As Gov. Chris Christie campaigns to win over voters in New Hampshire and Iowa, voters back home are more dissatisfied with him than ever, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Just 30 percent of New Jersey registered voters have a favorable opinion of Christie, an eight-point drop since April and less than half his favorable rating following his November 2013 re-election; 59 percent are now unfavorable, an 11-point increase since April. Christie’s favorability has mostly been on a downward spiral since August 2014.
“Governor Christie has not experienced any kind of 2016 announcement ‘bump’ in ratings from voters back home – in fact, quite the opposite,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “While he has yet to challenge the record low job approval of 17 percent logged by Brendan Byrne in April 1977, he is edging toward the lowest ratings recorded for any New Jersey governor over 45 years of Rutgers-Eagleton Polls.”
Voter dislike for Christie stems from defining traits that have proved both a blessing and a curse for him since taking office. Asked to justify their negative assessments, 18 percent cite his character, attitude, and image as reasons for their unfavorable feelings; another 10 percent use such terms as untrustworthy, deceitful, and liar. Among the 30 percent who are favorable, 28 percent point to his honesty and straightforwardness, 15 percent like his overall governing style and performance, and 14 percent each cite his personality and his attempts to better New Jersey.
Christie’s overall job approval shows a similar collapse over the past year, also reaching a new low after a steady decline since August 2014. He now stands at 37 percent approve (down four points) to 59 percent disapprove (up five points).
Christie fares no better on individual issues, reaching a new low on approval for Superstorm Sandy recovery – now at 46 percent approve, far below his April 2013 peak of 87 percent. Forty-seven percent currently disapprove of his work in this area.
Christie also falls to new lows on education (34 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove) and crime and drugs (43 percent approve, 41 percent disapprove). He remains at his low point on the economy and jobs (31 percent approve, 62 percent disapprove), and continues to receive substantial disapproval for his efforts on taxes (28 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove), the state budget (30 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove), and the state pension fund situation (22 percent approve, 62 percent disapprove).
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.
Christie’s favorability drops across the board
Christie’s favorability has reached new lows in virtually every demographic, seeing declines among his usual supporters and detractors alike. His Republican base seems to be growing more weary, with just 61 percent of GOPers now having a favorable impression of the governor, down seven points since April and “miles” from the near-unanimous party support he received pre-Bridgegate. Views among Democrats have sunk even lower, with just 11 percent now favorable toward the governor – less than half of the favorable rating four months ago; 78 percent are unfavorable. Independents also show a six-point drop in favorability, now at 30 percent, versus 59 percent who are unfavorable.
Christie now does worse with men than with women, reversing the typical gender gap that Christie has faced as a Republican – down 10 points to 29 percent favorable among the former, and down five points to 32 percent among the latter. His favorability has also dropped among both white (seven points to 36 percent favorable) and non-white voters (11 points to 18 percent favorable).
Middle-aged voters show an especially large decline compared to other age groups: now 28 percent favorable (down 18 points), versus 24 percent favorable among millennials and 40 percent among senior citizens.
Even many of Christie’s strongest supporters in shore and especially exurban counties have pulled away from him, with about four in 10 now feeling favorably– an 11-point drop since April for exurbanites. Residents of urban, suburban, and southern counties – traditionally more Democratic regions – show further drops in their already lower favorability rating.
The attitude, the bullying, perception of lies
When New Jersey voters are asked why they feel favorable or unfavorable toward the governor, Christie’s most famous traits spur both positive and negative views. His “tell it like it is” campaign seems to be working at least on some Garden State voters, with a few respondents directly referencing the slogan to explain their positivity. Among the 28 percent who feel similarly, his “frankness,” “no nonsense” approach, ability to “speak his mind,” and being “a man of his word” are frequently mentioned. The 15 percent who give his performance as governor as a reason for their favorable views think Christie is doing a “good job” and is “trying” and “working hard.” Favorable voters also mention a range of positive personal attributes, calling him respectful, caring, nice, and courageous – and even appreciate his tough guy, bully approach. Christie’s policy decisions and actions, his Superstorm Sandy leadership, and his effectiveness and ability to get things done are mentioned as positive reasons as well, but each come in at single digits.
Christie’s most infamous personal traits – some of the very same mentioned by Christie supporters – take the top three spots among reasons given by unfavorable voters. In the words of one voter among the 18 percent who mentioned Christie’s personality, “I am tired of the loudmouth Jersey guy routine.” Among those unfavorable voters who mention something pertaining to honesty, the second-highest reason at 10 percent, many outright call Christie a “liar” and believe he “does not keep his promises.”
Another 9 percent specifically mention “bully” as why they dislike him, the same percentage that cites his treatment of teachers and the education system. Other reasons for voter dislike include: Christie’s handling of state workers, unions, and the pension system (8 percent); his overall governing and apathy toward New Jersey and its citizens (each at 7 percent); his ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishments (5 percent); ,and his policy decisions (5 percent). His out-of-state traveling and campaigning for president, as well as scandals such as Bridgegate, actually rank low among voters’ reasons for discontent (3 percent each).
“While there have been both highs and lows in the trajectory of Chris Christie as governor, voters are more focused on Christie’s personal qualities than specific events,” said Koning. “In his heyday, Christie was the tough Jersey guy you wanted on your side, the refreshing straight-talker who ‘tells it like it is.’ But at his lowest moments, these same traits have been used against him and are painted in a much more unflattering light. Voter explanations of their views – especially negative ones – have more to do with the governor himself and his personal style than anything else.”
Negativity grows among Christie’s base
Though slightly higher than his favorability, Christie’s overall job approval as governor has nevertheless reached a new low. While 69 percent of Republicans are still in his corner, only 19 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of independents approve of his performance as governor. Since April, backing from many of his typical supporters has fallen: male voters to 36 percent (down seven points), white voters to 41 percent (down five points), those who are middle-aged to 34 percent (down 13 points), and exurbanites to 44 percent (down 10 points).
Christie’s approvals by issue fare no better. On Republicans’ top concern, taxes, just 38 percent approve of his approach, while 54 percent disapprove – the first time a majority of Christie’s base has given him disapproval on the issue. Twenty percent of Democrats and 30 percent of independents approve Christie’s job in this area; similar numbers feel the same on his handling of the economy and jobs. Christie does better with Republicans on the economy, at 50 percent approval.
Republicans are also mostly responsible for Christie’s new lows on education (52 percent of GOP voters now approve, down 10 points) and crime (57 percent of GOP voters now approve, down 12 points), whereas Democrats and independents have fluctuated little. Republican voters also show growing disapproval with how the governor has handled the state pension fund: 32 percent of Republicans now support Christie here (down 13 points), while 45 percent disapprove. Only 14 percent of Democrats (up six points) and 23 percent of independents approve.
Views on Sandy recovery efforts and the state budget are virtually steady since April.