Among those aware of Gov. Chris Christie’s budget plan, 46% say that his proposal is the product of tough and thoughtful choices, while an identical 46% see it as more of the same “old political dealings,” according to this morning’s Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll.
Those numbers reflect a more positive reaction to Gov. Jon Corzine’s first budget, which only 32% of respondents saw as tough and thoughtful, compared to fully 60% who felt it was the product of backroom deals.
Just 22% of the public say they are satisfied with Christie’s budget plan, another 32% say “they can live with it even if they are not necessarily satisfied,” and a sizable 44% report being dissatisfied with the governor’s proposal.
“Again, these numbers are not great, but slightly better than his predecessor’s – only 10% of New Jerseyans were satisfied with Corzine’s initial budget, while 41% were dissatisfied,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.
Christie’s job rating stands at 41% approve to 44% disapprove among all state residents, and 42% to 44% among registered voters. As a comparison, 34% of New Jerseyans had a favorable view of Corzine at the same point in his term, while 37% gave him a negative rating.
“The driving force behind public opinion on the governor is his budget plan, something that an overwhelming 9-in-10 New Jerseyans have been paying some attention to,” said Murray.
Murray said the difference between Christie’s and Corzine’s budgets is that the latter’s budgets didn’t require much sacrifice on the part of the average New Jerseyan.
“Christie’s cuts inflict a good deal of pain, with some groups seen as being hit harder than others,” said Murray.
“Only 1-in-4 (26%) of those who are aware of the budget say that the governor’s plan spreads the pain of cuts fairly among all groups, whereas fully 2-in-3 (68%) say that some groups will suffer unfairly,” the pollster explained. “When asked to identify which groups are being disproportionately affected, poll participants name the middle class (39%), the poor (29%), and teachers (30%) as the hardest hit. Another 19% identify children, 9% say seniors, 6% point to state workers and 5% to property tax payers as suffering most unfairly from these cuts.”
When asked specifically about the governor’s proposed cuts in state aid to towns and school districts, more than half (52%) said they feel those cuts are unfair in comparison to cuts made in other areas of the budget. Only 28% say these cuts in local aid are fair.
“The local aid reduction, particularly to schools, was always going to be the flashpoint for criticism of the plan, and the governor’s clash with the NJEA only increased the heat,” Murray said. “If part of his strategy was to win over public opinion, it hasn’t been an overwhelming success.”
About 8-in-10 New Jerseyans are aware of the ongoing war of words between Christie and the state teachers’ union over these budget cuts. A large majority (69%) of this group says that the tenor of the “debate” has been negative.
When asked who is more to blame for the negative tone, 34% point to the governor, while fewer – 23% – blame the NJEA. Another 40% say that both are equally to blame. The governor fares only slightly better among non-teacher/state worker households, where 28% blame Christie more, 27% blame the union more, and 42% blame both parties equally.
When asked who is most responsible for causing teacher layoffs, Christie (44%) is more likely to get the blame than either the teachers’ unions (28%) or the local school boards (18%), Murray’s poll revealed. Even when teacher and state worker households are removed from the poll analysis, the governor still shoulders more blame (40%) than either the unions (31%) or the school boards (19%).
“The governor may have miscalculated when he took on the NJEA so vociferously,” Murray said. “In the battle for the hearts and minds of New Jersey, the union has a secret weapon. And that’s the teachers themselves.
“One key benchmark in this debate will be the outcome of the school board and budget elections taking place a week from today,” Murray added. “Voter turnout in school elections is notoriously poor, usually running in the low to mid teens. However, if they decided to head to the polls this year, 29% of New Jersey voters say they would approve their local school budget, while 37% would vote to defeat it. Another 34% offer no opinion. In last year’s school board elections, 54% of the votes cast on school budgets statewide were in the affirmative, compared to just 46% in the negative.”
In other poll findings, 30% of New Jerseyans say that Governor Christie’s budget plan will cause their own family a lot of economic hardship, 45% say that it will cause them some hardship, and 22% say there will not really be any hardship for them. Among state worker and teacher households, 43% say they will suffer a lot of hardship.
Most New Jerseyans (55%) continue to say that the state is on the wrong track rather than headed in the right direction (37%), although these findings are slightly more positive than they have been for the past two years.
The state legislature also continues to get poor marks from the public. Only 20% approve of the job this body is doing compared to 56% who disapprove.
While the governor won last year’s election on a campaign of change, few New Jerseyans have yet to see a positive transformation in their state government. Just 21% say that the overall quality of government in Trenton has gotten better in the past year, but more – 31% – say it has actually gotten worse. Another 42% say there has been no change so far in the quality of state government.
The Monmouth University Polling Institute conducted the poll by telephone with 804 New Jersey adults from April 7 to 11, 2010. This sample has a margin of error of + 3.5 percent.