“Whether or not they all mean it in the same way, it is the single word most applied to Christie by New Jersey voters,” said David Redlawsk, director of the poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. He added that since he started polling about the governor’s character traits in 2010, this is the first time fighter has been included in the list of descriptors.
The latest survey also shows that about two-thirds of registered voters see Christie as a “smart,” “strong leader.” Voters started to identify those traits more frequently following Superstorm Sandy’s assault on the state a year ago. “This perception of Christie as a strong leader has not only driven his high overall ratings, but has sustained their heights much longer than expected,” Redlawsk said.
About half of voters also ascribe “effective” and “independent” as key Christie characteristics, saying they fit him very well; 43 percent say “trustworthy,” 40 percent “fair” and 30 percent “reformer.”
Strong leader shows a slight uptick since polling in April, while a key negative has declined: 54 percent now say “stubborn” applies very well, a drop of six points. Other negatives have changed little: 46 percent say “arrogant” applies, 36 percent call him “self-centered” and 34 percent say “impulsive.”
Voters still assign many positive traits to Christie, but they are slightly less upbeat in emotional responses to him. Just under half are proud or enthusiastic, a drop of three and nine points, respectively, since April. But Christie does not generate noticeably more anger (31 percent) or worry (28 percent).
Results are from a poll of 799 registered voters conducted statewide by live callers with landline and cell phone households from Oct. 7-13. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
A fighter, not a bully
In a CBS Sunday Morning interview in late September, Christie rejected the idea that he is a bully, saying, “No, I am not a bully. But what I am is a fighter.” New Jersey voters appear to agree, with 72 percent saying fighter is a word that describes him “very well” while only 34 percent say the same about “bully.”
Whether interpreting fighter positively or negatively, respondents overwhelmingly agree with the governor’s self-assessment. Sixty-one percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 89 percent of Republicans say fighter fits very well. There is much less agreement about bully. Forty-nine percent of Democrats, 29 percent of independents and 19 percent of Republicans see Christie this way.
Both men (69 percent) and women (74 percent) agree Christie is a fighter, as do more than 80 percent of Christie supporters and more than 50 percent of supporters of Democratic challenger state Sen. Barbara Buono. Forty-four percent of Christie voters reject the term bully, with its much more negative connotation, but 16 percent still say it applies very well. For Buono voters, the opposite is true. More than two-thirds (69 percent) call Christie a bully, while just 9 percent completely reject the description. About one-third of men and women say bully describes Christie very well, but another 30 percent of both gender say it applies only “somewhat well.”
The governor continues to ride high from his handling of Sandy’s aftermath, with very high favorability, job approval and re-election numbers. The core reason may be that 88 percent of all voters say strong leader applies at least “somewhat well” to Christie, while only 8 percent say the term does not apply. More than nine in 10 voters say smart fits Christie at least somewhat well. Only 6 percent deny that Christie is smart.
Gender differences continue. Women remain much more positive about Christie than before Sandy hit, but are not as upbeat as men have become since April. Women are eight points more likely to say that independent describes Christie very well (53 percent to 45 percent), but they are seven points less likely to think of the governor as a strong leader, eight points less likely to think he is a reformer and six points less likely to think he is effective.
While Christie receives positive assessments from overwhelming numbers of independents and Republicans, his numbers have slipped among Democrats as the election draws near. Just over 40 percent of Democrats call Christie smart, down nine points from April. Forty-four percent say strong leader applies very well, down three points. Just 16 percent now see him as a reformer, down 12 points.
Among Christie voters, 87 percent say strong leader applies very well and 79 percent identify him as smart. Even 34 percent of Buono voters say strong leader describes her opponent very well, and 36 percent say the same about smart. Still, while almost no Christie voters deny that he is smart or a strong leader, a quarter of Buono voters say he is no leader, and 15 percent say smart does not apply.
Despite mostly positive responses, many voters continue to apply negative traits to Christie: 54 percent say “stubborn” describes the governor very well, and another 31 percent say it fits somewhat well. Arrogant (46 percent applies very well), self-centered and impulsive (each about one-third) are other frequently used descriptions. Voters have mostly maintained their level of negativity since April, but stubbornness responses have fallen six points, returning to levels found immediately after Sandy.
Democrats now are less likely to say the governor is stubborn than in April (a 10-point decline to 69 percent very well) but are marginally more likely to describe him as arrogant (a two-point rise to 61 percent). Fifty-six percent of independents label the governor stubborn, and 40 percent think him arrogant. Forty-one percent of Republicans say that stubborn describes the governor very well, with 31 percent saying the same for arrogant.
Almost half of Democrats call Christie self-centered and 40 percent say he is impulsive. A third of independents feel the same, as do fewer than a quarter of Republicans.
Women are slightly more likely to characterize Christie as arrogant (49 percent to 42 percent) but little to no gender differences exist with other negative traits. Among Buono voters, Christie is overwhelmingly seen as stubborn and arrogant (77 percent and 81 percent very well, respectively).
Christie evokes more pride, less anger
Voters’ emotional reactions to Christie also reflect the post-Sandy trend, with positives still outweighing negatives, though results are inching back toward pre-Sandy numbers. Forty-seven percent of voters say they are proud (down five points since April) and 45 percent say they feel enthusiastic (down six points) when hearing or reading about Christie. Those who say they feel worried or angry remain unchanged at 31 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
Women are slightly more likely to say they are proud of Christie, 49 percent to 45 percent, but both figures are lower than in April. At the same time, some gender gaps have widened. Women are 10 points more likely to feel anger or worry. Enthusiasm by both sexes stands at 45 percent.
About 70 percent of respondents who feel favorably toward Christie feel both proud and enthusiastic about him, with only 11 percent angry and 13 percent worried. The numbers reverse for voters with an unfavorable impression, and intensity has grown since April: 70 percent who dislike Christie say they feel angry, and 76 percent are worried.
Positive emotions for the governor among Democrats are down since April – 10 points to 28 percent for pride and seven points to 25 percent for enthusiasm. Democrats have also increased in anger – up seven points to 45 percent – and worry, up seven points to 49 percent. Nearly half of independents are proud (49 percent) and enthusiastic (45 percent) about the governor, and Republicans are even more so (78 percent and 82 percent, respectively). Only about one in five independents and about one in 10 Republicans feel angry or worried.
EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION POLITICAL, ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, Professor David Redlawsk may be contacted at 319-400-1134, 732-932-9384, ext. 285, or firstname.lastname@example.org until 11 p.m. Visit http://eagletonpollblog.wordpress.com for additional commentary. Follow the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll on Twitter @EagletonPoll or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RutgersEagletonPoll.