Public opinion of Chris Christie has further eroded since the Bridgegate emails were released last month. The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll found the governor’s job approval rating has dropped 20 points over the past year. In addition to growing suspicion of his involvement in the toll lane closures, New Jerseyans grade Christie’s handling of Superstorm Sandy recovery much less positively than they did when he was running for re-election.
Currently, Gov. Christie’s job rating stands at 50% approve to 44% disapprove among New Jersey residents and 49% approve to 46% disapprove among the state’s registered voters. His approval numbers have dropped 9 points since the January Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll which was taken just days after the state first learned that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Christie’s job rating has now dropped by a total of 15 points since the scandal and it is off by 20 points from the high water mark of 70% recorded twelve months ago. In fact, the 49% voter approval number in the current poll is the first time Christie’s positive job rating has dipped below the 50% mark since 2011.
Three-in-four (77%) Republicans stick by Christie but this is still a decline from the 89% approval rating he had among GOP residents as the Bridgegate scandal was just starting to break. Approval has dropped among independents from 62% in January to 54% now and among Democrats from 38% in January to 31% now.
“This hole is getting deeper. Christie’s image as the hero of Sandy is now just a fading memory,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The governor’s personal ratings have also shifted in the past month. Last month’s poll showed New Jerseyans moving from the “favorable” column into a wait-and-see mode. The current poll finds that some of them have now developed a more negative opinion of Christie. Currently 42% of New Jerseyans have a favorable opinion of Chris Christie as a person and 37% have an unfavorable opinion, with 21% offering no view on Christie. One month ago, those numbers stood at 44% favorable, 28% unfavorable and 28% with no opinion. This is a far cry from one year ago, when the governor’s personal rating was 70% favorable to just 19% unfavorable, with only 11% having no opinion.
More than 9-in-10 (92%) New Jerseyans have been following the Bridgeate story. The number who believe the governor is not being completely honest about what he knows about the incident has grown from 51% last month to 61% today. That increase comes from Democrats – up 15 points to 82%, independents – up 5 points to 60%, and Republicans – up 9 points to 28%.
Half (50%) of those residents who have been following the story now think the governor was personally involved in the decision to close the George Washington Bridge toll lanes, while 40% maintain he was not involved. This marks a reversal from just one month ago when only 34% said he was involved compared to 52% who said he was not.
New Jerseyans are now split on whether the retaliatory actions alleged in the Bridgegate scandal are politics as usual for the Christie administration (49%) or not (46%). One month ago, most (55%) of the public was inclined to think that this was an unusual occurrence.
It doesn’t help that the Bridgate scandal has been compounded by charges from the mayor of Hoboken that the governor’s administration withheld Sandy aid unless an unrelated development project was approved in that town. Nearly 8-in-10 (79%) of New Jerseyans have heard about this allegation and they are more inclined to believe (49%) rather than doubt (40%) the Hoboken mayor’s claims. Among those who have heard a lot about this issue, 58% say they believe the mayor’s story. In general, 6-in-10 New Jerseyans say it is either very (28%) or somewhat (32%) likely that the Christie administration would use Sandy relief funding to exercise political power over local officials.
With Sandy becoming enmeshed in the growing controversies, views of the Christie administration’s handling of the recovery have taken a significant hit. Currently just 4-in-10 New Jerseyans would give the administration a grade of A (10%) or B (30%) for its Sandy recovery efforts. Another 32% give a C and 1-in-4 give a poor grade of D (16%) or F (9%). Just five months ago, as the governor was in the midst of his re-election campaign, a whopping 7-in-10 New Jerseyans gave his office’s Sandy efforts an A (35%) or B (37%).
Overall, though, most New Jerseyans (55%) say they are at least somewhat satisfied with the state’s recovery efforts so far. However, this number is down from 66% in December and 76% in September. Interestingly, 57% are still at least somewhat confident that the federal relief funds are being spent wisely, down slightly from 62% in September.
“While the governor’s Sandy grades have taken a big hit, New Jerseyans believe that federal funds are generally being used well. However, that opinion combines both the federal efforts and the state efforts in many people’s minds. These views may shift based on how the second wave of funding is used,” said Murray.
While Gov. Christie’s ratings have taken a hit, the public also expresses some concern about the legislature’s conduct of the Bridgegate investigation. A majority (56%) of New Jerseyans say that the special committee is more interested in going after the governor compared to 1-in-3 (32%) who say it is more interested in learning the facts of the case. On top of that, the state legislature’s job rating has declined in the past month, from a decidedly positive 47% approve to 35% disapprove one month ago to a more negative 41% approve to 45% disapprove in the current poll.
“While the governor has certainly taken a hit in public opinion, the poll also has a word of warning for the legislature. Tread carefully with the investigation,” said Murray.
There is no doubt, though, that developments over the past month have put Christie on the defensive as far as his constituents are concerned. New Jerseyans now say the governor is more concerned about his own political future (56%) than he is with governing the state (35%). This marks the first time that a majority of state residents say the governor is putting his own career ahead of New Jersey’s interests.
Even with the swirling controversy, nearly 2-in-3 (65%) New Jerseyans believe that Chris Christie still intends to run for president in 2016. This number is basically unchanged from the 69% who felt that way after the governor’s resounding re-election victory last year. However, fewer Garden State residents now believe he has the right temperament to be president (41%) than did so last fall (56%).
The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll was conducted by telephone with 803 New Jersey adults from February 19 to 23, 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).