Bases for Impressions of Christie Now Dominated by Mentions of “Bully” and Scandals Among New Jerseyans, Less So by Superstorm Sandy
By Ashley Koning
Ashley Koning is Manager of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Rutgers University.
As we reported the other week, our latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows Christie’s favorability rating among registered voters now virtually split at 46 percent favorable to 43 percent unfavorable, a double-digit drop from his 65 percent favorability rating just before his landslide re-election. But what we have not yet reported is the additional step we took on that same poll to more thoroughly investigate just why New Jerseyans felt this way.
We probed impressions of Gov. Christie, given recent events and allegations surrounding the George Washington Bridge, by asking those who said they had a favorable or unfavorable impression of the governor a follow-up open-ended question about why they felt this way:
In just a word or two, please tell me why you feel [FAVORABLE/UNFAVORABLE] toward Governor Chris Christie?
Today’s blog post reports these results, including all respondents, and they seem quite interesting, especially when we turn the open-ended responses into word clouds.
Clear patterns emerge in the reasons given for viewing the governor favorably or unfavorably. Not surprisingly, words related to Christie as a “bully” take the top spot in descriptions of why people feel the way they do – though this is virtually entirely due to those who say they are unfavorable toward him.Our first word cloud just lumps all of our respondents into one group, which helps us see the relative frequency of the ideas people include in their responses from either direction. Out of everyone who answered this follow-up, about one in ten respondents said “bully” was a reason for their feelings toward the governor. A combination of phrases involving the recent allegations – “George Washington Bridge,” “Bridgegate,” and “scandal” – is also very prominent among all responses. While Superstorm Sandy and Christie’s job as governor overall still play large roles – especially for those feeling positively about him – they do so to a lesser extent than in the past and pale in comparison to the number of times New Jerseyans mention “bully.”
Of course, since we asked the question differently depending on whether a respondent is favorable or unfavorable toward Gov. Christie, it is more appropriate to look at each group independently. For those with a positive view of the governor, we find that Christie’s handling of Superstorm Sandy has faded a bit into the background with just 7 percent mentioning the storm as their primary reason for liking Christie. Instead, favorable respondents are more likely to mention something very general about Christie’s overall good job of governing and making policy decisions (the first thing mention for 22 percent), that he is doing a lot for New Jersey and improving the state (the first thing mention for 11 percent), and that he is straightforward (the first thing mention for 10 percent) and honest (the first thing mention for 9 percent).We get a fascinating partisan difference, however, as shown in the next set of word clouds. Sandy is a much bigger factor for Democrats who still like Christie, as well as for independents, than it is for Republicans. In fact, Sandy barely gets mentioned at all by Republicans, while the storm is the second biggest reason among the small number of favorable Democrats; Democrats mention almost nothing else in detail, instead focusing on generic “good job” type comments. Independents are more likely than Democrats to mention other positive reasons beyond the storm, such as focusing on Christie’s character. Republicans, instead of mentioning Sandy, give many other reasons for liking the governor – including that he is doing a good job, cares about and is doing a lot for New Jersey, and is straightforward and honest. So what about those who dislike Gov. Christie? As we noted, that number has grown substantially in the wake of the “Bridgegate” scandal. In fact, the influence of the George Washington Bridge Scandal is very evident. The single most mentioned idea is Christie as a “bully”, with 18 percent making this their main reason for disliking him. “Bully” has always been right up there among the unfavorables, but respondents now say this with more frequency than ever before. Another 16 percent mention something negative about his character or attitude, such as his arrogance or untrustworthiness. Other top reasons from the past, like the way Christie treats teachers and handles the issue of education, are now slightly less likely to be mentioned than things like the “George Washington Bridge,” “Bridgegate,” and “scandal.” “George Washington Bridge” is in fact the second most evident phrase in respondents’ reasons for their negative feelings. Partisanship does not, however, show the different patterns we might expect. Democrats, independents, and Republicans who feel unfavorably toward the governor all most often say it is because he is a “bully,” followed by – to varying degrees of importance – something about the George Washington Bridge. Democrats are much more likely than their counterparts to say they also feel negatively because they do not like Christie’s policies or his arrogance. Sandy plays more of a role in negativity for independents and especially for Republicans. Unfavorable Republicans, though still a very small number, are also likely to say they don’t like his policies and seem particularly annoyed by Bridgegate, with many saying Christie is arrogant and dishonest. The drop in Christie’s support seen this past month has clearly been driven by the unfolding George Washington Bridge scandal – particularly among those who feel negatively toward the governor. The temporary – albeit prolonged – hold Christie had over Democrats this past year through reelection was mostly a byproduct of Superstorm Sandy. As Christie’s Sandy efforts become a talking point of the past and Bridgegate takes center stage, these Democrats – as well as some independents – who were in Christie’s corner after the storm now have little else about the governor to support. Just as Sandy made New Jerseyans perceive the best qualities in Christie, Bridgegate is now very clearly making many of them perceive the worst.