NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Trust in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has continued to decline further after hitting an all-time low last March, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Just 22 percent of Garden State voters now say “trustworthy” describes Christie “very well.” Another 35 percent think it applies only “somewhat well.” Nearly 40 percent say the character trait no longer applies to the governor.
By comparison, 43 percent said trustworthy applied to Christie very well a month before his November 2013 re-election, and 32 percent said somewhat well. Only 20 percent thought it did not apply at all. Immediately following January’s “Bridgegate” revelations, the share of voters holding this position plunged 16 percentage points; it has since declined an additional five points.
“Not that long ago, voters were very likely to see Christie as trustworthy. This was especially noteworthy given how little people trust most politicians,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Bridgegate, of course, changed that view for many. And once trust is lost, it can be hard to recover.”
Perceptions of Christie as a “strong leader,” “effective,” and “fair” which all took significant hits immediately after the G.W. Bridge lane-closing story broke, have also continued to decline.
Nearly half (47 percent) of voters still say strong leader applies very well to Christie, but this is down 19 points since October 2013 with half the drop coming immediately after Bridgegate. Views of Christie as effective are also down 19 points to 31 percent of voters who now say the
word applies very well, but two-thirds of that decline has come in the past several months. The 27 percent who say fair fits very well is a 14-point drop since October 2013, with most of the decline coming immediately following the news about Bridgegate.
“The controversy surrounding the lane closures in Ft. Lee had immediate impact on nearly every assessment of Christie, with positive trait assessments continuing to fall since,” said Redlawsk. “This may be a key to the governor’s overall favorability and job performance ratings decline. People care about issues but they also look for important character traits in assessing their leaders.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 842 New Jersey residents contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, 2014. This release reports on a subsample of 734 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.
Negative perceptions of Christie stable since January
Besides seeing Christie as less trustworthy and effective, voters have lowered their opinion of the governor regarding other positive character traits since January. Fifty-three percent now say “smart” fits him very well, a decline of five points. Only 25 percent, a new low, call “reformer” a very apt label, and just under half still see Christie as “independent.” Sixty-two percent still consider “fighter” a very appropriate description, but even this represents a 10-point drop in the past year.
Unlike positive traits, voters’ perceptions of negative traits that might apply to Christie have changed little since an initial increase in the immediate Bridgegate aftermath. Sixty-seven percent of respondents now say “stubborn” fits very well, the highest total to date and a 13-point increase during the past 12 months. The change has been only three points since January, however.
More than half (54 percent) of voters now think “arrogant” applies very well to Christie, just three points higher than in January, but up eight points in a year. “Self-centered” is unchanged from January’s poll, when an 11-point increase brought the total to 47 percent who thought the description applied very well. Perceptions of Christie as a bully are now at 42 percent, nearly flat since January, when they had climbed nine points to 43 percent who saw the term as applying very well.
Voters’ emotional responses to Christie also remain steady since January, after significant decreases in positive feelings and increases in negative feelings following Bridgegate. About a third of voters say they are proud and enthusiastic when they read or hear about the governor, similar to January. Worry, at 45 percent of voters, is up a few points, and anger, at 37 percent, has subsided a bit since earlier this year.
A closer look at three traits
While the poll examined a wide range of positive and negative traits, Redlawsk said what voters most want their officeholders to be are “effective, trustworthy and strong leaders.”
“As perceptions of these traits become less positive – especially among independents and co-partisans – leaders can lose key bases of support. We may be seeing exactly that over what has become a long year for Christie since last fall’s victory,” he said.
Republicans and men are significantly fueling the declines in perceptions in Christie’s trustworthiness. Republicans show the biggest drop since last October: 27 points to 48 percent saying it fits very well today. Most of this damage occurred right after Bridgegate. Among independents, trust as a particularly apt descriptor dropped 23 points in the past year, to 21 percent. Fewer than 10 percent of Democrats, who always have had misgivings about Christie, still ascribe trustworthiness to him.
Unlike the 19-point drop in trustworthiness among women, most of which came between October 2013 and January 2014, the 23-point drop among men has occurred more gradually. Today, 23 percent of women and 20 percent of men think trustworthy applies very well to the governor.
Republicans, at 55 percent, are now 23 points less likely to say the label effective applies very well to Christie than one year ago. Independents’ perceptions of effectiveness have dropped 22 points in the same period, to 31 percent. Democrats show a 12-point decline, with 19 percent now saying effective describes Christie very well.
Perceptions of effectiveness among men, who typically have been stronger Christie supporters than women, have dropped by 22 points; for women the drop has been 15 points. Among the former group, most of the decline has been in recent months.
Perceptions of Christie as a strong leader, which skyrocketed following Superstorm Sandy, are down 25 points (to 48 percent saying the term fits very well) over the past year among independent voters. Among Republicans, the drop is 18 points, although 75 percent still say strong leader describes Christie very well. Just 29 percent of Democrats agree, down 15 points since last October. For Republicans, unlike Democrats and independents, most of this drop occurred immediately after Bridgegate.
Only 48 percent of men now say strong leader fits Christie very well, a decline of 22 points in a year. During the same period, women show a 17-point decline to 46 percent, all but erasing the small gender gap that once existed.
“After Bridgegate crushed Christie’s overall ratings, we saw a small rebound this past spring and summer,” said Redlawsk. “But the continuing loss of support on these key traits, especially among Republicans and men, appears to have caught up with overall perceptions of the governor’s favorability and job performance, helping to drag down both of these ratings.”