New poll, new Christie numbers. We round out our “welcome home, Governor” polling with a brand new poll conducted right after Christie’s budget address on Feb. 16. New Jersey voters are mixed about what Christie’s return means for the Garden State moving forward, but a slight plurality do see him having a positive impact now that he is back to governing full time. And while Christie’s individual issue approvals are still lackluster – all are below the 50-percent mark – there are glimmers of hope that his return home may indicate an upward trend, particularly for independents and Republicans. Stay tuned for more results from the latest post-budget speech Rutgers-Eagleton Poll!
VOTERS MIXED ABOUT CHRISTIE’S RETURN TO NEW JERSEY
Low Marks Continue for Gov. on State Budget, Taxes, Pension Fund
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie may be back to governing full time, but New Jersey voters are split on what this means for the Garden State, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Following his budget address on Feb. 16, a 36 percent plurality of voters says Christie’s new focus on governing New Jersey will have a positive impact on the state. But 27 percent say his presence will have a negative influence, while another 33 percent think he will have no impact at all. Four percent are unsure.
Christie struggles with voters on many of the issues he highlighted in his speech, including the budget itself. Thirty-two percent now approve of how he is handling the budget. While this is a seven-point increase from his all-time low in December, 55 percent still disapprove.
Christie has also experienced a slight uptick in views on his handling of taxes: 28 percent approve of his performance, up five points from December, while 64 percent continue to disapprove (down seven points). Taxes are a perennial concern with voters: 27 percent now say it is the top problem facing the state.
Christie continues to perform least well on the state pension fund situation. An insignificant two-point bump now has 23 percent of voters approving how he is handling the issue, while 62 percent disapprove (down four points). Christie does little better on other issues: voters mostly disapprove of his handling of transportation and infrastructure (30 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove), education and schools (34 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove), and the economy and jobs (35 percent approve, 59 percent disapprove).
“Voters may be mixed on what impact Governor Christie will have on the state going forward, but they are clear in their assessment of the job he has been doing up to this point,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Despite the lackluster ratings, there may be a small bright spot here. His record low approvals in December have mostly inched up. It is too soon to tell, but his resumed presence in the state may be renewing a bit of faith – or at least halting his ratings slide.”
Voters remain mostly negative about the state’s overall direction, however: 34 percent say New Jersey is headed in the right direction, while 57 percent say the state has gone off on the wrong track.
Results are from a statewide poll of 801 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 18 to 23, 2016, including 710 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
Christie’s return excites some more than others
While voters as a whole are mixed on Christie’s impact now that he is back for good, some groups are more positive than others about his return. Sixty-one percent of Republicans believe the GOP governor will have a positive impact, as do 74 percent of those feeling favorable toward him and 72 percent who approve of the job he is doing overall. These groups are all relatively small, however – less than one-third of voters.
Independents are more divided: 36 percent say he will have a positive impact, 26 percent a negative one, and 35 percent none at all. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are most likely to say he will have a negative impact (at 38 percent), while 23 percent expect a positive influence and 34 percent do not expect his return to matter at all.
Republicans, independents drive slight ratings improvements
Christie’s approval ratings on a variety of individual issues have remained consistently below the 50-percent mark since August 2015. Christie does best on crime and drugs and Hurricane Sandy recovery, but even these more positive than negative numbers are a far cry from what they were in years past. Forty-two percent of all voters now approve of Christie’s handling of crime and drugs (up two points), compared to 41 percent who disapprove (down five points). Voters remain somewhat divided on his handling of Sandy recovery – 49 percent approve (up one point) to 43 percent disapprove (down one point).
While Christie continues to receive majority disapproval on the state budget, his speech may have had some positive impact among independents and especially Republicans, both of whom show double-digit increases in their approval on this issue since December 2015. While only 14 percent of Democrats approve of the governor in this area, 36 percent of independents (up 13 points) and 58 percent of Republicans (up 10 points) do the same.
Christie sees similar improvement on the state pension fund situation and taxes. Twenty-eight percent of independents now approve of Christie’s job on the state pension fund (up seven points), as do 43 percent of Republicans (up 10 points). Likewise, 29 percent of independents (up nine points) and 49 percent of Republicans (up five points) approve of Christie on taxes. Republicans, in particular, are once again more likely to approve than disapprove of Christie on these issues now, after giving him more negative than positive ratings in December.
As for Democrats, on the other hand, about three-quarters continue to disapprove of Christie in both of these areas.
About six in 10 GOP voters also approve of Christie’s handling of the economy and jobs, education and schools, and crime and drugs; half say the same about transportation and seven in 10 approve of his job on Sandy.
A third of independents express approval on the economy and education, as do three in 10 on transportation. Independents are more likely to approve of Christie than disapprove on Sandy recovery, as well as crime and drugs.
Three-quarters of Democrats disapprove of Christie on the economy and education. Two-thirds express disapproval on transportation, and over half say the same about Sandy and crime and drugs.
“It is a good sign for the governor that his issue approval ratings received a boost among independents and especially Republicans after his first big speech back home,” said Koning. “While Christie has always received lackluster ratings from Democrats – except for some time post-Sandy – independents and Republicans have continually been the driving force of his ratings ups and downs. It seems these two groups have a more positive outlook now that Christie has returned to governing full time.”
More of the same: negative state outlook, taxes top concern
Assessments of the state’s direction have been more negative than positive since March 2014, with the gap between right direction and wrong track widening within the last several months. About six in 10 voters have consistently said the state is off on the wrong track since April 2015. This is a complete reversal from the prolonged positivity felt throughout 2013. Such intensely negative views have not been felt since October 2009.
Partisanship and feelings about Christie color state assessment. While a majority of Republicans and especially Christie supporters feel New Jersey is headed in the right direction, Democrats, independents, and those who either have an unfavorable impression or disapprove of Christie say just the opposite.
Once again, taxes are the top concern among voters in the state, now at 27 percent; the issue has consistently taken the number one spot since October 2014. Democrats (19 percent), independents (30 percent), and Republicans (34 percent) alike are most likely to choose it as the top problem facing the state.
Another 15 percent of voters say economy and jobs is the most pressing concern, followed by government corruption and abuse of power (14 percent), and education (12 percent).