As N.J. Gov. Chris Christie builds his presidential campaign, a majority of registered voters in the Garden State say he should resign as governor, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. But when told that Democratic state legislators want to pass a law forcing Christie – and all future governors – to resign upon making an official bid for president, voters change their tune.
Forty-five percent of voters told of the Democratic proposal say Christie should be “forced” to resign, while 52 percent say he should be allowed to remain as governor. Among those not given this additional information, 54 percent want Christie to step down, while 41 percent believe he should continue to serve.
“New Jerseyans want the governor to resign now that he is officially in the 2016 primary race – but they want him to do it on his own terms,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “While those here at home show little love for Christie or his presidential run, they are nevertheless against his Democratic opposition ousting him from office.”
Support for a Christie resignation stems, at least in part, from a belief that the governor has all but abandoned New Jersey – literally and figuratively. Just 8 percent of respondents thought.
Christie was physically in New Jersey on the day they were surveyed; 44 percent believed he was out of state. Nearly, half, however, were unsure of Christie’s whereabouts. Even on July 30, the one day of polling when Christie was in the state, according to WNYC’s “Christie Tracker,” voters were no more likely to think he was here.
Fifty-three percent of voters think the constant out-of-state traveling hurts Christie’s ability to be an effective governor, the highest percentage ever recorded by the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. However, 39 percent say it has no effect at all. Moreover, 59 percent believe Christie’s issue positions and decisions to sign or veto bills are more about his presidential run than about what is best for New Jersey; 27 percent say the opposite.
Half of voters view Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as at least somewhat prepared to take over as governor, if necessary; just 15 percent say she is not prepared, and another 35 percent are unsure. Still, few voters have any impression of Guadagno: 15 percent are favorable, 14 percent unfavorable, and the remainder either does not recognize her name or have no impression at all.
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.
Context alters attitudes toward Christie resignation
One-half of poll respondents were asked the straightforward resignation question without any context: should Christie resign now that he is running for president? The others received additional information about the Democrats’ proposed legislation that would “force” Christie into resignation.
While a majority of those getting the question without context says Christie should quit now, voters who were told the Democrats want to force him from office are nine points less likely to support Christie leaving and 11 points more likely to support him staying.
Partisans of all stripes are less likely to say Christie should be “forced” to resign, though to varying degrees: Democrats are seven points less likely (at 61 percent resign when given additional information), independents six points less likely (at 45 percent), and Republicans 13 points less likely (at 22 percent).
A majority of Republicans agrees Christie should continue to serve in both versions but are much more likely to say so when told about the Democrats’ bill – 62 percent compared to 76 percent in the latter scenario. Just over half of independents stand by Christie continuing as governor in the Democratic legislation version, 52 percent compared to 43 percent without the context. Even Democrats show a nine-point spike in support for Christie between the two versions: 26 percent say he should not resign in the straightforward question, while 35 percent say he should not when presented additional information.
“Identifying Democrats as the bill’s authors and its provision to ‘force’ Christie to resign causes independents to completely switch sides and boosts support among Republicans for Christie to remain as governor,” said Koning. “It even suppresses support for resignation among Democrats.”
Voters see Candidate Christie as putting New Jersey second
Christie receives a slight post-presidential announcement boost in views about whether he is putting New Jersey ahead of his presidential run. Voters are five points more likely to say he is focused on New Jersey than they were last February, but a clear majority still says the governor is more focused on his campaign. Christie’s own GOP base remains split over his priorities. Forty-four percent of Republicans say his words and deeds have been about what is best for the Garden State, down 13 points over the past eight months, while 40 percent think Christie is making decisions that would benefit his presidential run, up 13 points.
Just 16 percent of Democrats believe Christie is doing what is best for New Jersey; 72 percent do not. Independents’ views of Christie’s motivations are also negative: 28 percent think he’s acting for the state, versus 60 percent who say decisions are about a presidential run.
Voters also increasingly feel that Christie’s travels – whether for the Republican Governor’s Association last year or for his lead up to and eventual run for president this year – negatively impact his ability to govern here. This number has now surpassed the 50-percent mark for the first time since initially being asked in November 2013.
Republican voters still give Christie the benefit of the doubt: 59 percent say his frequent trips have no impact, while 36 percent now saying they hurt his ability to govern effectively.
But independents and Democrats see things differently: 52 percent of independents and 66 percent of Democrats say his travels hurt his governorship.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno continues to remain mostly unknown, even among Republicans: while only 9 percent of her base has an unfavorable opinion of her, just 23 percent has a favorable one. Sixty-eight percent either has no opinion or does not know who she is. About seven in ten Democrats and independents are unaware of or uncertain about the lieutenant governor.
This does not stop half of New Jersey voters, however, from believing she is at least somewhat prepared to take Christie’s place as governor if it were necessary. Guadagno garners the most support from GOP voters: 16 percent think she is very prepared to take over, and another 40 percent say somewhat prepared. Democrats and independents give her similar credit for her experience; 46 percent of the former and 50 percent of the latter say she would be at least somewhat ready for the job. A large percentage of Republicans (30 percent), Democrats (39 percent), and independents (35 percent) remain unsure.
Those who know and like Guadagno definitely see her as ready: 34 percent say she is very prepared and 52 percent say somewhat prepared. Those with a negative opinion of the lieutenant governor are more split, with 39 percent seeing her as prepared, 38 percent seeing her as not prepared, and 23 percent unsure. Those with no opinion or awareness of Guadagno are most likely to say they are uncertain of her preparedness to take over, at 44 percent, but another 35 percent of this group say she is somewhat prepared and 8 percent say very.
“While Christie assures he is still in charge while out of state, the state Constitution makes Guadagno ‘acting governor’ whenever he is away,” noted Koning. “Since Christie has been gone 55 percent of the time this year, maybe voters feel she can handle the job simply because she has already been doing it.”