Voters Remain Negative about ‘Bridgegate,’ Other Allegations; But Half Say Christie is Putting Scandals behind him
Most say allegations are politics as usual, investigation a waste of time
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Seven months after the George Washington Bridge scandal burst Gov. Chris Christie’s ratings bubble, almost half of New Jersey voters continue to doubt the governor’s explanation of what happened. According to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, 47 percent of registered voters say they do not believe Christie at all, while another 24 percent say they somewhat believe him and just 23 percent say they fully believe him. Six percent are unsure.
More than half of respondents say Bridgegate and allegations of misuse of Port Authority and Sandy funding are serious for Christie, with 39 percent saying “very serious” and 17 percent saying “extremely serious.” But 27 percent say the allegations are not very serious, while 14 percent say not serious at all. Despite the net negative view, voters have shifted slightly in Christie’s favor since April. The percentage thinking the allegations are extremely serious has dropped nine points, while “not at all serious” is up seven points.
There has not been the same shift on how damaging Bridgegate and other issues have been to Christie’s presidential ambitions, however. Almost seven in 10 voters still think these allegations are either very (20 percent) or somewhat (48 percent) damaging. Only 18 percent believe they are not very damaging and just 11 percent say not damaging at all.
Nevertheless, 51 percent of voters think the governor has been mostly successful in putting these allegations behind him, though 40 percent disagree. Nearly three-quarters of voters call the allegations “just politics as usual” and not unique to the Christie administration; 60 percent think the ongoing legislative investigation is a waste of time.
“Governor Christie is trying very hard to put all of this behind him as he appear to be exploring a presidential campaign,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Whether he is succeeding is still unclear. Most voters agree that the legislative investigation is a waste of time, but they also think the allegations are serious and have potential to derail him. If any indictments related to the various allegations come down, all bets are off. If not, Christie may well become a GOP front-runner again.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 871 New Jerseyans contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 28 to Aug. 5, 2014. This release reports on a subsample of 750 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points.
Republicans stand by their governor but see damage to 2016 aspirations
Christie’s believability in the “Bridgegate” scandal has not recovered since voters generally panned the January press conference where Christie said he was unaware of the lane closings. They remain skeptical and see the mounting allegations as problematic for Christie. Views on Christie’s role and its repercussions are, of course, particularly divided by partisanship: 11 percent of Democrats fully believe the governor’s explanation and another 16 percent somewhat believe him, while 68 percent do not at all. Republicans say just the opposite – though to a slightly lesser extent – split between fully (47 percent) and somewhat believing (35 percent). Independents resemble the population as a whole. Christie also has more credibility with those favorable toward him and who approve of the job he is doing overall, but again to a lesser extent than the total disbelief of his more passionate detractors.
“The fact that fewer than half of GOP voters fully believe Christie is a problem waiting to happen,” said Redlawsk. “He needs a strong party base to run for president. If Republican voters in New Jersey are even somewhat skeptical, there might be an opening for his GOP challengers to define him by these allegations. It’s important to remember that a full-blown presidential campaign has not yet started, and the inevitable attacks have not begun in earnest.”
Perceptions of how serious the various allegations are for Christie also depend on the same set of factors. Just under three-quarters of Democrats believe the allegations are at least somewhat serious. GOP voters now believe the events to be less serious than they did earlier this year, a positive sign for the governor. Four in 10 Republicans say the claims of wrongdoing are not very serious for Christie and another quarter say they are not at all. Those unfavorable towards Christie, who disapprove of the job he is doing, or do not believe his explanation are stronger in their belief that the allegations are serious than Christie’s supporters are that they are not serious.
Christie’s potential 2016 run may be hampered because voters of all partisan leanings are at least somewhat likely to think the allegations are damaging to a campaign for president. Almost 80 percent of Democrats see the ongoing controversies as somewhat or very damaging to Christie’s aspirations, as do 62 percent of independents. But even a majority of Republicans agree, with 52 percent seeing this as somewhat damaging while another 12 percent find the allegations very damaging to his potential campaign. Over half of every demographic thinks this has all been at least somewhat damaging to the governor’s 2016 hopes, even among Christie’s biggest supporters.
“Voters still do not fully believe the governor’s claims, and while most Republicans do not see the events as very serious, they do think his potential presidential campaign has been damaged,” said Redlawsk. “In this context, the views of Republicans are most important, since Christie has to first survive what is likely to be a brutal Republican 2016 primary season, before worrying about what Democrats think.”
Christie, voters want to leave scandals behind
Even as they say the allegations are serious and his campaign has been damaged, voters nonetheless think Christie himself has been mostly successful in putting the potential scandals behind him, most likely due to his continual and adamant denials and even his playful brushing aside of the controversies on late night television. Three-quarters of Republicans and just over half of independents say Christie has been mostly successful, as do 35 percent of Democrats. Fifty-five percent of Democrats take the opposite view. At least a plurality of nearly every other key demographic group says he has been mostly successful. Among detractors, Christie gets at least a third vouching for his successful dismissal of the scandals. “Perhaps Christie’s dancing and joking with Jimmy Fallon has made some difference,” suggested Redlawsk.
Voters also seem to be growing tired of the legislative investigation. While the desire to continue investigating is somewhat determined by personal views of Christie, even 41 percent of Democrats say it’s time for the Legislature to move on. Eighty-two percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents feel the same. Fifty-five percent of Democrats want the investigation to continue.
Even those who do not believe Christie’s Bridgegate explanation at all are split – 51 percent say keep investigating, versus 47 percent who say it is a waste of time.
The governor’s supporters and detractors alike agree that these scandals are not unique to the Christie administration. Eighty-eight percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents and 54 percent of Democrats think this is just politics as usual. Even those unfavorable toward Christie, disapproving of him, and most skeptical of his explanation feel the same.
“At some level, voters probably expect political scandals here in New Jersey, so maybe this just doesn’t seem particularly different,” noted Redlawsk. “Moreover, most of the claims are about ‘payback’ in some form or another, and voters already tend to think politicians act this way on a regular basis.”