Gov. Chris Christie continues to ride a wave of strong support, according to the most recent PublicMind survey of New Jersey residents. More than half (55%) of all registered voters approve of the job he is doing as governor, a number that has remained virtually unchanged since the beginning of the year. When asked to rate the job the governor is doing, almost half (49%) of all registered voters say he’s doing an “excellent” or “good job,” and the same percentage believe the state is moving in the right direction.
“This good news for Governor Christie comes during a time when contentious budget battles over taxes could have taken their toll on the public’s evaluations of him,” said Krista Jenkins, executive director of PublicMind and a professor of political science. “But the fact that the governor’s appeal remains sound suggests that the bloom remains on this New Jersey rose, even if women are slightly more likely to see the thorns than see the beauty.”
On these measures of job performance, the governor does significantly better among men than women. Sixty-one percent of men approve of Christie, compared with 49% of women; 55% of men say he’s doing an “excellent” or “good” job, while only 41% of women say the same; and slightly more than half of registered men (54%) say the state is on the right track, compared with just 44% of women.
Yet, behind his public support lies a more complicated story. When asked to evaluate the governor’s personal and political appeal, opinion is divided. Slightly more than a third (36%) of registered voters say they like him and his policies, and slightly fewer (29%) say the exact opposite about the governor. Those remaining are torn between liking him but disliking his policies (14%) and disliking him while liking his policies (14%).
“He’s a complicated guy,” said Jenkins, “so trying to understand whether his high marks with the public come from his policies or personality is tough.” As Jenkins points out, those who are divided over his personality and policy positions represent a sizable chunk of the electorate, and one that offers insight into where Christie’s overall support lies. “Whether he’s getting the support of those who like his policy positions or personality will remain a debate. Both are important for understanding Governor Christie’s support.”
As for whether the public believes the governor is motivated by a desire for national office or to make things better for New Jerseyans, opinion is again divided. Although most registered voters who have an opinion believe Christie is more interested in governing well (47%), not too many fewer (41%) believe his interest lies in making a name for himself in order to achieve national office. Democrats and those from public employee households are the most dubious about the governor’s motivations (61 and 56%, respectively), while Republicans are less suspicious (17%).
The survey also found that almost six-in-ten registered voters (58%) say they’ve seen his town hall meetings on YouTube or a news program, and more than half (57%) believe they are an effective way for the governor to communicate directly with people like themselves. Although there are some partisan differences, sizable numbers of Democrats (43%), independents (68%) and Republicans (70%) believe town hall meetings are an effective communication strategy.
“Governor Christie’s messaging strategy appears to be working,” said Jenkins. “By traveling up and down the state and meeting with voters personally, Governor Christie is increasing the chances that his messages about reform and fiscal restraint are being heard in addition to the voices of media commentators.”
As for whether his town hall meetings – which are often the source for contentious exchanges between the governor and an audience member – help, hurt, or make no difference to his image, most (47%) believe the town hall strategy makes no difference to how people like themselves evaluate Christie, and another quarter (26%) believe they help the governor’s image.
However, as Jenkins points out, “Governor Christie gets the most bang for his buck from Republicans, since they’re more likely to react positively to town hall meetings.” Seven-in-ten Republicans believe town halls are effective and almost half (45%) say they help the governor’s image, compared with significantly fewer among Democrats and independents. “If the goal is to try to reach beyond party lines and cultivate greater support among those who don’t already identify with the governor, right now that strategy doesn’t appear to be working too well.”
Finally, the survey asked about attitudes toward the governor’s possible move from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., and the likely effect it would have on governing in the state. Almost four-in-ten (39%) say that if Christie ends up being picked to run on the GOP ticket in November, his departure will hurt effective governing in the state, followed by 29% who believe his absence won’t make any difference, and one-in-five who think the state would benefit from improved governance. Registered Republicans (59%) believe the state would suffer more than Democrats believe the state would benefit (30%).
“Democrats seem to be more divided over whether the cause for problems in Trenton lie with Christie or a broken political system,” said Jenkins.
As for awareness of Christie’s successor, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the operative question is Lieutenant Governor Who? Three-fourths (76%) of registered voters have never heard of the lieutenant governor, and among those who have, almost half (10%) have no opinion about her.
“The good news is Lieutenant Governor Guadagno has almost complete freedom to define herself for the public; the bad news is she’ll have to first make it clear that she even exists should Christie get the GOP vice presidential nod,” said Jenkins.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University statewide poll of 945 registered and unregistered voters was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from July 23 through July 29, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points.