Today we begin the first of two releases relating to NJ Gov. Chris Christie. This release focuses on his ratings with NJ voters. The next one will look at presidential campaign-related perceptions. For reference, we last talked about Christie’s ratings here, back in October.
The full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.
NEW JERSEY VOTERS DISLIKE CHRISTIE’S HANDLING OF ECONOMY, TAXES; GOVERNOR’S FAVORABILITY REMAINS NEGATIVE, RUTGERS POLL FINDS
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – With speculation heating up about a Chris Christie presidential bid in 2016, the governor’s ratings with New Jersey voters are lukewarm at best, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Showing little change from October, 44 percent of registered voters feel favorable toward Christie, while 46 percent feel unfavorable. Christie’s overall job approval is a little better: 48 percent approve and 47 percent disapprove.
“Voters remain divided on how Christie is doing,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Without any recent marquee policy win and with the bloom of Sandy recovery long gone, we seem to have settled into a stasis where Democrats dislike Christie, Republicans still support him, and independents are mostly split down the middle.”
New Jersey voters say taxes (25 percent) and the economy and jobs (20 percent) remain their top two concerns, followed by corruption/abuse of power and education (tied at 13 percent each). Christie continues in negative territory on most top issues. His job approval on taxes is down two points since October to 31 percent, and down three points on the economy to 35 percent. Also, voters remain negative about Christie’s handling of the budget (down five points to 32 percent approval) and the pension fund (24 percent approval, unchanged since last August). Forty-two percent approve how he handles education.
The governor’s performance on Sandy recovery ties his all-time low, declining seven points in the past two months to 53 percent, a level last seen in April 2014. Approval of his handling of crime and drugs is down six points from October to 46 percent.
Voters are also more negative than positive on the direction of the state as a whole: 40 percent say New Jersey is going in the right direction while 49 percent say it is on the wrong track.
“For the most part, these are not particularly good numbers for Governor Christie,” said Redlawsk. “The declines in approval of his performance on a range of specific issues may yet lead to another drop in overall approval in the coming months, unless something changes the trend.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 750 New Jersey residents, including 646 registered voters contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Dec. 3-10, 2014. This release reports on registered voters only with a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points.
One bright spot: report card gets a small boost
While not even close to his post-Sandy highs, a report card on Christie provides a slight reprieve from other lackluster ratings. Voters are six points more likely to give him a B grade (31 percent) than they were in October. Correspondingly, those who grade him a C dropped six points to 22 percent. At the extremes, 8 percent give Christie an A (virtually unchanged), while the share of Ds and Fs remains essentially stable at 17 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
Christie’s B rating improved among partisans of all stripes: 18 percent of Democrats (up seven points), 33 percent of independents (up four points), and 49 percent of Republicans (up eight points) give him this above-average grade. Even among voters who call the economy and taxes the state’s the most important problems and rate Christie’s performance poorly on these issues, B grades predominate at 34 percent among those concerned about the economy and 41 percent of voters focused on taxes.
“We ask a variety of questions about the governor’s performance because people have many ways of thinking about what they like,” said Redlawsk. “Voters have recently become less enamored of him personally and are more likely to disapprove than approve on most specific issues. But Christie’s report card shows the real divide, as 39 percent say he’s an A or B performer and 38 percent would put him at the bottom of the class with a D or F.”
Republican support slips on key issue
Taxes and the economy – voters’ top concerns here – continue to depress Christie’s overall ratings. His approval ratings on both are at their lowest in the nearly two years of polling. Even some Republican voters have taken a step back. While 57 percent approve of Christie on the economy and jobs (29 percent disapprove), GOP voters are much less positive about how he is handling tax issues. His approval on taxes has dropped seven points since October, to 46 percent.
Democrats maintain their negativity toward Christie on these issues. Twenty-seven percent approve (and 64 percent disapprove) of his performance on the economy and jobs. Twenty-two percent approve and 70 percent disapprove on taxes. Christie does not fare well among independents either: 31 percent approve his work on the economy and 32 percent on taxes.
“While the Democrats’ negative views about Christie are to be expected these days, it is a much bigger deal that independents are also negative on these two key issues,” said Redlawsk. “Moreover, the continued loss of Republican approval on taxes is also noteworthy.”
Voters unhappy with Christie performance on top concerns
Among the quarter of voters who call taxes the most important problem, Christie’s overall rating are surprisingly good: they give him a 59-29 percent favorability rating and a 64-29 percent overall job approval rating. Yet these same voters are strongly negative on Christie’s actual performance on taxes. Since October, Christie has suffered a 10-point drop in his tax performance among these voters, to just 25 percent positive versus 67 percent negative. The key to this paradox, Redlawsk noted, is that Republicans tend to care most about taxes, and they remain positive about Christie overall, even as they are less than positive on some specific issues.
The 20 percent of voters who care the most about the economy give Christie a 48 percent to 47 percent overall job approval rating and split, 50 percent to 47 percent unfavorable on their impressions of the governor. But as with tax-focused voters, these respondents have become more negative on how Christie is handling their top concern. Just under a quarter now approves Christie’s work on the economy, down five points since October, while 69 percent disapprove, an increase of four points.
Economic concerns and New Jersey’s direction
Voters’ concerns about New Jersey’s economy and taxes appear to affect how they view the state’s overall performance. Among those who say the economy is their biggest concern, 37 percent say the state is going in the right direction versus 54 percent who think it is on the wrong track. Those who rate taxes as the top problem in the state are more evenly split, with 45 percent saying it is going in the right direction and 46 percent disagreeing.
Approval of Christie’s work in both of these areas is closely tied to which direction voters think New Jersey is headed. About seven in 10 voters who approve Christie’s performance on taxes and the economy also say the state is going in the right direction. Seventy percent who disapprove of the governor’s handling of the two problems say the New Jersey is on the wrong track.
Overall ratings and partisanship
While Christie’s overall ratings remain relatively stable since October, his job approval – which has usually been higher than his favorability rating – is now more closely in line with voters’ impressions of the governor. Ninety-two percent of those favorable toward Christie also approve of his job performance, while 87 percent of those unfavorable toward Christie do not.
Voters in both parties show little change in their impressions of Christie since October, when the governor’s favorability rating took its first net-negative turn in a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While independents’ feelings about Christie are split, 47 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable, Democrats and Republicans take very different positions. Just 21 percent of Democrats have a favorable impression of the governor, versus 69 percent who do not. Republicans are virtually the opposite, at 74 percent favorable and 17 percent unfavorable.
Christie’s overall job approval among Democrats has slipped five points to 22 percent; 73 percent now disapprove. Independents are holding steady at 52 percent approval to 42 percent disapproval. Over eight in 10 Republicans support the job the governor is doing.
Partisan opinions on where New Jersey is headed match closely with the governor’s ratings. More than half of Democrats (57 percent) say New Jersey is on the wrong track; just 31 percent think the state is going in the right direction. Republicans believe the opposite: 62 percent say right direction, while 33 percent say wrong track. Independents, however, are more positive about Christie himself than they are about the state as a whole: 51 percent think the state is on the wrong track, while just 38 percent think things are going in the right direction.