Governor Chris Christie's public job approval rating remains above 50 percent, but many New Jersey residents say he now may be more concerned with his own political future than with governing the state. The latest Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll also found that the public's priorities continue to be property taxes and jobs, higher than any other agenda item proposed by both the governor and legislature this year.
Currently, Governor Christie earns a 52% approve to 38% disapprove job rating among all Garden State residents. Among registered voters, his rating stands at 55% approve to 37% disapprove. This is basically unchanged from the ratings he received in our October 2011 poll.
For most of his tenure, the governor's public standing has been subject to a gender gap, with men more likely than women to approve of his job performance. This gap closed in our last poll, but there are signs it may be starting to widen again. Currently, 56% of men approve of Gov. Christie while 33% disapprove. Among women, approval stands at 48% and disapproval at 42%.
The state legislature's job rating is still upside down, but not by the margin it had been over the past few years. It currently stands at 35% approve to 39% disapprove. The approval number has not moved much over the past few months, but disapproval is the lowest reading since 2007, especially compared to April 2010 when disapproval topped out at 56%.
"Governor Christie's job rating remains strong as he enters the second half of his term. But with the national spotlight glaring and a re-election bid looming on the horizon, one question is whether he can avoid becoming preoccupied with his political future," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The poll asked state residents whether they feel the governor seems to be more concerned with his own political future or with governing the state of New Jersey. Nearly half (48%) say Chris Christie is more concerned about his political career while 39% say he is more focused on managing the state.
When asked to name, in their own words, the state's most pressing issues right now, property taxes (42%) and jobs (42%) are the first things out of New Jerseyans' mouths. Public schools (20%), general economic conditions (19%), and other taxes (15%) are named by no more than 1-in-5 residents. Other issues named by about 1-in-20 residents include the state budget (8%), crime (5%), and health care costs (5%). Compared to a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll form October 2009, during the gubernatorial campaign, property taxes are named by the same number of people (42%), while jobs is now much more important than it was then (20%). Health care is named by far fewer New Jerseyans now than it was just over two years ago (18%).
The new year brought a slew of new proposals from Trenton to address problems in the state. The poll included a list of some key issues recently raised by the governor and legislators, asking residents to rate the importance of each on a scale from 1 to 10. Four proposals from both parties receive high ratings with about 4-in-10 residents giving the highest rating of "10". These include reducing income taxes (average score=7.7) and reforming teacher tenure (7.4) which are issues championed by the governor. High priorities also include two Democrat agenda items - raising the minimum wage (7.6) and the millionaires' tax (7.3). The poll did not ask a detailed question about this, but the public's emphasis on both cutting income taxes and raising rates for the wealthiest suggests that residents may not want income tax rates cut across the board - and is something to follow as these proposals move forward.
It is important to note, though, that none of these issues come close to property taxes in importance, which is rated a "10" by 63% of New Jerseyans, for an average score of 8.9. When asked specifically which tax cut should be a higher priority for Trenton, state residents overwhelmingly pick reducing property taxes (69%) over reducing income taxes (19%). Prioritizing property tax cuts is important for homeowners (75%) and renters (59%) alike.
"New Jerseyans seem to agree that prioritizing cuts to the state's highest in the nation property would benefit everyone, whether they directly pay those taxes or not," said Murray.
Other items that have been proposed by the state's political leaders, but are considered less important than property taxes by New Jersey residents include drug sentencing reforms (average score=7.0), state higher education restructuring (6.7), charter school expansion (5.8), and same sex marriage (5.1).
On the issue of same sex marriage, the Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll found that 52% of New Jerseyans now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 34% are opposed. This is the first time that more than half of state residents express support using the current question wording. It also marks the first time that opposition has dipped below 40%. Moreover, residents who strongly favor legalizing same sex marriage now outnumber those who strongly oppose it by 32% to 25%. In a poll taken three years ago, it was the opposite (25% strongly favor to 30% strongly oppose).
The poll also asked residents to weigh in on the recent proposal to merge key units of the state's higher education system. Most (57%) have no opinion on these plans. Of those that do, the proposed merger of Rutgers University and the UMDNJ medical school gets a thumbs up from 31% of state residents and a thumbs down from just 13%. Regionally, opinion is a similar 35% to 16% in the Route 1 Corridor counties of Mercer, Middlesex, and Union.
The idea to fold the Rutgers-Camden campus into Rowan University, on the other hand, produces a split decision - 20% of New Jerseyans say it is a good idea and 22% say it is a bad idea. Among those who would be most affected in the Delaware Valley counties of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester, opposition to the merger is higher - 25% call it a good idea, but more, 36%, see it as a bad idea.
The Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll was conducted by telephone with 803 New Jersey adults from January 31 to February 4, 2012. This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the New Jersey Press Media newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, 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? [PROBE: Do you approve/disapprove strongly or somewhat?]
2. Do you approve or disapprove of the job the state legislature is doing?
3. In your opinion, what are the most important one or two issues facing the state of New Jersey right now? [LIST WAS NOT READ] [Note: Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted]
4. I’m going to read you some issues that are currently being talked about by New Jersey leaders. For each one please, tell me how important it is for the state to deal with right now, using a scale from 1 to 10. One means it is not at all important and ten means it is extremely important. Remember, you may use any number from 1 to 10. How important is it for the state to deal with [READ ITEM]? [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]
5. Which do you think should be a higher priority for state government: reducing the state income tax or reducing property taxes? [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]
6. Do you favor or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally? [PROBE: Do you favor/oppose it strongly or somewhat?]
7. Do you think Chris Christie is more concerned with governing the state of New Jersey OR more concerned about his own political future? [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]
8. Do you think merging the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers University is a good idea or bad idea, or do you have no opinion on this?
9. Do you think taking the Rutgers Camden campus and merging it into Rowan University is a good idea or bad idea, or do you have no opinion on this?
The Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute on January 31 to February 4, 2012 with a statewide random sample of 803 adult residents, including 641 contacted on a landline telephone and 162 on a cell phone. Sampling and interviewing services were provided by Braun Research, Inc. 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 3.5 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.
Download this Poll Report with all tables