Christie’s approval ratings and the sitting governor’s sacrifice

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker joins Christie listens during a campaign stop at the GOP Field office September 29, 2014 in Hudson, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker joins Christie listens during a campaign stop at the GOP Field office September 29, 2014 in Hudson, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker saw his approval rating drop last week to 41 percent, among the lowest its been since taking office back in 2010. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s support at home consistently dips below a third, making the Republican one of the least popular sitting governors in the country.

Political observers might point to a number of factors in explaining the low polling numbers of the two GOP leaders, and often have. Both Jindal and Walker, for example, are conservative governors in traditionally blue-leaning states, which alone makes them naturally controversial executives. And yet they’ve also shown themselves to be not totally unwilling to fuel that controversy by undertaking challenging policy positions, Walker with public pension reform and Jindal with his support for certain social issues, such as religious freedom laws in his home state.

But the the two GOP leaders also have another thing in common: they’re both considering bids for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Political experts point to those ambitions as being among the biggest factors in their slipping approval ratings, noting that national aspirations and the prospect of entering a highly-competitive GOP field next year can unavoidably impact the way potential candidates like Jindal and Walker conduct themselves at home, both by forcing them prove their allegiances to future Republican primary voters by hedging right on issues of state importance but also by sacrificing time at home to build financial and political support abroad.

It is, in a sense, the price each executive has had to pay in their quest for higher callings — and unlike prospective presidential candidates from other walks of life, such as senators or even former executives, is one unique to Jindal and Walker, two of the only sitting governors who’ve made concrete steps toward a run in 2016.

And it all might explain New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s own job approval numbers today, which sunk to record-lows with the release of a Quinnipiac University poll that found 56 percent of voters disapprove of the incumbent’s work here. That’s compared with just 38 percent of residents who approve of it, and reflects an 8-point jump from the 48 percent approval rating he received back in January.

Christie seems to be in the same place Walker and Jindal are: fresh off a two-day junket to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, not to mention extended absences over the past summer when he traveled across the country in his capacity of former chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, he’s seen his job approval ratings plummet as he moves ahead with what looks to be an inevitable campaign launch. Christie has faced some backlash for positions he’s staked out on issues that would seem to help bolster his image among Republican voters nationally — including, like Walker but with less success, reforming pension and benefits — and has been criticized for neglecting his responsibilities at home.

Some of those feelings were captured in the Quinnipiac poll, where only forty-one percent of residents said they thought Christie cared about their needs.

If he runs for president, 70 percent said he should resign his governorship.

“This does happen to some extent, but I think it’s happened more to Christie simply because of what went on with the RGA, that he started this jaunt around the country a lot sooner and much more active than other sitting governors had,” said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute.

Murrary said the problem with Christie is his polling numbers keep going down “month after month after month.” At what point, he said, “do they become fodder for his opponents?”

Political observers in the lead up to the 2016 presidential primaries say that candidates with executive experience are likely to perform best among voters (Christie himself said he thinks the country’s next president will be a governor), but the less-than-ideal standings of the these three underscore the difficulties that come with holding down one job while jockeying for another. Christie, Jindal, and Walker are the only sitting governors who’ve made concrete moves toward a 2016, but they have only done it, apparently, at the expense of their records at home.

The three aren’t in the exact same boat, however. While Walker has seen his job approval rating dip in the Badger State, more recently he seems to be increasing in stature next to his fellow GOP candidates nationally, where he continues to generate interest among Republican donors and voters. On the other end of the spectrum is Jindal, who has had a difficult time gaining traction outside the conservative south.

Christie is likely somewhere in the middle: once considered one of the party’s brightest stars, he’s now fighting his way back up from second tier status, but still ranks consistently low in national polls (a CNN poll today placed him seventh among a set of 15 potential candidates).

There are other factors at play of course, and likely help to explain the trio’s respective polling. Where Wisconsin has seen relative economic success under Walker (even if much of the work he’s done to help keep it there has been highly controversial), New Jersey and Louisiana have faltered somewhat under Christie and Jindal, both of whom are taking heat for gaping budget shortfalls and fiscal problems in their home states.

Then, for Christie at least, there’s also Bridgegate, which many believe began his unraveling in 2013 and which continues to threaten his presidential prospects even now.

While Bridgegate might not currently be playing a big role in his approval ratings among NJ residents, Murray said indictments in the federal investigation into that scandal — which are reportedly imminent — could “bring it back to the fore.”

“Whoever changed their mind about what kind of job the governor is doing based on Bridgegate did it a year ago,” Murray said. “These are the stragglers who didn’t change their mind because of Bridgegate, but who are now asking, wait a minute, does this guy actually have his head in the game in New Jersey. And every week, a few more people say, you know, I’m fed up, he’s not doing his job. It’s a steady trickle.”

Christie’s approval ratings and the sitting governor’s sacrifice