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So long Chris, and thanks for all the juice

by Patrick Murray

There’s no question that Chris Christie has made a significant impact on both the New Jersey and national political scenes. I’d like to take a quick tour of his 8-year journey as seen through his home state polling numbers.

Christie’s rollercoaster ride in public opinion can be seen in his job approval ratings. I took a rolling 3-poll average based on data from polling organizations that regularly survey New Jersey (Monmouth University, Public Mind at FDU, Quinnipiac University, Rutgers-Eagleton). At approximately 6 month intervals (or following key events), Christie’s approve-disapprove rating among registered voters was:

July ’10:  44-43 (first budget)
Jan ’11:   49-40
June ’11:  45-47 (post-helicopter ride to son's game, "Take the bat out")
Jan ’12:   54-38 (post-Hurricane Irene, Reagan Library speech)
July ’12:  56-37
Feb ’13:   72-19 (post-Sandy)
June ’13:  67-26
Dec ’13:   65-26
Mar ’14:   48-43 (post-Bridgegate revelations)
Sep ’14:   48-41
Jan ’15:   44-47 (post-extensive travel during midterm)
Apr ’15:   38-53
July ’15:  33-57 (post-Bridgegate indictments, launches presidential bid)
Feb. ’16:  34-60 (ends presidential run)
May ’16:   29-64 (post-Trump endorsement)
Dec ’16:   19-75
July ’17:  16-79 ("Beachgate")
Dec ’17:   17-76

Christie’s record high approval among polls conducted with a standard probability sample* was 74% (Quinnipiac on 1/23/13 and 2/20/13.  * Another poll that has been cited with a higher number did not use this standard methodology). His lowest ever disapproval rating was 16% (Monmouth 2/12/13 – not counting a 15% disapproval rating in the first month of his term when most voters had no opinion of him).  Conversely, Christie’s record low approval rating was 15% (Quinnipiac 6/14/17 and Monmouth 7/10/17). His record high disapproval rating was 81% (Quinnipiac 6/14/17).

[Note: you can find all of Monmouth’s New Jersey polling on Christie.] 

The story behind the numbers:

Christie came to office with a narrow but clear victory over an unpopular incumbent. He made headlines as a corruption busting U.S. Attorney, but the New Jersey public still didn’t know much about his plans for the state. After being burned by a generation of politicians who kept passing the buck on major fiscal problems, the public initially greeted Christie with a healthy dose of skepticism.

His first budget received mixed reviews. An April 2010 Monmouth University Poll found that 46% said that it was the product of tough choices and an identical 46% said it was the product of the same old political deal-making. Two-thirds felt that the pain of his proposed budget cuts would be unfairly distributed.  It took Christie a while to win the public over.

There were a few missteps along the way.  A plurality of 38% blamed Christie for the bungled “Race to the Top” application for federal education funds in September 2010. A majority believed his first budget was hurting the middle class. Basically, polls showed that New Jersey did not, at first, buy into Christie’s plans as the panacea for all that ailed the state (which consequently led to the governor’s first public diss of the Monmouth University Poll and me personally on his monthly radio show).

Christie’s job rating did go up, but fell back a bit in 2011 as his personality – and YouTube moments – overshadowed his policies. A low point was when he asked the media to “take the bat out” on a state legislator critical of his administration. But by the end of 2011, he had convinced the public – with his budget cuts, property tax cap and pension reforms – that he was taking a new approach. They may not have liked every aspect of his program, but they gave him credit for shaking up Trenton.

On the other hand, New Jersey was under no misapprehension about Christie’s personal ambitions. Even as his approval rating registered a solid majority in early 2012, New Jerseyans felt he was more concerned about his own political future (48%) than he was with governing New Jersey (39%).

This followed a year of speculation about whether Christie would get into the 2012 presidential race. At the time, most New Jerseyans had no problem with all the national attention – as long as he did his job and his personal ambitions coincided with what was good for the state.  That opinion would change. But not until after what many consider to be Christie’s finest moment.

After Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in October 2012, Gov. Christie showed a willingness to put partisanship aside for the good of his state. He would ride that high through re-election in 2013, until it all came crashing down with the Bridgegate revelations in early 2014.

But even that scandal was not a death knell for Christie. His job rating dropped, but it quickly leveled off and remained positive – even as most New Jerseyans believed that Christie had prior knowledge of the plan to close the George Washington Bridge entrance as political payback.

It wasn’t until 2015, after he took the reins of the Republican Governors Association, that the public started to feel he was taking his eye off his day job to pursue his political ambitions. Certainly, Bridgegate didn’t help – his rating took a further hit after indictments were announced in May – but his overall approval drop during this time was due primarily to the sense that he abandoned New Jersey.  Fully 70% said he was putting his personal political future ahead of the Garden State.

Image of Chart Showing Responses from 2012 to 2017 to Questions Asking if People thought NJ Governor Chris Christie was more concerned about governing the state or his own political future

By the time he launched his presidential bid in the summer of 2015, Christie was one of the least popular governors in the country – a fact that Christie seemed to disbelieve.

A Quinnipiac Poll that year found the vast majority of New Jerseyans saying that Christie would not make a good president. In a subsequent interview with Megyn Kelly, Christie said they were only saying that because they didn’t want him to leave the state.

We at Monmouth took that as a challenge and repeated the Quinnipiac question in a poll taken when Christie announced his presidential bid. We also found 69% of the state saying their governor would not make a good president. Then we followed up with a fact check among those who gave Christie a poor job reference – just 5% affirmed the Governor’s interpretation that they only said that because they wanted him to stay in New Jersey. Fully 9-in-10, though, said that they really meant it when they said he would make a bad president.

Christie’s job rating remained negative but steady throughout his presidential run. When it came to an end in February 2016, there seemed to be a sense that he would finally come back to New Jersey and focus on the last two years of his job here. That didn’t happen according to the public. After he decided to endorse Donald Trump his ratings began to slide again.

By the time that election was decided – and Christie had been ousted as Trump’s transition chief – New Jersey had finally had it with him.  His job approval rating slipped below 20% – a point from which it never recovered.

Perhaps the lasting image of Christie will be him sitting on a beach that was off limits to state residents because of a government shutdown. An image that left his constituents “disgusted” according to what they told us in a poll taken shortly after the incident.

On a personal note, I am a little more sanguine about Chris Christie’s tenure as governor. It’s been a very good time to be a New Jersey pollster. When Christie, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, said that no one was “on the edge of their seat waiting for the Monmouth Poll to come out,” our media hits skyrocketed. Thanks Guv!

Responding to a question about the numerous perks he enjoyed as governor, Christie once bragged that he tries to “squeeze all the juice out of the orange.”  Extending that analogy, Gov. Christie was a pollster’s orange. And this pollster bids him a fond farewell.

So long, Chris. And thanks for all the juice.