NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Gov. Chris Christie continues to ride high from his handling of Superstorm Sandy, but a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll 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 specifically approve 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. 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.
“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. “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.
Overall approval of Christie remains at record highs
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 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Only 20 percent say they feel unfavorable toward the governor, a drop of five points.
Democrats, in particular, 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.
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 for Christie’s job performance, 73 percent of voters say they approve overall, with only 23 percent disapproving. Even 62 percent of Democrats approve of how Christie is doing his job, as do three-quarters of independents and 90 percent of Republicans.
When respondents assign letter grades to his work, 24 percent award an A, while another 40 percent give a B. In November, 28 percent awarded A and 33 percent a B.
Both Democrats and independents have become more positive about Christie’s job performance. Christie’s standing improved five points with each, so 52 percent of Democrats and 66 of independents now give the governor an A or B. Republicans have become less pleased, however. Eighty percent – an 8 percent decrease since November – award an A or B. Christie continues to get his best grades from storm-battered exurban and shore regions (71 percent and 73 percent give an A or B, respectively).
Opinions on the direction of the state have remained steady, with 60 percent of voters saying New Jersey is headed in the right direction and 33 percent saying it is on the wrong track.
Potential risk ahead for Christie
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. 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.
Respondents’ views on taxes show a similar pattern. Overall, 40 percent approve of the job Christie is doing here, while 52 percent disapprove. Only one-third of those who call high taxes the most important problem approve of how Christie is handling the issue while 63 percent disapprove.
Majorities of Democrats (59 percent) and independents (58 percent) disapprove of the governor’s tax efforts, but 65 percent of Republicans approve. Fifty-seven percent of women disapprove of Christie’s handling of taxes. Men are evenly split at 47 percent pro and con.
“Two-thirds of voters say the economy or high taxes are the most important problems facing the state. And for the most part voters are not fans of Christie’s job performance in these areas. This suggests there is real risk for Christie if the effects of Sandy wear off over time,” said Redlawsk. “Campaigns tend to focus voters on the issues they care about most. Whether that happens over the next few months will be something to watch very carefully.”
Christie’s political strength lies both in his personal favorability rating and in nearly universal approval of how he has handled Superstorm Sandy. He gets high marks across the board for his job with Sandy recovery, including approval from many of his typical opponents: those unfavorable toward him (77 percent), Democrats (85 percent), women (86 percent), black voters (84 percent), Hispanic voters (80 percent) and public union households (87 percent).
The governor’s performance on education is another area of strength; 54 percent of New Jerseyans are positive, 39 percent are negative. Voters also are positive about Christie on crime: 51 percent approve and 30 percent disapprove of his performance on this issue.
Finally, the governor gets more positive than negative marks on the state budget, with 49 percent approving and 38 percent disapproving his performance. But in the end, voters see these issues as less critical than high taxes, a perpetual complaint of New Jerseyans, and the economy, which seems to be only slowly picking up steam.
Media Contact: David Redlawsk
732-932-9384, ext. 285