Today we release the latest numbers on how Bridgegate and to some extent Sandy recovery issues are effecting the standing of Gov. Chris Christie. As the release below details, the governor’s overall ratings have stayed essentially stable since our last poll after Bridgegate broke in January. Both his favorability and overall job performance ratings are slightly higher than they were in January (though the difference is NOT statistically significant) while remaining far below his peaks in 2013. But from our perspective the more interesting story here is the collapse in job approval ratings for Christie’s Sandy recovery efforts. Throughout 2013, NJ votes gave the governor extremely high approval for post-Sandy efforts; at times more than 80% approved his job performance on Sandy even as a plurality or more disapproved other areas, like taxes and the economy.
We find approval of Gov. Christie on Sandy recovery has now dropped to 54%. Yes, it is still a majority, but the difference is quite dramatic. We see this driven in part by a nearly even split in whether voters believe allegations that the administration withheld Sandy aid from towns where Democratic Mayors did not endorse Christie’s re-election. Those who believe this have reversed course on Sandy, while those who do not remain as positive about the governor’s Sandy work as ever. In the end, this may actually be more of a problem for Christie than Bridgegate, and we may well have settled back to the pre-Sandy status quo – about half the state approving and half not approving how the governor is doing.
One quick note. Starting this this poll, we are adjusting our reported margin of error to include what are called “design effects” related to weighting the data to better match the population. All public telephone polls report weighted results – the raw sample is rarely an exact fit for the population. So we use statistical processes to adjust to known factors in the population – in our case generally age, race, ethnicity, and gender. In making this adjustment we add more uncertainty to the results, which increases the margin of error of our estimates. However, few polls seem to clearly report this effect (the design effect). If you read the disclosure statement at the end of the PDF of the poll, you will see where we made this adjustment, increasing our reported margin of error for the registered voter sample from +/-3.7 percentage points for the raw sample to +/-3.8 percentage points for the weighted sample. It isn’t much, but it does make the margin of error more accurate.
Full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF with the text, questions, and tables.
N.J. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE TAKES BIG HIT ON SANDY RECOVERY RATINGS
Overall favorability – steady since January – remains much lower than 2013 highs
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As Bridgegate continues to dominate Gov. Chris Christie’s second term, and with new questions about how Superstorm Sandy funds have been managed, New Jersey voters have dramatically changed their perception of Christie’s job performance on Sandy recovery, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Only 54 percent now approve Christie’s efforts on Sandy, down 15 points since the mid-January poll and a 26-point drop from November 2013. Thirty-six percent disapprove, up 10 points from January, while 10 percent are unsure.
“These new numbers are a far cry from the nearly unanimous praise the governor had received for post-Sandy leadership,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “We’re seeing a real impact from recent claims involving withheld Sandy aid as political payback, as well as accusations of uneven and inappropriate distribution of recovery funds. This could have a more significant long-term impact than the Fort Lee lane closing scandal that opened Christie’s second term.”
While Sandy job approval has taken a big hit, Christie’s favorability rating (49 percent favorable to 40 percent unfavorable) is statistically unchanged from January’s 46 to 43 percent rating. Overall job approval is also stable at 55 percent; 39 percent disapprove, versus 53-41 six weeks ago.
“Positive views of Christie’s Sandy performance kept his overall ratings high throughout 2013,” noted Redlawsk. “The decline in Sandy approval has returned Christie to the pre-Sandy status quo, when about half of voters supported him and the other half did not or was unsure.”
The double-digit descent in Christie’s Sandy rating is heavily influenced by the 45 percent of voters who believe the administration withheld Sandy aid from some mayors in retaliation for not receiving their re-election support. Just 41 percent of voters think the allegations are false, while another 13 percent are uncertain.
Results are from a statewide poll of 842 New Jersey adults with a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points, contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 22 to 28. Within this sample are 729 registered voters reported upon in this release, with a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.
Christie’s Sandy support erodes
Where Christie once enjoyed across-the-board approval for his post-Sandy leadership, divisions have opened. A majority of Democrats no longer praises the governor: just 46 percent now approve his efforts, down 15 points during the past six weeks. Disapproval has jumped to 47 percent of Democrats. But support is also eroding among independents and Republicans. Fifty-four percent of independents continue to approve of Christie’s Sandy work, down 17 points from January. Republican approval dropped a surprising 13 points, to 69 percent.
Approval of Christie’s Sandy performance was once so strong that even those with an overall unfavorable impression were supportive. That is no longer true. One-third of voters unfavorable toward Christie now approve of how he has handled Sandy recovery, down 18 points from 51 percent approval in January. Nearly two-thirds of this group now disapproves.
Christie still does well among voters with a favorable overall impression, with almost three-quarters approving his work on Sandy, but this too is down, by 15 points in the last six weeks.
