BRIDGEGATE AFTERMATH: CHRISTIE STILL SEEN AS ‘FIGHTER’ BUT MORE NOW CALL HIM ‘BULLY’ AS ASSESSMENTS OF TRUSTWORTHINESS DECLINE
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. – As Gov. Chris Christie battles “Bridgegate” and other allegations, perceptions of his personal characteristics have taken a negative turn among registered voters in New Jersey, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Christie’s most infamous trait – “bully” – is at an all-time high: 43 percent say bully describes him very well (up nine points) while another 21 percent feel it fits somewhat well. Only about a third does not view Christie as a bully.
But the trait voters say describes Christie above all is “fighter” – a word the governor himself has used. Two-thirds of voters say the word fits him very well, while another one in five say fighter is somewhat fitting; only 8 percent do not see Christie as a fighter at all.
Christie’s controversies seem to be taking a toll on voters’ trust. Use of “trustworthy” as a trait description is at an all-time low with just 27 percent saying the term applies very well, down 16 points from October 2013. Voters are now more inclined to say “stubborn” fits very well, up 10 points to 64 percent. Further, half sees Christie as “arrogant” (up five points) and “self-centered” (up 11 points).
Most positive trait words, on the other hand, show clear declines since October. While more than half still say “strong leader” describes Christie very well, this is down 10 points while “fair” has declined by 11 points to 30 percent. Application of the word “smart” has declined five points, to 58 percent while “effective” has dropped 6 points to 44 percent.
“Bridgegate has taken a toll on perceptions of Christie,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Positive views of his leadership buoyed ratings post-Sandy but negative traits are becoming more prevalent in light of recent events.”
Emotional responses show similar patterns. Pride in and enthusiasm about the governor have taken double-digit hits, both down to 35 percent. Voters, on the other hand, are angrier (at 40 percent, up 12 points) and more worried (41 percent, up 10 points) when they think about Christie.
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. Included are 757 registered voters reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.
Still a fighter, but also more of a bully
In a response to the bully label in a CBS Sunday Morning interview in late September, Christie demurred, saying, “No, I am not a bully. But what I am is a fighter.” Voters continue to agree: two-thirds say fighter describes the governor very well. Agreement cuts across party lines: 59 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans agree that Christie is a fighter.
Partisan opinions on bully are more divided. For Democrats, it is a top trait; 60 percent say bully fits very well, but only 17 percent of Republicans feel the same. Forty percent of independents say the word applies very well. Republicans have remained steady in their unwillingness to call the governor a bully, but both Democrats and independents are 11 points more likely to feel this way.
In a clear reflection of Bridgegate, voters using the George Washington Bridge (GWB) at least weekly are 23 points more likely to say bully fits Christie very well, compared to voters never using it.
Negative impressions increase in Bridgegate aftermath
As with Christie’s favorability and job performance, trait perceptions have turned significantly more negative with Bridgegate, returning to levels last seen before Superstorm Sandy. Democrats are a driving factor, though not solely responsible. This is particularly evident with stubborn, the trait Democrats most ascribe to Christie: 76 percent think it fits very well (up 17 points), compared to 60 percent of independents (little changed) and half of Republicans (up nine points).
Large majorities of Democrats find Christie arrogant (71 percent) and self-centered (65 percent), while 45 percent say impulsive describes him very well. Independents and Republicans are much less likely to agree. Among the former, 43 percent say arrogant applies very well, 39 percent say self-centered, and 31 percent impulsive. About three in 10 Republicans say the same for each trait.
While GWB usage does not greatly affect opinions on Christie as stubborn, it does appear to influence perceptions on arrogant, self-centered, and impulsive, with more frequent bridge commuters more likely to say these traits fit him very well.
Positive traits fall, even with GOPers
Since Superstorm Sandy’s assault on the state 16 months ago, voters have increasingly identified Christie with more positive characteristics, but that pattern has reversed in Bridgegate’s aftermath. Like with negative traits, partisanship is a driving factor.
The starkest example is trustworthy, now rated lowest of all positive traits. Just 12 percent of Democrats say the term describes Christie very well, down 12 points. Fifty-three percent of Republicans say the same, an even larger 22-point decline. Independents are down 14 points to 30 percent. Women are nine points less likely than men to find Christie trustworthy, but the trait does not differ by GWB usage.
“Trust in most politicians has been very low in recent years, but Christie has enjoyed comparatively high trust post-Sandy,” noted Redlawsk. “That appears to have evaporated outside of the GOP while dropping significantly among Republicans as well.”
Interestingly, Democrats show no change in calling Christie a strong leader or smart, but independents and Republicans show notable declines. Eighty percent of GOPers say strong leader applies very well, down 13 points, and 75 percent say smart describes the governor, down 11 points. Sixty percent of independents feel the same, each down 13 points. The 40 percent of Democrats calling Christie a strong leader remains steady from October. They are now more likely to say smart applies very well (49 percent, up eight points). About half of the most frequent GWB users agree.
The term “sincere,” asked for the first time, gets similar ratings. Sixteen percent of Democrats, 39 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans say this describes Christie very well. About a quarter of regular GW Bridge users say the same, compared to a third of other voters.
More anger, worry become evident
Voters are also experiencing more negative emotions toward Christie than they did pre-Bridgegate. Feelings of pride and enthusiasm are at all-time lows while voters are angrier and more worried than in October, though not yet as much as they were during Christie’s first year in office.
Feelings of pride and enthusiasm are down across the board. While 67 percent of GOPers say Christie still makes them proud, this is an 11-point drop. Only 39 percent of independents are proud (down 10 points) and just 14 percent of Democrats feel pride in Christie, down 14-points. Women are 10 points less proud than men, and more frequent GWB commuters are 10 points lower than those not using the bridge. Just 17 percent of Democrats are enthusiastic (off eight points), as are 38 percent of independents (down 7 points). While 63 percent of GOPers remain enthusiastic, this is down 19 points.
Negative feelings have increased for independents: over a third feel both angry and worried, double-digit increases for both emotions. Over half of Democrats now say Christie makes them worried (up seven points) and angry (up 13 points). Just one in five Republicans feels worried or angry toward the governor, increases of five and nine points, respectively. Women are 10 points more likely than men to say the governor worries them, but there is no gender difference for anger. Half of those who use the GWB most frequently are worried and angry, compared to about 40 percent of those who use it less.