WHILE MOST NJ REPUBLICANS STAND BY CHRISTIE, DEMOCRATS ABANDON HIM
Favorability and Job Ratings Drop to Pre-Sandy Levels
Note: Two-thirds of this poll was completed before the recent allegations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Sandy aid was withheld from her city due to her unwillingness to support a development linked to Gov. Christie’s allies.
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Following a second week of revelations about “Bridgegate,” Gov. Chris Christie’s job approval and favorability ratings have dropped dramatically among New Jerseyans, with Democrats driving the decline, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Following more than a year of strong bipartisan support, Christie’s favorability rating is now 46 percent favorable to 43 percent unfavorable, down from 65 percent favorable just before his landslide re-election. This drop in support is led by a 26-point decline among Democrats.
Voters are slightly more positive about Christie’s performance as governor, with 53 percent approving how he handles the job. But this is down 15 points since November; well below the 66 to 73 percent support Christie had enjoyed throughout the year since Superstorm Sandy. Asked to grade the Governor, 43 percent now award Christie an A or B – down 16 points– and 29 percent assign either a D or F, compared to just 18 percent two months ago.
Christie’s ratings drop is driven by a very large decline among Democrats while most Republicans – and many independents – continue to stand by the Governor. In November, 45 percent of Democrats were favorable, but with new challenges to Christie’s bipartisan leadership, only 19 percent of Democrats are now positive. Democratic approval of Christie’s job performance has dropped from 51 percent to 29 percent. While noticeably down from November, Republicans are still very positive: 78 percent feel favorable, and 83 percent approve of the job Christie is doing. Independent support has also dropped, but a majority continues to favor Christie.
Christie’s ratings are noticeably lower among those who travel across the George Washington Bridge at least once a week, at 37 percent favorable. Those who use the bridge less often are more positive, with 45 percent favorable, compared to 51 percent favorable among voters who never use the bridge. His job approval follows a similar pattern for these commuters.
“Other polls taken immediately after the bridge scandal broke showed relatively small effects,” noted David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “But with another week of revelations, damage appears to have been done. The good will the Governor built up among Democrats with his handling of the Sandy aftermath is gone, at least for now.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 826 New Jersey adults with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points, contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Jan 14 – 19. Within this sample are 757 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.
“Bridgegate” sinking in
Christie’s ratings have been negatively affected by the “Bridgegate” revelations and the resulting media onslaught. Only five percent of New Jerseyans say they have heard nothing about the scandal. Overall, residents are generally skeptical of Christie, with more than half saying it is somewhat or very unlikely that his advisors acted without his knowledge. And more than half do not believe the explanation Christie gave at his January 9 press conference.
The scandal has created clear partisan differences over what happened. Republicans mostly support Christie: two-thirds think the Governor was likely unaware of what his staff was doing, and 80 percent at least partially accept his explanation. But only a quarter of Democrats think Christie was unaware of his aides’ actions; instead, over half say it is very unlikely Christie was out of the loop. Moreover, 62 percent of Democrats do not believe at all Christie’s explanation for what happened.
“The re-emergence of strong partisan differences in believing the Governor returns us to a pre-Sandy political environment,” said Redlawsk. “Before the storm, Governor Christie’s term was defined by sharp splits, with Democrats generally negative and Republicans very positive. Once Christie proved his leadership after Sandy, partisan differences became quite small right through the election in November. But Democrats are once again very unhappy with the Governor.”
Whether or not they think Christie is telling the truth, New Jerseyans overwhelmingly blame Christie’s “tough-guy” persona for the conduct of his staff: more than 70 percent say the Governor’s attitude contributed at least somewhat to his staff’s reported behavior. Even six in ten Republicans believe Christie’s demeanor has at least somewhat encouraged these events.
But New Jerseyans are split on whether the state legislature should continue investigating the claims: 49 percent say continue, while 47 percent say the legislature should move on to more important issues. More than half of Democrats want the investigation to continue (57 percent) but majorities of both independents (53 percent) and Republicans (59 percent) want the legislature to move on.
Impact on presidential hopes
More than half of New Jerseyans feel Christie’s lengthy mea culpa was more about damage control for a future presidential run than a sincere apology, and half also think the scandal sheds light on how a future President Christie and his team would act once in the Oval Office. Again, Republicans mostly stick by the Governor, with nearly half seeing Christie’s apology as heartfelt. But 70 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents disagree with GOPers, believing the apology was more about a presidential run. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Republicans do not believe the scandal provides insight into a Christie presidency, but just as many Democrats say that it does.
More than two-thirds of all New Jerseyans think the scandal has been at least somewhat damaging to Christie’s presidential hopes; even 55 percent of Republicans see some damage. At the same time, most report little effect on their likelihood of voting for Christie if he runs for president. Only 23 percent of registered voters say the scandal would lower at least somewhat their chance of supporting Christie. But another 17 percent say they would not have voted for him in any case. Even with recent events, sixty percent of voters nonetheless think Christie will run in 2016.
Perhaps summarizing the effects of events over the past two weeks, Christie does poorly in a head-to-head matchup with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Among registered voters, Christie loses New Jersey 34 percent to 55 percent for Clinton. “It remains very early in the 2016 presidential cycle,” said Redlawsk. “If the Governor can put this behind him within the next couple of months, and assuming events transpired as he says, then there is every reason to think he can recover in time to mount a strong 2016 campaign. But if it goes on much longer than that, or if allegations continue to build, Christie will have his hands full right here in New Jersey.”
GWB having little effect in most key areas; but Sandy ratings take a hit
With the media focusing on the bridge scandal, the Governor’s favorability and job performance ratings have taken a significant hit. But no significant change has occurred in New Jerseyans’ assessments of Christie’s performance in several key areas, including the economy, taxes, and crime.
On the economy and jobs, 45 percent of voters approved Christie’s performance in November. Today approval stands at 44 percent, with 46 percent disapproving. Taxes tell a similar story: 42 percent approved of the way Christie was handling taxes in November, dropping only slightly to 38 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval. Half continue to approve of Christie’s performance on crime and drugs, compared to 53 percent two months ago.
A more significant shift has occurred on approval of Christie’s performance on education, down six points to 48 percent approval. The Governor announced his desire for a longer school day and year in his State of the State speech, placing some brief focus on the issue.
Further, perceptions of Sandy recovery performance have also dropped significantly, from 80 percent approval in November to 69 percent approval now.
“Changes in perceptions of the Governor’s Sandy performance are probably due to the shift of Democrats away from the Governor’s camp and the recent claims by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Sandy recovery aid was tied to supporting a development linked to Christie’s allies,” noted Redlawsk. “Zimmer’s claims may have particularly influenced respondents we talked to on Saturday and Sunday after that story broke.”