NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – In a hypothetical 2016 head-to-head matchup between Gov. Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New Jersey voters continue to give Clinton a double-digit lead, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.Forty-nine percent of registered voters say they would support Clinton over Christie, while 39 percent back Christie. The gap between the two has remained around 10 points through much of the past year.
Clinton is also more positively received by New Jersey voters, with a 56 percent favorability rating, compared to Christie’s 44 percent. While Clinton’s favorability rating is down from 65 percent at the beginning of 2014, Christie’s dropped even more after January’s Bridgegate revelations. Both ratings, however, have remained relatively stable since their declines early in the year.
“It probably makes sense that there is little movement in a hypothetical matchup two years before the actual election,” noted David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “Still, Christie starts down double-digits in his home state if both he and Clinton are the nominees.”
Sixty-three percent of New Jersey voters expect Christie to hit the 2016 campaign trail, up six points since last asked in an August Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Voters also think Christie’s decision-making ahead of a potential presidential campaign has not been New Jersey-focused. Instead, 55 percent says the governor’s choices in signing or vetoing bills have been more about a potential presidential run, rather than what’s good for the state. In addition, 41 percent think Christie’s travel schedule outside of the state for fundraising and campaigning has hurt his ability to govern. But 52 percent say his travels have made no difference to his ability to govern.
At this point, about seven in 10 Republicans and Democrats name a preference for their party’s nomination, little changed throughout 2014. Republicans and those leaning GOP continue to stick by Christie as their top choice, while Democrats (along with leaners) overwhelmingly still prefer Clinton.
Christie is tops for 32 percent of Garden State Republicans and GOP leaners, down nine points since August. Another nine percent name Christie as their second choice. Former 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney follows with 10 percent naming him as first choice and eight percent listing him second.
In contrast, 54 percent of Democrats and those leaning Democrat choose Clinton as their candidate, down five points from August. For another eight percent, she is the second choice. No other Democrat breaks 10 percent in first choice mentions; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) follows as first choice for six percent and second choice for five percent.
Results are from a statewide poll of 750 adults, contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Dec. 3-10, 2014. The subsample of 646 registered voters reported on here has a margin of error of +/-4.3 percentage points.
Clinton continues lead over Christie among most groups
Clinton’s 2016 matchup margin over Christie is half of what it was in January 2014, when she led 55 percent to 34 percent. That lead dropped to 51 percent – 41 percent in March, and is little changed since. While 90 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Republicans side with their potential party nominees, independents split 40 percent Christie to 38 percent Clinton.
A huge gender gap might become evident if Clinton is the Democratic nominee. Today she wins among women by 24 points (58 percent to 34 percent), but loses among men by a 39 percent to 44 percent margin. She also loses among white voters, but scores a solid lead with nonwhite voters.
Clinton’s hypothetical win over Christie is fueled by her 12-point favorability advantage; 78 percent of those favorable towards her say they would also vote for her. She remains in positive territory with key constituencies. Eighty-six percent of voters from Clinton’s own party hold a favorable impression of her, as do 47 percent of independents. Only 26 percent of Republicans feel the same. Sixty-five percent of women are favorable toward her, compared to 45 percent of men. She is viewed more favorably than unfavorably among other key demographic groups, including liberals, moderates, both white and nonwhite voters, and voters of all ages, incomes, education levels, and regions.
Most think Christie will run; Partisanship fuels perceptions of presumed preparations
There is no question in a large majority of New Jersey voters’ minds that Christie will throw his hat in the 2016 ring – more than half of every demographic group tested believes he will. But Christie’s ability to balance his governorship at home with the run-up to 2016 is a source of disagreement.
A bare majority – 54 percent – of Christie supporters believe the governor continues to “do what’s best for the state” with his recent decisions to sign or veto bills, down 9 points since August. A notable 31 percent of this group thinks Christie’s decisions are mostly about an expected run for president. Voters unfavorable toward Christie overwhelmingly (81 percent) say his actions have been about setting up a potential presidential bid, while only 5 percent say he’s doing what’s best for the state.
Partisans take opposite sides on the question as well: 57 percent of Republicans say the GOP governor is doing what’s “best for New Jersey,” versus the 70 percent of Democrats who think his decisions are primarily about a presidential run. Independents lean toward Democrats here; 57 percent seeing his actions as related to a future presidential campaign and just 28 percent believe the opposite.
Opinions are similarly divided over how Christie’s travel schedule affects his ability to govern: 74 percent of Republicans say his frequent trips have no effect, but 42 percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats say it has hurt his ability to govern effectively. Those who view the governor favorably (at 74 percent) are much more likely to say there has been no effect, while Christie’s detractors (62 percent) think his travels have impacted his ability to govern New Jersey.
Despite numerous possibilities, Christie, Clinton remain overwhelming partisan favorites
Christie and Clinton continue to dominate their respective New Jersey party bases as presidential candidates for 2016. Among Republicans, Romney comes in a distant second, with 10 percent naming him their first choice (and 8 percent second choice). Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has announced an exploration of a presidential run, follows with six percent of first choice votes, but leads as second choice GOPer with 14 percent.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) at four percent first choice (six percent second choice), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) at 4 percent first choice (five percent second choice), round out the list of GOP candidates whose combined first and second choice support exceeds five percent. Another nine candidates named by respondents do not breach this level of support.
Among Republican voters who name Christie as their first choice, more than six in ten cannot name a second choice. For the few who do, Bush is their first fallback choice, while Romney follows. “We continue to see a lot of shifting among the bottom rung candidates, given how few name them, as well as big rises for Romney and Jeb Bush, but no one comes very close to Christie among New Jersey Republican voters,” noted Redlawsk.
Democratic voters name fewer potential candidates. Besides Clinton, only Warren is mentioned as a first choice with any frequency, though she trails by a huge margin, at six percent first choice voters and five percent second choice. Vice President Joe Biden has fallen out of what little favor he had in New Jersey. A distant second to Clinton in August, Biden now gets just 1 percent of mentions as a first choice and another 5 percent as second pick. Three-quarters of Clinton supporters do not name a second choice for president; 6 percent say Biden and another 6 percent say Warren is their second choice.
EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION POLITICAL, ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, Director David Redlawsk may be contacted at 319-400-1134 (cell), 848-932-8504 (office), or email@example.com. Poll manager Ashley Koning may be contacted at 908-872-1186 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions and tables are available at: http://eagletonpoll.rutgers.edu/rep-2016-presidential-dec2014. Visit our blog at http://eagletonpollblog.wordpress.com for additional commentary. Follow the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RutgersEagletonPoll and Twitter @EagletonPoll.