Public opinion of Chris Christie has stabilized after suffering a significant drop when the Bridgegate scandal broke in early January. The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll found the governor's job approval rating hovering just above 50% - similar to his standing in February which had fallen by double digits since his re-election last year. While a recent report contends that Gov. Christie had no involvement in the toll lane closures, the internal inquiry does not seem to be the cause behind his steadying job ratings. In fact, most New Jerseyans say the investigation was conducted mainly to improve Christie's reputation and they actually disagree with many of the report's findings.
Currently, Gov. Christie's job rating stands at 51% approve to 41% disapprove among New Jersey residents and 51% approve to 43% disapprove among the state's registered voters. His approval numbers are nominally, but not significantly, better than February, when they were 50% among all adults and 49% among registered voters. They remain 14 points lower than December, before the Bridgegate scandal broke.
Christie receives solid approval from 84% of his fellow Republicans and majority support from 55% of independents. Only 34% of Democrats approve of his job performance. These findings are similar to the February Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll .
"The bleeding has stopped for now. The poll was conducted after the Mastro report was released, but this does not seem to be the reason why Christie's ratings have stabilized. In fact, few New Jerseyans agree with the report's conclusions," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Just over half (54%) of New Jerseyans have heard about the report released last week that detailed the findings of an investigation led by Randy Mastro of the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm. Few (30%) see it as a fair and unbiased investigation of the Governor's office involvement in the George Washington Bridge toll lane closings. Instead, most (52%) say the report was done to help Chris Christie's reputation.
The report seems to conclude that two staff members in the Governor's office and at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were responsible for the closures. Only 11% of the New Jersey public agree. More than 3-in-4 (77%) say that others were involved. This opinion is no different than when the Bridgegate emails first became public. In January, 80% of New Jerseyans said more people were involved than the staffers who had been identified in the emails and fired by the governor.
The report also clears Gov. Christie of any wrongdoing, but the public verdict is not quite as conclusive. Few New Jerseyans (32%) feel that the governor has been completely honest about what he knows of the incident. Most (61%) say he has not come clean. This opinion is unchanged from February. In fact, more state residents believe that the governor himself was involved in the decision to close the lanes (47%) than believe he was not directly involved (38%). The number who believe Christie was involved has declined slightly by 3 points since February, but remains significantly higher than the 34% who felt he was involved shortly after the news broke in January.
The report also dismisses the claims of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that she was told by members of the administration that her town would not get Sandy relief funding if the mayor withheld approval of an unrelated development project. The New Jersey public, though, is not so certain. In fact, more residents tend to believe (45%) rather than disbelieve (40%) the mayor's claims. These results are not too different from the findings of February's poll when 49% believed the mayor. Moreover, among those New Jerseyans who are familiar with the Mastro report's release, a majority of 53% actually believe the mayor compared to just 36% who do not.
The governor's job rating is lower among those who have been paying attention to the Bridgegate scandal than those who have not. Among Garden State residents who have been paying a lot of attention, Chris Christie gets a 49% approve to 44% disapprove job rating. Among those who know about the Mastro report, he earns a split 47% approve to 46% disapprove rating. He does significantly better among those who have not heard about the report - 56% approve to 34% disapprove.
"Considering the governor does worse among those who know about the Mastro investigation, it's possible we could see a negative impact on Christie's rating as more New Jerseyans become aware of the report's contents," said Murray.
In other developments last week, Gov. Christie announced the resignation of David Samson, Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with the stated reason that Samson wanted to retire. Only 19% of New Jerseyans believe that was really the motivation. According to state residents, more probable reasons for Samson's resignation are that he was involved in either the toll lane or Hoboken issues (36%) or that he resigned as a way to take political pressure off Chris Christie (23%). Overall, most New Jerseyans (56%) have no opinion of the Port Authority. Those who do are twice as likely to hold an unfavorable (30%) rather than favorable (14%) view of the bi-state agency.
The poll also found that Chris Christie's personal ratings remain mixed. Currently 40% have a favorable view of the governor as a person, 35% have an unfavorable view, and 25% are not sure how they feel about Christie as a person. These numbers are similar to February. Matching another finding from February, a majority (54%) of New Jerseyans say Gov. Christie puts his own political future first compared to just 35% who say is more concerned about governing his home state. Prior to the Bridgegate scandal, more people saw Christie as putting New Jersey first.
In terms of Gov. Christie's political future, 62% of New Jerseyans say that the Bridgegate and Hoboken issues hurt his presidential prospects for 2016. This number is up from 51% in January. Also, state residents are split on how Christie affects New Jersey's image around the country - 29% say he helps, 33% say he hurts it, and 34% he makes no difference to the state's reputation.
The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by telephone with 803 New Jersey adults from March 30 to April 1, 2014. 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 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. Is your general impression of Chris Christie favorable or unfavorable, or do you have no opinion of him?
4. 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]
5. 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?
6. How much have you read or heard about issues surrounding George Washington Bridge toll lane closures in Fort Lee last year – a lot, a little, or nothing at all?
7. Do you think the governor himself was or was not personally involved in the decision to close the toll lanes?
8. 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?
9. A recent report conducted for the Governor’s office by an outside law firm concluded that one person in the governor’s office and one person in the Port Authority were responsible for the lane closures. Do you think these were the only staff members involved in the decision to close the toll lanes or were others involved?
10. Have you read or heard anything about this report conducted for the Governor’s office, or not?
11. Do you think this report was a fair and unbiased investigation of the Governor’s office involvement in the toll lane closings or was it done to help Chris Christie’s reputation?
12. The mayor of Hoboken claims that members of the Christie administration told her that the town would not get Sandy relief funding if the mayor did not approve an unrelated development project. Do you tend to believe or not believe the mayor’s claim?
13. Do you think these issues will hurt Governor Christie’s chances of running for president in 2016, or not?
14. And, is your general impression of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey favorable or unfavorable, or do you have no opinion of it?
15. Have you heard that David Samson, the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, resigned last week, or not?
16. Which of the following is the most likely reason you think he resigned: because he was involved in the toll lane or Hoboken incidents, or because he wanted to help take the pressure off Chris Christie, or because he was ready to retire?
The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from March 30 to April 1, 2014 with a statewide random sample of 803 adult residents, including 601 contacted via live interview on a landline telephone and 202 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 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