GOP Field in NJ: Christie Drops to Sixth, Voters Say He Should Call it Quits

Some more not-so-great news for the governor back home.  Whether what’s going on in his home state will affect the bigger picture of 2016 remains to be seen, but it says something when your own voters in your own state – particularly your own state’s party base – aren’t behind you anymore.  It’s a similar storyline to a somewhat recent 538 article on Martin O’Malley.  To fall from New Jerseyans’ top choice at 32 percent in December 2014, to a distant second (behind Trump) this past August, to now just 5 percent in the middle of the pack is a significant blow. It surely makes Christie an outsider – few other candidates with home state ties seem to be in the same predicament – but not the kind of outsider Christie wants to be.

A very special thank you to our incredible staff of undergraduate students at Rutgers who assisted with this release: Robert Cartmell, Chisa Egbelu, Zach Goldfarb, Elizabeth Kantor, Cecilia Schiavo, and Sonni Waknin.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.

TRUMP STILL LEADS GOP FIELD IN NEW JERSEY, CHRISTIE FALLS WELL BEHIND; 

VOTERS TO CHRISTIE: END CAMPAIGN 

Voters cite governing, attitude, personality as reasons why Christie trails other candidates

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Despite some recent gains on the 2016 campaign trail, Gov. Chris Christie has plummeted among his own party’s 2016 preferences back home, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Similar to national polls, 32 percent of New Jersey Republican and GOP-leaning registered voters choose businessman Donald Trump for their party’s nomination. Trump tops the list for the second straight Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Meanwhile Christie’s New Jersey GOP support has been cut in half since August, when he was in second place at 12 percent. With just 5 percent of Republican voters naming him, Christie now trails Dr. Ben Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both at 13 percent, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 6 percent. While tied when results are rounded, he comes in sixth in mentions between former CEO Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, each also at 5 percent.

2016-GOP-Oct-2015

Voters of all partisan stripes echo a general pessimism about “Candidate Christie,” believing it is time for him to throw in the towel. Sixty-seven percent think Christie should end his campaign for president, while 27 percent say he should continue to run. Only 9 percent say Christie’s prospects have improved in the past few months; the rest are split between whether his chances have remained the same or worsened, showing little difference since April.

Christie’s decline is at least partly due to Trump, say some voters: 32 percent think he would be doing better without Trump in the race, although 59 percent say Christie would be doing about the same as he is now. But asked to name reasons why Christie ranks so far below other Republican candidates running for president, Trump’s candidacy is far down on voters’ lists. Instead, they mention Christie’s performance as governor (12 percent) or his overall attitude and character (11 percent) as the main reasons he is not gaining traction.

“Other Republican candidates have been led by Trump in their home states’ polls, but virtually all still come in second or third,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Christie no longer has any home state advantage. The voters who know him best blame not his competition but what Christie himself is doing – or not doing – for New Jersey.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field here, with almost half of all voters naming her as their top choice. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders follows far behind, at 19 percent, while Vice President Joe Biden, not yet a candidate, comes in third, at 10 percent.

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from October 3 to 10, 2015, including 781 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. The GOP subsample of 273 voters has a margin of error of +/-6.6 percentage points, while the subsample of 367 Democrats is +/- 5.7 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Christie falls; Trump, Clinton continue leads

For Christie, now in the midst of some of his lowest ratings ever, the current numbers are a far cry from the days when he was New Jersey Republicans’ top choice for 2016, at 32 percent last December; no other candidate came close at the time. But in the first Rutgers-Eagleton Poll after he officially announced his candidacy this past summer, Christie fell to a distant second against Trump. Now, he is in a virtual three-way “tie” for fifth place when results are rounded.

When asked for their second choice, Christie does only slightly better with Republican voters, at 9 percent, coming in third to Rubio and Carson – both of whom have jumped eight points since August. Christie is an especially strong second choice among those who pick Ohio Gov. John Kasich (at 22 percent) or Trump (at 16 percent) as their first choice.

Trump, on the other hand, has more than twice the support of any other candidate for Republican voters’ first choice and garners another 9 percent as Republicans’ second choice. Trump is viewed slightly less favorably than Christie overall – 31 percent favorable to 55 percent unfavorable – but he is less than 10 points shy of Christie when it comes to likeability among the GOP base: 59 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of the business tycoon, while 26 percent do not and another 15 percent have no opinion.

“As in national polls, we are talking about small differences here between some of the candidates, but there is no question that Christie has suffered a significant blow,” said Koning. “In single digits for the first time on his own turf, he is now performing little better here than he is nationally.”

Even in the face of some negative press coverage and declining favorability, Clinton continues to head the list of Democratic voters’ first choices. She is also the second choice for over half of Democrats who choose Sanders or Biden as their first pick.

But Clinton’s favorability has taken a hit since August, part of a larger overall decline since February, putting her now at 45 percent favorable (down three points) to 46 percent unfavorable (up seven points).

Bleak outlook for Candidate Christie across the board

No one is optimistic about Christie for 2016, not even those who have typically supported him most. Only those generally favorable toward Christie believe he should continue to run, albeit by a slim majority – 52 percent to 41 percent who say he should end his presidential quest. Not even Republicans are solidly in his corner: 41 percent say he should keep running, but 54 percent say he should call it quits. Sixty-three percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats also urge him to stop. Well over half of virtually every demographic group believes Christie should call it a day.

Calls to end his presidential run in no doubt stem from the widespread belief that Christie’s chances have not improved. Fifty percent of Democrats say things have worsened for the governor, while another 42 percent say they have remained the same. Independents are split between these two options, at 43 percent. Even 26 percent of Republicans think his chances have grown worse, while 56 percent say they are the same as before; those with a favorable impression of the governor show a similar pattern.

And while both men are outspoken tough-talking Northeasterners known for their “shoot from the hip” attitudes, voters say the competition from Trump is not really damaging Christie’s chances. Even Christie’s supporters are somewhat mixed on Trump’s effect. Among those favorable toward Christie, 51 percent say Christie would be doing better without the entrepreneur in the race, while 40 percent say he would do the same; Republicans are about evenly divided, 46 percent to 48 percent. Majorities of all other groups say Trump’s presence has made little difference to Christie’s chances.

Christie’s current job, character haunt his 2016 chances

When asked why Christie has ranked below most of the other Republican candidates in presidential polls over the past few months, voters’ responses have little to do with the actual presidential race and more to do with reasons innate to Christie and his governorship.

Voters were most likely to cite the job he is currently doing in New Jersey, mentioning lack of progress, poor leadership, and little time spent getting things done at home. “I don’t think he is working for New Jersey anymore,” said one voter. Voters believe Christie’s weak performance at home is connected to perceptions of his presidential potential. “New Jersey is not a success story, and people know it,” one voter reasoned. “His achievements so far are not great examples for [the] presidency,” said another.

Voters see his persona as his second biggest determinant in the race to 2016. Christie’s overall attitude and character have always defined him, at times his best – and, other times, his worst – features. “[The] tough guy act doesn’t work outside New Jersey,” one respondent explained.

Tying as the third highest reason for his lackluster presidential rankings, voters mention Christie being dishonest or untrustworthy and his policy stances, at 8 percent each. Another 7 percent cite Bridgegate and other administrative scandals. Views of Christie as a bully and outspoken each come in at 6 percent. Any reasons related directly to 2016 each come in at under 5 percent, including: Donald Trump, lack of 2016 media coverage, Christie’s other competition, how he is running his campaign, his inability to distinguish himself from the other candidates, and his lack of qualifications.

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