Over a month into Gov. Chris Christie’s official 2016 run, voters back home still do not see him as presidential material, according to today’s Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty-four percent of New Jersey registered voters say “presidential” does not describe Christie at all, versus 29 percent who think it describes the governor somewhat well and just 14 percent who say “very well.” These numbers are little changed since April, as have other positive traits that would be considered important to his presidential run.
About half still believe “smart” describes him very well; another third, somewhat. Four in 10 say “strong leader” is very apt (another quarter, somewhat). “Effective” and “trustworthy” continue to suffer post-Bridgegate: 27 percent now feel the former describes him very well (40 percent, somewhat), and 21 percent say the same about the latter (31 percent, somewhat).
Negative perceptions of Christie continue to inch up, with “arrogant” (58 percent very, 25 percent somewhat), “self-centered” (52 percent very, 24 percent somewhat), and “bully” (49 percent very, 25 percent somewhat) reaching new highs. Two-thirds continue to describe Christie as very “stubborn,” (another 22 percent, somewhat). Forty-four percent think “impulsive” is very fitting; 28 percent say somewhat.
“Views on Christie’s character go hand-in-hand with his falling ratings here in the Garden State and are undoubtedly, at least in part, an expression of New Jerseyans’ feelings about his presidential run,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Christie receives no character boost from his official 2016 announcement over a month ago and has yet to recover from post-Bridgegate fallout, which has spurred double-digit shifts in perceptions of him since the overwhelmingly positive responses he drew between Sandy and his re-election in 2013.”
Voters continue to feel “angry” about Christie (now at 43 percent), while almost half are “worried,” and a third even feel “contempt.” About three in 10 continue to say Christie makes them feel “proud” or “enthusiastic,” but both are down by double digits since Christie’s re-election in 2013, each a six-point drop since Bridgegate alone.
Results are from a statewide poll of 867 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 25 to August 1, including 757 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of +/-4.0 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
Differences across, within partisanship on positive traits
Christie gets virtually no “announcement bump” from Democrats, independents, or Republicans in being perceived as presidential. Just 6 percent of Democrats continue to say this trait suits him very well, as do 12 percent of independents; a majority of both groups say it does not fit him at all (73 percent and 52 percent, respectively). Twenty-eight percent of Republicans think “presidential” is a very apt descriptor for Christie, on the other hand, while another 42 percent say somewhat and 28 percent say not at all – little changed since measured pre-announcement in April.
Other positive trait perceptions of Christie overall seem to have stabilized for now after 18 months of consistent declines, but some partisan fluctuation continues. Democrats’ positive outlook continues to drop: just 22 percent say strong leader fits Christie very well, down nine points since April, and 34 percent say the same for smart, down six points. Democrats remain virtually steady in their ratings of Christie’s effectiveness (now 15 percent) and trustworthiness (now 7 percent).
Independents, on the other hand, are more likely to ascribe positive qualities to Christie since April: up eight points on both smart (to 54 percent) and leader (to 43 percent) and eight points on trustworthy (to 23 percent). This group remains about the same in saying effective fits Christie very well, at 24 percent.
After helping drive declines in positive perceptions of Christie in April, Republicans now have a somewhat improved outlook on the governor. Among GOP voters, 64 percent say strong leader fits Christie very well, up four points, and 54 percent say the same for effective, up nine points. Republicans are stable in their views of Christie as very smart (71 percent) and trustworthy (38 percent).
“This reprieve from Christie’s free fall on positive characteristics benefits the governor – especially as he gains back some positivity from independents and Republicans,” said Koning. “But Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike continue to budge little in their lackluster views on Christie as presidential. Only time will tell if his debate participation and continued campaigning will alter this perception, but as of now, not even the governor’s home state seems to think he’s right for the Oval Office.”
Independents spur new negative trait highs
In April, Christie’s own party base was a major reason for increasingly negative perceptions about the governor, but this time around, independent voters are mainly the culprits.
On arrogance – now at its highest point ever – just over seven in 10 Democrats still say the trait describes Christie very well; Republicans actually show a nine-point decline in the trait’s aptness, now at 33 percent. The trait jumps with independents to 60 percent, up eight points from a few months ago.
Independents once again show the largest increase in calling Christie very self-centered, up 10 points to 55 percent. But Democrats and Republicans show small increases on this trait as well, the former up five points to 65 percent and the latter up three points to 29 percent.
Independents also take a double-digit leap on their application of bully – up 11 points to 51 percent. Democrats, on the other hand, hold steady at 63 percent, saying bully fits Christie very well, while 25 percent of Republicans feel the same.
These patterns continue for both stubborn and impulsive. Three-quarters of Democrats think stubborn fits Christie very well, compared to about half of Republicans. Sixty-seven percent of independents view the governor as stubborn, a six-point jump since April.
Independents are slightly more likely to now believe Christie is more impulsive as well. Forty-six percent of that group now says this describes Christie very well, up five points. Democrats actually show a small decrease here, down five points to 48 percent. A third of Republicans continue to think impulsive is very fitting.
“This increase in independents’ application of negative traits is troubling for the governor, especially as a presidential candidate who prides himself on his across-the-aisle appeal and hopes to win New Hampshire,” said Koning. “And while Christie certainly had a solid debate performance last Thursday, his spat with Rand Paul, his constant campaigning out of state, and his recent remarks about wanting to punch teachers in the face will not diminish perceptions of him as arrogant and a bully – at least not in New Jersey.”
Partisanship drives emotions
While emotional responses to reading or hearing about Christie have moved only slightly overall, Democrats show noticeable changes since April. Just 11 percent now say Christie makes them proud, down nine points since a few months ago; 30 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans feel the same. Democrats show a 6-point decline in enthusiasm, now 14 percent; 28 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans are enthusiastic. Democrats are also six points angrier than they were in April – now 60 percent. Twenty percent of Republicans and 40 percent of independents feel similarly.
It is only on worry and contempt that Democrats have remained steady – now at 63 percent for the former and 39 percent for the latter. Worry has increased 10 points among independents, to 47 percent. Yet it has subsided a bit for Republicans, now at 22 percent (down six points). Independents feel about the same amount of contempt as in April (34 percent), while Republicans have significantly cooled on this feeling as well, down 12 points to 23 percent.