“When even Republicans show eroding support of a key Christie selling point – his management of the largest natural disaster to hit the state – things are not going well, even if overall favorability ratings look stable for now,” said Redlawsk.
Among the recent Sandy-related allegations against the administration have been claims that benefits were withheld from towns where Democratic mayors failed to endorse Christie’s re-election; 45 percent of voters believe these to be true. Among those voters, only 38 percent approve the governor’s performance on Sandy, while 54 percent disapprove. Those who do not believe the claims strongly support Christie’s Sandy work: 73 percent approve, while 17 percent disapprove.
All this may boil down to partisan preferences since beliefs about the allegations themselves are heavily divided by partisanship: two-thirds of Democrats say Christie’s administration withheld the funds purposely, versus seven in 10 Republicans who say the opposite. Independents are evenly split on the question – 43 percent (true) and 42 percent (false).
Bridgegate continues to roil New Jersey voters
The division over Sandy performance parallels views on the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. Just over half of voters suspect Christie had knowledge of his advisers’ actions in the closures, while 44 percent do not. Only 16 percent fully believe the governor’s Jan. 9 press conference explanation regarding Bridgegate, down from the 22 percent who said this in January.
Another 35 percent say they somewhat believe Christie; 44 percent do not believe him at all. In January, 32 percent somewhat believed the governor, and 42 percent did not.
Democrats are most apt to say it is very unlikely Christie did not know of his staff’s actions (51 percent), as well as to disbelieve Christie’s explanation at all (64 percent). Republicans are more supportive: 31 percent say it is somewhat likely and 32 percent say it is very likely Christie was unaware. Just over a third of Republicans fully believe his explanation, while another 41 percent somewhat believes it.
Voters who cross the George Washington Bridge at least once a week are more likely than less frequent bridge users to think Christie was unaware: 47 percent think it is very unlikely Christie did not know about the plan, and 52 percent do not believe at all the governor’s explanation.
Asked about the investigation, 38 percent say the state Legislature should continue its effort, but another 30 percent say it should defer to the U.S. Attorney. Almost a quarter says no investigation is needed.
More than half of Democrats want the Democratically-controlled Legislature to continue its efforts while 27 percent say the U.S. Attorney should take over. Twelve percent say no investigation is needed. Forty percent of Republicans say all investigations should be ended, while 31 percent say the U.S. Attorney should take the lead. Twenty percent support the Legislature continuing its probe. Independents are more split, with just over a quarter preferring no investigation at all and a third siding with each of the other options. Surprisingly, 37 percent of those who cross the George Washington Bridge at least once a week say no further investigation is necessary, although a plurality (40 percent) would prefer the state to continue.
Despite challenges, most Christie voters would stick by him
Even with the developing scandals, New Jerseyans are nowhere near ready to trade in their governor. Just one in five voters think Christie should resign in the face of the investigations, but nearly three-quarters says he should stay in office. Even Democrats are not calling for the governor’s head; just a third says he should resign. Just over three-quarters of independents and 92 percent of Republicans say Christie should remain in office.
Almost 90 percent of Christie voters say they would still vote for the governor if they had the chance to vote again. But this does not mean most would vote for him for president. Christie still trails former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, 41 percent to 51 percent, in a 2016 New Jersey head-to-head matchup, although this is a significant improvement from his 34 to 55 percent deficit in January. Asked to name the one person they most want to see as the next president, Christie comes in a distant second to Clinton, drawing fewer than half of the mentions she does.
On issues other than Sandy, Christie’s ratings have remained divided. Just over four in 10 approve his work on the economy and taxes and almost half approve his performance on education.
“In the end, Governor Christie still has a solid base of support among New Jersey voters, even if it is no longer at the record levels we once saw,” said Redlawsk. “In retrospect, it was always unreasonable to expect his post-Sandy ratings would last forever, though we never anticipated how they would fall. Christie’s future may now depend on how well he can pivot to issues that have helped him in the past, including his recent focus on public worker pensions and health care costs. Many New Jerseyans remain happy to stay in his corner, at least for now.”
Note: On Monday we reported results in conjunction with polls done by Siena and Roanoke where we all ran a group of the same questions across three states. In that release, Christie is shown with a 48%-40% favorability rating in NJ. Today’s release reports a 49%-40% rating. Why the difference? It is because the other two centers combine “refusals” into the “don’t know” category, where we routinely drop them out. There were 3 respondents in this poll who refused to answer the Christie favorability question. Taking them out as we normally do rounds the favorable number up to 49% instead of down to 48%. But the joint report on Monday included the approach used by Siena and Roanoke. Today’s report reverts to our normal approach so we can compare to the past. These numbers are estimates, of course, with a margin of error, and the difference is meaningless in terms of substance.