Eagleton: Christie would beat Booker by 19 points

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, 59 percent of New Jersey registered voters support a second term for Gov. Chris Christie, while only 32 percent oppose his re-election, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Support for Christie’s re-election has risen dramatically from late September, when 44 percent favored re-election and 47 percent opposed it.

In a series of head-to-head tests against several Democrats thought to be potential 2013 gubernatorial candidates, Christie wins a clear majority in every contest. Newark Mayor Cory Booker does best in this group, but still loses 53 percent to 34 percent, with 13 percent choosing neither candidate. Christie’s margin widens against others, including state Sen.and former  Gov. Richard Codey (56 percent to 31 percent), State Sen. Barbara Buono (60 percent to 22 percent), Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (60 percent to 21 percent) and former Democratic state chair Tom Byrne (58 percent to 22 percent). Moreover, few voters know the Democratic candidates well enough to have formed impressions of them, with the exception of Booker. 

Driving Christie’s strong re-election support is the dramatic increase in the number of voters with a favorable impression of him, now at 67 percent, up 19 points from before the storm. And 61 percent now give Christie an A or B grade for his job performance, up 14 points from late September.  

“Before Superstorm Sandy, things looked much different for Christie, as Democrats seemed positioned for a serious challenge next year,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Voters were evenly split over the governor’s re-election, and Mayor Booker in particular looked like a very strong competitor. Post-Sandy, however, the political environment has changed, at least for now.”

Results are from a poll of 1,228 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Nov 14-17. Within this sample is a subsample of 1,108 registered voters; this subsample has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points. Questions about Christie’s job approval are reported two different ways using half samples. The margin of error for these questions is +/- 4.2 percentage points.

Christie makes large gains in generic re-election support

The key to the governor’s improved generic re-election prospects comes from double-digit gains among both independent voters and Democrats. The 38 percent of Democrats who now support a second term for Christie reflect a doubling of his pre-Sandy support from them. Independents are decisively in Christie’s camp, with 66 percent supporting re-election, up from 44 percent in late September.

“Current levels of support for Christie’s re-election are stunning, given how divided voters were before the storm,” said Redlawsk. “The combination of leadership, empathy and bipartisanship shown by the governor during the crisis impressed most people and gave the governor a strong push into the 2013 campaign.”

The governor’s leadership during and after Sandy appears also to have erased the persistent gender gap in his support for now. Men and women support a second term in nearly equal numbers, with 60 percent of men and 58 percent of women calling for his re-election. This represents a more than 20-point increase for Christie among women.  

Among voters in the hardest hit areas – shore and exurban counties – 70 percent or more now support his re-election. Even voters in public-employee union households have come around for the time being, with 45 percent now favoring re-election, double the percentage in the last Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Racial differences continue to persist, however. While 65 percent of white voters support re-election, a nearly equal share of black voters (62 percent) continues to oppose the governor. But this is a significant improvement over the last poll, when 81 percent of blacks thought Christie should go. Among Hispanic voters, 51 percent support re-election, while 46 percent oppose a new term.

Potential Democratic challengers appear to face uphill battle

While the 2013 gubernatorial election is more than 11 months away, ballot tests comparing Christie to some potential Democratic challengers suggest that he starts the election year in an enviable position. Christie beats the strongest Democrat, Booker, by a 19-point margin. Other Democrats run from 25 points (Codey) to 39 points (Greenwald) behind. 

Christie’s 67 percent favorable rating also outshines that of any of the Democrats. Booker is the only one to break 50 percent favorable, while 11 percent view him unfavorably; 27 percent have no opinion and 10 percent “don’t know”. Codey comes in at 34 percent favorable versus 14 percent unfavorable, with 38 percent having no opinion, and 15 percent unable to identify him.

The large majority of New Jersey voters has no opinion on the other Democrats or does not recognize the names: 75 percent in the case of Byrne (14 percent favorable to 11 percent unfavorable), 82 percent for Buono (11 percent favorable to 7 percent unfavorable) and 84 percent in Greenwald’s case (9 percent favorable to 7 percent unfavorable.) 

“Christie’s position against the Democrats is strong, not just because of his Superstorm Sandy response, but also because most Democrats do not have the statewide name recognition needed to challenge him. While Booker comes closest, still more than one-third cannot characterize their impression of him.”

When pitted against Booker, Christie loses a little steam on the generic “should he be re-elected” question. While 66 percent of independents say the governor deserves re-election in general, support for Christie drops to 59 percent when given the choice between Christie and Booker. Women respond similarly, dropping seven points to 51 percent when choosing between the governor and Newark mayor. Booker wins among Hispanic voters (46 percent to 42 percent ) and black voters, 58 percent to 23 percent. But Christie wins resoundingly among white voters, 60 percent to 28 percent.

“With a long time until Election Day, Sandy will become somewhat less of a factor,” noted Redlawsk. “The realities of governing – including the budget and a host of other contentious issues – are likely to cool the governor’s red-hot numbers over time. But Christie’s leadership has given him a great deal of political capital to use over the next year.”

Voters give high grades and approval to Christie job performance 

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll used three measures to assess how voters respond to Gov. Christie. All voters were asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable impression of the governor. In addition, a random half was asked to assign a grade to Christie’s job performance, while the other half simply said whether they approved or disapproved of his job performance.

As with favorability, Christie’s job performance grades also reflect record highs for his term. Sixty-one percent now award him an A or B, a double-digit increase from the last poll. At the top end, 28 percent now say the governor has earned an A, up from 18 percent. In the late September poll, 30 percent assigned a D or F grade to the governor. Post-Sandy, only 16 percent continues to do so. 

Nearly half of Democrats now assign the governor an A or B, while 61 percent of independents also give the same high marks. And 49 percent of Republicans give Christie the highest possible grade. More women than men give Christie an A (32 percent versus 25 percent). Christie gets the most As and Bs from the exurban and shore regions (68 percent and 72 percent, respectively), presumably due both to his efforts in these storm-battered areas and to the more Republican tendencies of these counties.

Among voters asked whether they approve or disapprove of the job Christie is doing, 67 percent approve and 25 percent disapprove. Among these voters, Christie receives bipartisan praise with almost half of Democrats (47 percent), three-quarters of independents, and most Republicans (88 percent) approving his performance. Christie even sees high job approval from black voters (53 percent), young voters (57 percent) and public-employee union voters (54 percent).

As Christie’s overall favorability ratings have skyrocketed post-Sandy, the percentage of Democrats with a favorable impression of the governor has doubled to 49 percent. Independents display a 24-point increase to 73 percent favorable, while 90 percent of Republicans are favorable. Large increases in favorability are also seen among both men and women: men are up 17 points to 69 percent, and women are up 22 points to 65 percent. Favorability among white voters improved by 17 points to 72 percent, and favorability among black voters more than doubled to 46 percent. More than three-quarters of voters in those areas hardest hit by the storm, and over half of public union employees (56 percent), also say they are favorable toward Christie.

"I don't think what he's doing tonight, the method by which he's doing it helps to build a trustful relationship."
—Gov. Chris Christie reacting to President Barack Obama's speech on immigration reform.