New Jersey is divided over last week's revelations that Christie administration staff seemingly ordered the closure of George Washington Bridge toll lanes in Fort Lee. The latest Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll finds that public opinion of Chris Christie has taken a slight hit from the scandal but is still largely positive. Questions remain about the governor's involvement in the incident but many appear willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Gov. Christie's job rating currently stands at 59% approve to 32% disapprove among New Jersey residents and 58% to 35% among registered voters. His job approval stood at 65% approve just one month ago. This is the first time since Superstorm Sandy struck the state over 14 months ago that the governor's approval rating has dipped below 60%. Christie's current job rating is still higher than any poll ratings he had in his term prior to Sandy.
Republicans are sticking by Christie, giving him an 89% approval rating which is in line with the 85% GOP support he received last month. Approval has dropped among independents from 73% in December to 62% now and among Democrats from 47% in December to 38% now.
"It looks like the bridge incident has dimmed Christie's more than year-long Sandy afterglow just a bit. Still, his job performance numbers remain strong and suggest that the governor can bank on some continued goodwill as this story develops," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
While the governor's job rating is still positive, personal views of the man have become decidedly mixed. Currently, 44% of New Jerseyans hold a favorable impression of Chris Christie personally, 28% have an unfavorable opinion, and 28% are unsure how they feel about him. One year ago, a whopping 70% held him in positive regard compared to just 19% with a negative view. Prior to Sandy, 52% had a favorable opinion of Christie and 34% had an unfavorable view.
"There is now a gap between the public's view of Christie's job performance and his personal behavior. There has been a shift from largely positive opinion of the man to a situation where some New Jerseyans are not quite sure what to think of him," said Murray.
Fully 83% of New Jerseyans are paying attention to the George Washington Bridge story. Very few (13%) accept the "traffic study" explanation for the Fort Lee lane closures while nearly two-thirds (64%) believe it was done as political retaliation. New Jerseyans (80%) expect that more staffers will be implicated in this unfolding story; only 5% say that all the perpetrators have been identified. One-third (34%) think that Gov. Christie himself was directly involved in the decision to close the toll lanes, although the majority (52%) do not think he was involved and another 14% are not sure.
Most New Jerseyans believe Gov. Christie wants to get to the bottom of the issue, but they do not feel that he has come clean about what he knows. Overall, 62% believe Christie when he says he wants a full investigation while 34% do not take the governor at his word on his interest in pursuing the inquiry. However, a majority (51%) say that Christie has not been completely honest about what he knows about the incident, compared to 40% who say he has come clean. Although the governor claims he was blindsided by the release of the emails on Wednesday implicating his staff, most (52%) New Jerseyans following the story think that he knew about his staff's involvement before the news broke. Only 33% accept the governor's timeline about when he found out.
Three-in-ten (30%) New Jerseyans following the news say that they now have less trust in Chris Christie. Just 1% now have more trust, but most (67%) say their trust in the governor has not changed because of the bridge story.
"Chris Christie is fond of saying 'politics ain't beanbag.' And it seems that most New Jerseyans accept that what has happened comes with territory, including the governor not wanting to reveal everything he knows. It seems many constituents are predisposed to give him the benefit of the doubt even if he hasn't told all," said Murray.
Those following the bridge issue are divided on whether they think what happened is a big deal. Just over half (51%) are bothered by what they have learned so far, including 33% who are bothered a lot and 18% who are bothered a little. On the other hand, a sizable 48% say they are not bothered at all. Among those who have heard a lot about the incident, 60% are bothered and 40% are not. Democrats (59%) are more likely than independents (47%) and Republicans (45%) to be bothered by what they have heard about the issue.
Most residents (55%) think this type of action was unusual for the Christie administration compared to 39% who say it represents what they imagine to be politics as usual for the Christie camp. Among those who see this as politics as usual, though, most (75%) say that this type of behavior is pretty common throughout politics and only 23% say that the behavior is particularly unique to the Christie administration.
Nearly half of New Jersey (47%) see Christie as someone who is more concerned with his own political future than with the state, compared to 42% who say he is more concerned with governing the state. In polls taken over the past year, more residents said that he put New Jersey first. The current finding marks a return to pre-Sandy opinion of where Christie placed his priorities.
As to Christie's personality, only 35% are personally bothered by how he tends to treat those who disagree with him, only 32% of New Jerseyans would actually label Christie a "bully," and just 21% say the governor's behavior hurts New Jersey's image around the country. The latter two results are similar to polls taken in 2012.
"Questions about the governor's integrity are much more important to New Jerseyans than anything about the punitive aspect of this incident," said Murray. "The bullying charge has always carried little weight with New Jerseyans, because Christie was always seen as going after other politicians, who are fair game. This story so far hasn't changed that perception."
