Today we release results from our roughly every six months assessment of how NJ voters view a set of positive and negative traits that might be ascribed to Gov. Chris Christie. The last time we did this was in October, 2014. At that time positive traits were moving down and negatives moving up. As it turns out the trend has continued. Perceptions of Christie as trustworthy, fair, effective, and reformer are all at new lows. Meanwhile negative trait perceptions continue to become stronger – in particular arrogant, bully, and impulsive are all at new highs. What do we learn from questions like these? Mostly we get another perspective on what might underlie the decline in Gov. Christie’s overall ratings, beyond how voters think he’s doing on the issues. While issues do matter, so do perceptions of a politician as a leader. Unfortunately for the governor, those perceptions are also declining significantly.
Full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.
CHRISTIE CHARACTER TRAITS LEAVE NEW JERSEY VOTERS DUBIOUS; GOVERNOR SEEN AS LESS TRUSTWORTHY, MORE ARROGANT
Most see governor as ‘stubborn’ with weaker positive traits: Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As a kinder, gentler Chris Christie wooed New Hampshire Republicans last week in a visit that included two town hall meetings, New Jersey voters are less likely than ever to apply positive personality and leadership traits to their governor, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Just 17 percent now say “trustworthy” describes the governor “very well,” while 44 percent say it does not apply at all. Another 36 percent think it applies only “somewhat well.”
Besides the decline in trustworthiness, three other positive traits have reached new lows since last polled in October 2014. Only one in five voters now thinks the terms “reformer” or “fair” describe Christie very well, and only a quarter say the same for “effective.”
The perception of Christie as a “strong leader,” which two-thirds of voters thought described Christie very well throughout 2013, has dropped to 39 percent, its lowest point since August 2010.
“These declines in how New Jersey voters see Christie’s positive traits are clearly part of what is driving the continued declines we have reported in his favorability and job ratings, and in views of him as a good president,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “While issues matter – and Christie’s numbers keeps hitting new lows there as well – voters are very much attuned to personality and leadership traits.”
The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll recently reported that only 24 percent of New Jersey voters think Christie would make a “good president,” and 54 percent disapprove of his job performance.
Perceptions of Christie’s negative traits have not changed quite as dramatically as his positives. The new poll records further upticks in voters who say “arrogant” (57 percent) “bully” (45 percent) and “impulsive” (43 percent) describe the governor very well, with all three at new highs. In addition, while easing slightly since October 2014, 64 percent still say “stubborn” applies very well, and 46 percent continue to think “self-centered” is a very apt descriptor for the governor.
“Governor Christie needs to convince Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire that he’s not the arrogant bully that many back home seem to think he is,” said Redlawsk. “He is in a tough position, though. Voters want leaders, but they want a certain humbleness at the same time. While Christie gets kudos in the press for last week’s warm and fuzzy New Hampshire town halls, there are an awful lot of YouTube videos showing something very different in New Jersey over the past five years.”
After last year’s Bridgegate scandal destroyed a year of Sandy-induced positivity, voters are feeling slightly more “angry” about Christie (now at 40 percent) while 43 percent are “worried.” An even stronger emotion, contempt, is felt by one-third of New Jersey voters, the first time this question has been asked.
As for positive emotions, Christie has experienced some slippage: about three in 10 continue to say Christie makes them feel “proud” or “enthusiastic.” Both are down four points since October.
Results are from a statewide poll of 860 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 27 to April 3, including 722 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.
Republicans sour on positive perceptions of Christie
Similar to Christie’s overall ratings, the declines in positive trait perceptions are driven, in part, by his own party base. Trustworthiness shows an 11-point drop among Republicans over the past six months, to 37 percent who now say the label describes him very well. Independents show a decline of six points to 15 percent, while the number of Democrats who trust Christie remains stable at just 8 percent.
Republican support for Christie as a strong leader in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy has also declined precipitously. While 60 percent of GOP voters still say the trait describes the governor very well, this is down 15 points since October. By comparison, independents are down 12 points to 36 percent, with Democrats holding relatively steady at 31 percent.
GOP support for two other positive Christie characteristics declined by double digits. Forty-five percent of GOP voters now think effective applies very well, while 44 percent see the term “fair” in the same light. Both are down 10 points since last polled.
Only 18 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of Independents now say effective applies very well, and 11 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of independents say the same for fair.
A larger number of partisans regardless of party still believe Christie is independent and smart. Thirty-eight percent of Democrats, 43 percent of independents, and 65 percent of Republicans say independent describes the governor very well; 40 percent of Democrats, 46 percent of independents, and 71 percent of Republicans say the same about smart.
Negative perceptions increase slightly
Voters’ perceptions of negative traits that might apply to Christie have changed only incrementally since a significant increase in the immediate Bridgegate aftermath. More than half of all partisans continue to say stubborn – dubbed the most apt description of Christie – describes him very well: 77 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Republicans take this position.
Arrogant shows more of a divide. While 73 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents say this describes Christie very well, 42 percent of Republicans say the same. But that doesn’t mean the rest of Republicans think the trait does not apply at all – just 22 percent say this, compared to another 35 percent who say it fits him somewhat well.
The infamous trait of bully has ticked up most noticeably for Republicans, with 26 percent now saying this describes the governor very well (up seven points). Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 40 percent of independents say the same, little changed from October. A similar pattern emerges on self-centered, with 60 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of independents, and 26 percent of Republicans saying the traits suits him very well.
Impulsive has also seen a notable jump among GOP voters – up nine points to 34 percent. Forty-one percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats now believe the governor is impulsive.
“Assuming Christie continues to show a ‘softer’ side in his responses to challengers at town hall meetings, some of these negative trait perceptions may be reversed,” noted Redlawsk. “Many of them reflect that the governor has been seen to publicly attack even average citizens who disagree with him. Backing away from the direct confrontations that have defined him for New Jerseyans could be a very good strategy if he pursues a national run.”
While emotional responses to reading or hearing about Christie have moved only slightly overall since October, partisan patterns resemble the ups and downs seen with traits. GOP voters especially show a decline in more positive emotions towards the governor – pride is now at 56 percent (down 13 points) and enthusiasm is now at 49 percent (down 15 points).
The already low numbers for Democrats and independents are little changed: one in five Democrats feel either positive emotion, while one in three independents do.
Negative emotions show less movement, with all partisans relatively stable since October. Fifty-four percent of Democrats, 38 percent of independents and 21 percent of Republicans feel angry. Sixty-one percent of Democrats, 37 percent of independents, and 28 percent of Republicans feel worried.
Asked for the first time in this series, the feeling of contempt is expressed by one-third of voters overall and shows virtually no partisan split. While 37 percent of Democrats say they feel contempt thinking about Christie, so do 35 percent of Republicans, and 30 percent of independent voters.