blue state, New Jersey voters perceive him as a political moderate. Nearly 60 percent of voters see him that way, including more than half of Democrats and almost seven in ten Republicans. Only 28 percent consider Christie to be conservative.
Voters continue to be favorably inclined toward Christie
Nearly two-thirds of voters continue to have a favorable impression of Christie, while about one-quarter continue to hold an unfavorable impression, unchanged from April. Democrats registered a small increase in favorability to 48 percent after a double-digit drop between February and April. Independents remain relatively steady at 69 percent and Republicans show a four-point dip (though most overwhelmingly approve) to 86 percent.
However, the favorability gender gap has widened to six points, with 67 percent of men feeling favorable toward Christie. The governor continues to receive his highest favorability ratings from those living in areas hardest hit by Sandy – northwest exurban (72 percent) and shore (76 percent) counties, which are also more Republican than most of the state.
Asked to grade Christie’s job performance, 24 percent of respondents award him an A, while another 34 percent give a B, showing little overall change. But Republicans are less positive than they were in April, reporting a 12-point decline in top grades: 76 percent either give Christie an A (43 percent) or B (33 percent), down from 88 percent in April. The drop stems from a decline in his B grades and a doubling of his C’s by GOP backers.
“While the number of respondents is too small to be sure, we do see a drop in job grades awarded by the Republicans we talked to after the special Senate election announcement,” noted Redlawsk. “This suggests the possibility of some short-term intraparty backlash when Christie set the election for this year instead of next.”
Forty-three percent of Democrats award Christie an A or B, the same as in April, after a 52 percent high in February. Independents have also held steady between polls, with 63 percent awarding A or B.
New Jersey continues in the right direction
Sixty-one percent of voters say New Jersey is going in the right direction, compared to 30 percent who think the state has gone off on the wrong track. Half of Democrats, 63 percent of independents, and 81 percent of Republicans believe the state is going in the right direction. Those most likely to agree include those most favorable toward the governor (81 percent), those who approve of Christie’s job performance overall (78 percent), white voters (67 percent), older voters (67 percent), and those living in exurban and shore counties (63 percent and 68 percent).