Less than half (44%) of New Jerseyans say that Christie has the right temperament to be president while more (49%) say he does not. This is a reversal from as recently as this past September, when 56% said his personality was a good fit for the Oval Office and just 34% felt it was not. Among those who have followed the bridge issue, 51% say this incident will hurt Christie's chances of running for president in 2016 while 43% say it will not have an impact on his aspirations.
"His fellow New Jerseyans seem to be saying that the Christie persona may work for the Garden State, but perhaps not for the country as a whole," said Murray.
Chris Christie's presidential star rose after he scored a 22 point re-election victory last November. Looking back, 88% of self-reported Christie voters polled say they would still stick by him based on what they now know. This suggests the governor still would have won, but by a margin closer to 10 points. [Note: the poll sample includes self-reported Christie support of 61% among those who reported voting in November, which is comparable to the 60% he won in the actual vote. Also, the partisan breakdown of self-reported Christie vote in the poll is 91% Republican, 68% independent, and 35% Democrat, which is comparable to the final November exit poll result of 93% Republican, 66% independent, and 33% Democrat.]
The current poll also finds that the New Jersey state legislature has a net positive job rating - 47% approve to 35% disapprove among registered voters which is slightly, but not significantly, higher than December's 44% approve to 38% disapprove rating. President Barack Obama has a 44% approve to 50% disapprove rating among New Jersey voters, which is slightly lower than his 47% positive to 47% negative standing last month.
The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by telephone with 541 New Jersey adults from January 10 to 12, 2014. This sample has a margin of error of ± 4.2 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Asbury Park Press and its sister publications (Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).
The questions referred to in this release are as follows:
1. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Chris Christie is doing as governor?
2. Do you approve or disapprove of the job the state legislature is doing?
3. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president?
4. Is your general impression of Chris Christie favorable or unfavorable, or do you have no opinion of him?
5. Do you think Chris Christie is more concerned with governing the state of New Jersey or more concerned about his own political future? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]
6. Do you think Chris Christie does or does not have the right temperament to be president?
7. Thinking about Chris Christie’s style and not his policies, does the way he speaks to or about people who disagree with him bother you personally or not bother you? [If “BOTHER”: Is that a lot or just a little?]
8. In general, would you describe Chris Christie as a bully or not?
9. Thinking nationally, does Chris Christie help or hurt New Jersey’s image around the country, or does he make no difference to the state’s image?
10. How much have you read or heard about issues surrounding George Washington Bridge toll lane closures in Fort Lee last September – a lot, a little, or nothing at all?
[THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS WERE ASKED ONLY OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE HEARD ABOUT THE LANE CLOSURES IN FORT LEE: n=474, moe=+/-4.5%]
11. Does what you have heard about this issue bother you personally or not bother you? [If “BOTHER”: Is that a lot or just a little?]
12. Overall, do you think these closures were done as political retaliation or as part of a traffic study?
13. Do you think the governor learned that his staff was involved in ordering the lane closures only after the staff emails became public this week or did he know about their involvement before the news broke?
14. Christie fired two advisers who were involved. Do you think these were the only staff members involved in the decision to close the toll lanes or were others involved?
15. Do you think the governor himself was or was not personally involved in the decision to close the toll lanes?
16. Do you think this kind of action is politics as usual in the Christie administration or do you think that this was unusual?
[The following question was asked only of people who said this was politics as usual: n=198, moe=+/-7.0%]
17. Do you think this behavior is unique to the Christie administration or is it pretty common behavior in politics?
18. Has Governor Christie taken appropriate steps to deal with this issue, or not?
19. Based on what you have read or heard so far, do you believe Chris Christie has been completely honest about what he knows about the incident, or not?
20. Do you believe or not believe Governor Christie when he says he wants a full investigation of this issue?
21. Has this incident affected how much you trust Chris Christie, or not? [If “YES”: Do you now trust him more or trust him less?]
22. Do you think this will hurt Governor Christie’s chances of running for president in 2016, or not?
[The following question was asked only of those who said they VOTED FOR CHRISTIE IN 2013: n=218, moe=+/-6.6%]
23. Based on what you know now, would you still have voted for Christie, voted for someone else, or not voted at all?
he Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from January 10 to 12, 2014 with a statewide random sample of 541 adult residents, including 406 contacted via live interview on a landline telephone and 135 via live interview on a cell phone. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey questionnaire design, data weighting and analysis. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups, such as separate figures reported by gender or party identification, are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample. In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
It is the Monmouth University Polling Institute’s policy to conduct surveys of all adult New Jersey residents, including voters and non-voters, on issues that affect the state. Specific voter surveys are conducted when appropriate during election cycles.
Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.
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