Monmouth U Poll: 21% believe Christie went to Mexico to build NJ trade relations

Gov. Chris Christie’s job approval ratings have declined by a small but notable amount since this summer.  The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll found that his out-of-state travel and the surrounding presidential buzz, which had been a positive asset in the past, may be a factor in this slight downturn.  On the other hand, he appears to continue to weather the ongoing Bridgegate investigation.  In fact, most New Jerseyans say it’s time to wrap up the legislative inquiry even though they don’t believe the governor has come clean.

Currently, Gov. Christie’s job rating stands at 46% approve to 39% disapprove among New Jersey residents and 46% approve to 42% disapprove among the state’s registered voters.  This marks a decline from his ratings in the June Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll which stood at 50% positive to 42% negative among all residents and 49% positive to 43% negative among registered voters.  Also, 15% of Garden State residents do not have an opinion of the governor at this point in his tenure, compared to between 6% and 9% in other polls this year.

“Gov. Christie’s ratings took a significant drop after the Bridgegate story broke in early January, but they quickly stabilized in February.  These new numbers mark the first perceptible shift in our poll in more than six months, even if it is a shift into the undecided category,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.  “These numbers are akin to the ratings he received in the first year and a half of his tenure when New Jerseyans were not quite sure what would come of a Christie administration.”

Most New Jerseyans (56%) believe that Gov. Christie is more concerned with his own political future than he is with governing the state (33%).  This finding is similar to other poll readings taken since February of this year.  However, somewhat more Garden State residents (75%) now believe that he is planning a 2016 run for president than felt that way back in February (65%).  Among this group, 39% say that Christie’s travel schedule and potential presidential plans have made him less effective as governor compared to 9% who say it has made him more effective and 48% who say it has had no impact on his ability to perform his “day job.”

Of note, most New Jerseyans (52%) feel that the governor’s highly publicized visit to Mexico earlier this month was mainly to burnish his presidential prospects.  Only 21% accept the official administration account that the trip was designed to build trade relations between New Jersey and Mexico.  Even the governor’s fellow Republicans are split on whether the purpose of the trip was to help Christie run for president (33%) or to help the state’s economy (31%).  Most Democrats (61%) and independents (53%) feel that presidential ambition was the primary motive.

“In the past, buzz about Christie’s presidential potential was a source of pride for most New Jerseyans.  These findings suggest that some of his constituents are starting to resent his time out of state,” said Murray. “This is no definitive indication that growing uncertainty about the governor’s job performance will result in widespread backlash against his presidential ambitions, but it bears watching.”

One issue that has dogged the governor over the past few months is the George Washington Bridge lane closures ordered by his staff last year.  The poll found that public opinion of the governor’s involvement in Bridgegate has remained stable – specifically, few people believed he came clean when the news first broke and the same number continue to feel that way now.  Fully 60% of New Jerseyans say that Christie has not been completely honest about what he knows of the incident.  This is nearly identical to the 61% who felt that way in late February and the 61% who continued to feel that way even after the Mastro report was released in April.  [Note: about three-quarters of the interviews for the current poll were conducted after an NBC news report last week claimed that the U.S. Attorney had cleared Christie of wrongdoing in Bridgegate.]

At the same time, a similar 6-in-10 (59%) Garden State residents say the special joint legislative committee looking into Bridgegate should end its investigation.  Only 34% say it should continue with its inquiry.  Republicans (85%) and independents (59%) are firmly in the camp of shutting down the inquiry.  However, even Democrats are divided on whether the investigation is worth pursuing (46%) or it would be more prudent to end it now (46%).

“Few people think that Christie has been forthcoming about Bridgegate, but they don’t believe that the motives of Democratic legislators leading the investigation are all that pure either.  This seems to have made the issue a wash for the governor,” said Murray.

One of the major policy issues Christie will have to face this year – and something he put on the table himself this summer – is the state’s ballooning pension obligation.  Only 14% of New Jersey residents believe that the state pension system’s costs have been managed wisely.  This compares to 66% who say these costs are out of control.  This is basically unchanged from the 62% who felt that way when Christie first launched his “No Pain No Gain” public relations blitz and is only somewhat lower than Christie’s first year in office in 2010 (78%).

In terms of who’s to blame for the poor condition of New Jersey’s pension system, Gov. Christie has a slight advantage in the public’s eye.  Just under 4-in-10 (38%) say the governor shoulders a lot of the blame for the poorly managed pension system while half (50%) say that the state legislature should get a lot of the blame.  This blame-gap, though, is narrower than it was in June when 35% said Christie carried a lot of responsibility for the pension problem and 59% said the same about the legislature.

The poll also found that public opinion of the overall job the state legislature is doing currently stands at 36% approve to 43% disapprove among all adults and 35% approve to 46% disapprove among registered voters.  These results are similar to negative ratings of the state legislature registered in other polls taken since February.

The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by telephone with 802 New Jersey adults, including 680 registered voters, from September 17 to 21, 2014.  The total sample has a margin of error of + 3.5 percent and the registered voter sample has a margin of error of + 3.8 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).