Handling of Sandy spurs Christie approval ratings, poll shows

NEW BRUNSWICK – Gov. Chris Christie continues to ride high from his handling of Superstorm Sandy, but a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll issued Friday finds registered voters are less pleased with his performance on their No. 1 issue: jobs and the economy.

While 73 percent of voters approve of Christie’s overall job performance, only 45 percent approve of his handling of the economy, which 35 percent of voters say is the most important problem facing New Jersey.

High taxes ranks second to jobs: 31 percent of voters call this the most important problem. Christie’s approval rating on taxes is even lower, at 40 percent, according to the poll.

In contrast, 86 percent of voters approve of how the governor has handled Superstorm Sandy, but only 11 percent say the storm’s aftermath is the most important problem, making it a distant third on the list of problems, the poll shows.

“Governor Christie remains very popular across the board, with a 70 percent favorability rating and continuing sky-high overall job approval,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers, in a release.

“It appears that Christie’s handling of Sandy has made the difference, since voters are not nearly as positive about other key issues. If voters begin to focus on these issues instead of the Sandy recovery, we could see a change in the governor’s overall ratings over the next few months.”

Results are from a poll of 796 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Jan. 30 – Feb. 3. Within this sample is a subsample of 698 registered voters reported on here; this subsample has a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points.

Among registered voters, Christie continues to get record high marks for an elected governor, with favorability at 70 percent, up three points since a November poll. Only 20 percent say they feel unfavorable toward the governor, a drop of five points.

Interestingly Democrats have become more positive toward Christie with a jump of 10 points to 59 percent favorable. Independents and Republicans have remained relatively steady at 71 percent and 88 percent favorable, respectively.

The gender gap has widened, though. After nearly closing in November, a gender gap in favorability has reopened, but only because men have become five points more favorable, to 74 percent, while women remain steady at 66 percent favorable.

“Favorability measures how people feel about Christie as a person, and is not specifically about job performance,” noted Redlawsk. “The governor continues to generate very good feelings among voters of all stripes.”

As the 2013 gubernatorial race gets under way, polling puts Christie well ahead of any Democratic opponent. But an analysis of his job performance suggests the possibility of a more competitive race over time, the poll shows. While voters feel very positive and give the governor high job marks, approval of Christie’s performance on some key issues is a different matter.

Among registered voters, 35 percent say the economy and jobs is the most important problem facing the state, while 31 percent say it is high taxes. These issues are followed by Hurricane Sandy recovery at 11 percent, education and schools at 10 percent, and crime and drugs at 8 percent.

Voters are split on Christie’s performance on the economy and jobs (45 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove). Just over half of those who name the economy and jobs as the top problem disapprove of the way the governor is handling it, while 43 percent approve.

Forty percent of independents and 37 percent of Democrats approve of Christie’s performance on the economy and jobs, compared to 69 percent of Republicans. More men than women (50 percent to 41 percent) approve of Christie’s economic performance, while his highest marks come from the exurban (47 percent) and suburban (54 percent) regions of the
state.

"It’s not a political environment that’s particularly warm for incumbents, but it looks like Booker has little to be worried about as the campaign season draws to a close."
—Krista Jenkins, poll director and professor of political science, FDU.