Early in his term, Governor Jon Corzine responded to low job performance ratings with the comment that his efforts to reform state government were more of a marathon rather than a sprint. The current Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll finds that a year and a half into this long distance run, New Jerseyans are still waiting for him to break from the pack.
Through the first year of his term, Governor Corzine’s job approval did climb slowly but steadily, reaching a high point of 51% in April. This rating came on the heels of successful contract negotiations with state workers’ unions and in the midst of his auto accident. That uptick has now taken a downturn.
Currently, 46% of the New Jersey public approve of how their governor is handling his job compared to 36% who disapprove. The decline has come mainly from his fellow partisans. A majority 57% of Democrats approve of the job he is doing compared to only 27% who disapprove, but this is down substantially from the 74%-14% support he enjoyed in April. Among other groups, independents are slightly more favorable than not on Corzine’s performance by a 43%-37% margin (similar to 45%-36% in April) while Republicans disapprove 36%-50% (similar to 33%-50% in April).
When asked to grade the Corzine administration in a number of key areas, the public are only able to muster C’s and D’s. His overall average is a "C", which matches the grade he received in the last Monmouth/Gannett report card issued in September 2006. Broken down by partisanship, he averages a "C+" among Democrats, a "C-" among Republicans, and a "C-" among independents.
"It’s now a year and a half into his term, and Corzine has failed to bowl over the public," commented Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "He gets a little credit on providing property tax relief, but very little."
One slight improvement in the governor’s report card is in the area of property taxes. Currently, 28% of residents feel he has earned an A or B on this issue and 24% give him a C. In September, only 20% mustered an A or B grade. However, since 42% of the public still give the governor a D or F, his average property tax grade is "C-", up just half a grade from the D+ he earned in prior report cards.
Importantly, Governor Corzine continues to receive particularly poor grades for making New Jersey a more affordable place to live, which was a key theme in his 2005 campaign. In this area, only 23% of residents feel he has earned an A or B and 20% give him a C. A majority of 54% say he earns a D or is failing in this subject. These individual grades are slightly better than September’s report card, but not enough to raise the governor’s overall "D+" average in this area.
Corzine’s best policy subjects – relatively speaking – continue to be in the areas of government ethics and schools, where he maintains his "C" average from past report cards. On bringing ethics and honesty to government, he receives an A or B from 34%, a C from 28%, and a D or F from 33%. On improving schools, he receives an A or B from 33%, a C from 31%, and a D or F from 26%.
The governor also continues to average a "C–"on controlling costs and cutting waste. This includes receiving an A or B from 28%, a C from 31%, and a D or F from 35%, which is basically identical to earlier grades on this subject.
The current report card gives the governor a "C" on keeping his campaign promises, with 29% saying he has earned an A or B in this area, 31% a C, and 29% a D or F.
His highest grade continues to be for the level of effort he puts into working on behalf of the state. Here he earns a "B-", including 51% who grade him an A or B for effort, 27% who grade him a C, and 18% who give poor marks of D or F.
"The governor may be working hard, but he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere according to New Jerseyans," Murray remarked. "Public opinion gains Corzine made largely due to his leadership on the union negotiations have evaporated. Post-contract concessions on health benefits and questions about private communications with a union leader have diminished much of the good will he generated earlier this year."
About half (49%) of the New Jersey public have heard reports about emails Corzine exchanged with Carla Katz, a former girlfriend who heads one of the CWA locals involved in the state contract negotiations this year. Among those who are aware of this issue, residents are split on whether the governor should be forced to release these communications – 20% say he should have to release them, 20% say he should be able to keep them private and 9% have no opinion either way. Not surprisingly, Democrats say he should be able to keep them private by a 2-to-1 margin, Republicans say they should be released by a 2-to-1 margin, and independents are evenly divided on the issue.
In other poll findings, half of New Jerseyans (50%) believe the state is on the wrong track while 39% feel it is heading in the right direction. This marks a slight 6 percentage point increase in the "right direction" number since April of this year.
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 800 New Jersey adults from July 16 to 19, 2007. 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 Gannett New Jersey newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, Home News Tribune, and Ocean County Observer).