Monmouth Poll: Most New Jerseyans say Christie knew about lane closures

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Most New Jerseyans believe Gov. Chris Christie was actually involved in the decision to close toll lanes on the George Washington Bridge in 2013 or at least that he knew about it at the time, according to this morning’s Monmouth University Poll.  The first poll taken since the U.S. Attorney announced charges in the Bridgegate case also found that just 1-in-10 Garden State residents believe that the three individuals indicted in the scheme were the only ones involved, the poll finds.

Christie’s overall job rating currently stands at 35% approve to 54% disapprove among New Jersey residents and 35% approve to 56% disapprove among the state’s registered voters.  This marks a significant drop from just a few months ago and is an all-time low in Christie’s net job rating. In February, his job rating stood at 48% approve to 44% disapprove among all residents and 47% approve to 46% disapprove among voters.  The governor’s job approval rating in the Monmouth University Poll once stood as high as 70% – that was in February 2013 following Superstorm Sandy.

New Jersey Republicans continue to support their governor, giving him a 65% approve to 32% disapprove job rating, down only slightly from the 70% to 24% rating he received three months ago.  He has lost significantly more ground among independents – 34% approve to 51% disapprove in the current poll compared to 47% to 43% in February, as well as Democrats – now 19% approve to 69% disapprove compared to 39% to 55% in February.

“Christie’s overwhelmingly positive ratings in the aftermath of Sandy have now been sliced in half,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.  “Christie’s ratings had stabilized after the initial Bridgegate revelations early last year.  They started to erode again last fall, but these post-indictment numbers mark a significant acceleration in that decline.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office unsealed indictments against three former Christie associates in the Bridgegate scheme on Friday, including a guilty plea entered by David Wildstein.  Only 1-in-10 New Jerseyans (9%) believe the three people charged were the only individuals responsible for the decision to close the lanes.  Another 3-in-4 feel others were involved, including 33% who say the conspiracy was limited to just a few others, 22% who feel that involvement in Bridgegate was fairly widespread throughout the Christie administration, and 22% who are not sure how many other people may have been involved.

The poll also found that more than 2-in-3 New Jerseyans (69%) feel Gov. Christie has not been completely honest about what he knew.  Just 23% say he has come clean.  Nearly 4-in-5 Democrats (79%) and 2-in-3 independents (68%) believe Christie is not telling the truth, which is not much different than the findings in a September 2014 Monmouth poll.  However, a majority of Garden State Republicans (52%) now say that Christie has not been completely honest and just 39% believe he has.  This is a marked reversal from last fall when most Republicans (52%) said Christie had told the truth and only 36% said he had not.

While Republicans now feel that Christie hasn’t come clean, most still accept his assertion that he was not involved in the lane closure decision and that he did not know about it at the time.  This puts GOP partisans at odds with Democrats and independents.  Specifically, 56% of all New Jerseyans think that Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening in September 2013 and just 33% say he learned about them sometime later.  Majorities of state Democrats (71%) and independents (55%) say Christie was aware, but only 35% of Republicans agree.

Half of state residents (50%) also feel that the governor was personally involved in the decision to close the toll lanes, while just 34% say he was not involved.  This marks a change from June 2014 when state opinion was more divided, with 46% saying Christie was involved and 42% saying he wasn’t.  This shift in opinion has come mostly from independents – 52% now believe Christie was involved compared to 43% who felt that way last year.  About 6-in-10 (59%) Democrats say he was involved which is similar to the 56% who felt that way last year, while just 29% of Republicans feel he was involved which is similar to the 32% who said the same last June.

“The governor has maintained that he was not involved in the lane closures nor did knew about them as they were happening.  Most New Jerseyans don’t buy it,” said Murray.

David Wildstein’s attorney alleged “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the lane closures at the time.  Just over 4-in-10 (42%) say this makes them more likely to believe Christie knew, 6% say it makes them less likely, and 50% say this information does not change their opinion.  [It should be noted that those who say the attorney’s allegation makes them more likely to believe Christie had knowledge of the closures tend to be people who already feel that way.]

The poll found nearly half (49%) of New Jerseyans believe that the alleged reason for the lane closures – retaliation against a local official who would not support the governor – was “politics as usual” in the Christie administration.  Another 41% feel this behavior was unusual.  Democrats (53%) and independents (54%) are more likely than Republicans (34%) to feel this behavior was politics as usual.

The indictment also claims that employees of the administration’s intergovernmental affairs unit actively sought campaign endorsements for the governor’s re-election bid.  Only 9% of New Jerseyans think it is acceptable for non-political staff to engage in this type of political activity, while 53% say it is not acceptable.  Another 39% are not sure how they feel about this.  There are few significant partisan differences in this opinion.

The Monmouth University Poll also found that only 30% of New Jerseyans now have a favorable opinion of Chris Christie as a person and 47% hold an unfavorable view.  Another 23% have no opinion.  State opinion was more evenly divided just three months ago at 38% favorable and 40% unfavorable.  A majority of Republicans (55%) hold a positive view of Christie as a person, but just 29% of independents and 16% of Democrats feel the same.

“When you are running for President, your home state record is often less important than what kind of person voters think you are.  These numbers are not encouraging for someone with aspirations to the White House,” added Murray.  Note:  Monmouth will be releasing a New Jersey poll regarding Chris Christie’s presidential potential on Wednesday.

The Monmouth University Polling Institute conducted the poll by telephone with 500 New Jersey adults, including 441 registered voters, from May 1 to 3.  The total sample has a margin of error of + 4.4 percent and the registered voter sample has a margin of error of + 4.7 percent.

Monmouth Poll: Most New Jerseyans say Christie knew about lane closures