With the first official GOP debate just days away, we asked New Jersey voters about how they think Gov. Chris Christie will do, IF he is one of the top ten candidates who will be invited. Voters in our state expect Christie to be on the Cleveland, OH debate stage, and think he is likely to do at least as well, if not better, than the other candidates. But they also think it really won’t matter much, that the governor’s best chance for the presidency is in the past. In fact, like the rest of the country, it seems, New Jersey GOP voters are looking carefully at Donald Trump, who now leads Christie as their first choice. One important point about this head-to-head test is that we do NOT ask voters to pick from a list of 17 names. Instead, we ask them to tell us who they would like to see as the nominee, without giving them the names. This is not, of course, how a ballot looks in an election, and it requires people to think of names. So given all the media attention, it is not surprising that Trump rises to the top. But we suspect no matter how we asked it, we would have seen the same result.
This release also represents a temporary transition for the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. As we announced last week, Ashley Koning is our new assistant director, and over the next six months she will be the primary spokesperson for the Poll. Director David Redlawsk will be away from Rutgers on a research project focused on the presidential nomination process, spending most of the rest of this year in Iowa. He will return next semester.
NJ VOTERS EXPECT CHRISTIE TO MAKE DEBATE, BUT SAY HIS BEST CHANCE FOR GOP NOMINATION IS BEHIND HIM
Trump stands atop list for NJ Republicans; Christie distant second
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As Gov. Chris Christie clings to the last spot in national polling for Thursday’s primetime Republican presidential debate, most New Jersey voters expect him to make the top 10, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Just under a quarter of registered voters say Christie is very likely to be on the stage, while another 43 percent say it is somewhat likely he will make the event. Just 28 percent think Christie will miss the cutoff for the big debate.
New Jersey voters see Christie as a good debater. If he makes the cut Thursday, a third of voters say he will give one of the strongest debate performances, while about half say he will do at least as well as the other contenders. Only about 10 percent think Christie would be one of the weakest debaters.
But optimism about Christie and the debate does not translate into good will toward a potential Christie presidency. Seven in 10 voters say Christie would not make a good president, and 55 percent think Christie’s best chance for getting the GOP nomination has already come and gone. Only about one-third of New Jersey voters say he still has a shot, while 6 percent say he never had one in the first place, and 5 percent are unsure.
“About the only thing New Jersey voters and Gov. Christie agree on is their belief that he will make the top 10 Thursday night,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “New Jerseyans also respect the governor’s ability to hold his own if he does join the debate. But they remain sour about the thought of a ‘President’ Christie and don’t expect him to snag the nomination. Most share the growing belief that Christie missed his chance to run for president at the height of his popularity.”
Christie is also no longer the top choice among New Jersey Republican voters for the nomination. Just as in national polls, Trump fever has spread to Garden State GOPers, with 21 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters naming the businessman as their candidate of choice. Christie comes in a distant second at 12 percent.
Yet Trump is held in low esteem in New Jersey: just 27 percent of New Jersey voters say they have a favorable opinion of him, while 59 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 15 percent are unsure.
Results are from a statewide poll of 867 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 25 to August 1, including 757 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-4.0 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
Christie supporters most hopeful about his debate chances
While New Jersey voters are mostly positive about the governor’s prospects in this week’s GOP debate, optimism about Christie’s participation and performance is especially strong among those who generally support him. A third of Republicans believe it is very likely Christie will make the top 10 Thursday night, compared to 23 percent of independents and 19 percent of Democrats. Republicans are also most positive when it comes to predicting how Christie would do in the debate itself, with 51 percent saying he would be one of the strongest debaters; 35 percent of independents and 26 percent of Democrats say the same, with another half of each group saying his performance would be about average.
Half of voters who say Christie will very likely be in the debate also say he will be one of the strongest candidates that night.
“Love him or hate him, few in New Jersey think Gov. Christie is completely out of it just yet – at least when it comes to this first debate – and if he makes it, no one thinks he will be put in a corner by the other candidates on stage,” said Koning. “The governor is known for his public speaking skills, his confidence and his quick-on-his-feet rebuttals. The opportunity to be on the stage could give Christie the boost he so desperately needs to stand out. And New Jerseyans seem to agree there is a chance he will be there and will succeed.”
Little faith in a Christie presidency
But New Jersey voters still resist the idea of “President” Christie in general, with views on how he would do as president virtually unchanged since April. Despite Christie’s claims of working effectively across party lines, 84 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents say the governor would not make a good president. Even Republicans remain mixed, with 50 percent saying he would and 45 percent saying he would not.
Seventy percent of men and women alike, 80 percent of nonwhite voters, and about 70 percent of voters under 65 feel the same about a Christie presidency. Exurban and shore residents have a more positive outlook than others, with about a third saying he would make a good Commander in Chief. Given the governor’s crusade against public employee unions, it is not surprising that 75 percent of voters in public union households say Christie would not make a good president.
NJ Republicans want … President Trump?
In what is now a fading memory, when asked in December 2014 to name the candidate they would support for president, 32 percent of New Jersey Republican voters named Gov. Christie as their top choice. Mitt Romney came in far behind at 10 percent and Jeb Bush a distant third at 6 percent.
Half a year later, the field looks very different, and some New Jersey GOPers – much like their fellow partisans in the rest of the country – have turned toward a candidate who has recently been trumping all others in the race: Donald Trump. The entrepreneur is named by a fifth of Republican and Republican-leaning voters in the Garden State as their top pick. Christie garners just over half that number, at 12 percent – now just 2 points ahead of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
But just because Republicans name Trump as their top choice does not mean they have an overwhelmingly favorable view of him. Republican views of him are somewhat mixed, with 47 percent assessing him favorably while 35 percent are unfavorable. Trump is far less liked among Democrats (11 percent favorable, 79 percent unfavorable) and independents (29 percent favorable, 55 percent unfavorable).
Trump is also viewed more negatively by women (62 percent unfavorable), non-white voters (66 percent unfavorable), those who have done graduate work (68 percent unfavorable), and urbanites (68 percent unfavorable). Not a single group gives the business tycoon a favorable majority.
“Since Trump threw his hat in the ring in June, he has been all over the media and – to perhaps the shock of many – leading both state and nationwide polls,” said Koning. “So when we ask Republicans in the Garden State to name their top candidate, it is no wonder Trump is at the forefront of their minds. Whether it is because Trump’s name comes up most often in an unprecedentedly large Republican field, or because they share ‘The Donald’s’ views, New Jersey Republicans are looking much like Republicans everywhere – now largely abandoning their own governor for the other ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ candidate from across the river.”