There seems little doubt that NJ Governor Chris Christie is different from any governor most New Jerseyans can remember. He is supremely self confident, willing to express what he appears to really believe, and ready to take on whomever appears tob e standing in his way. Like his policies or not, the Governor is something different in recent New Jersey politics.
And Garden State residents are not completely sure what to make of him. As the results we are releasing today (below) show, the Governor's favorability rating is net positive by 7 points, meaning more people are favorable towards him (46% of registered voters) than unfavorable (39%). While we don't publish them in today's release, this compares well to President Obama (+16, 52% to 36%), and is far better than the state legislature (18% - 44%) with a whopping -26.
But at the very same time, Christie's job performance rating in our poll is negative. Only 12% say he is doing an excellent job, and 27% say a good job. But a majority, 58% rate his performance as fair (33%) or poor (25%).
So they seem to like him as a guy, but are not overly happy with the specifics of what he is doing. This is borne out by the negative reaction to the budget, with only 30% supporting it, while 63% think more could have been done to protect programs from cuts.
We wanted to dig more deeply into these attitudes towards the Governor, so we asked how well a series of "trait words" describe Gov. Christie. There were four positive and four negative words, randomly presented. The positives were: smart, independent, strong leader, and reformer, while the negatives were stubborn, uncaring, arrogant, and bully. Some fancy statistical analysis (Factor Analysis) shows that there are two dimensions to these eight words, a positive and a negative one, and each group fits into the factor we expected. So "Stubborn" which might be a positive trait to some people, fits better with the other negative traits statistically.
You can see the release below for the details. Most interesting to me is that Democrats are very mixed - majorities see EVERY word as fitting Christie either very or somewhat well. They see both good and bad in the guy. They are willing to say he is a smart leader, but they also think he is an uncaring bully. Republicans on the other hand, see only the positives, with 85-94% of them saying the positive words describe the Governor very or somewhat well. But most reject the negative words, except for "stubborn", which 69% of Republicans say describes the Governor. Independents are a little more positive and a little less negative than Democrats, but they look more like Democrats than Republicans in their beliefs about these traits.
Overall the order of the traits thought to describe Governor Christie either very or somewhat well is: Smart (76%), Stubborn (76%), Independent (74%), strong leader (70%). Following these are Reformer (66%), Arrogant (60%), Bully (49%) and Uncaring (47%). Note that of the top four words, three are positive (and stubborn may have positive connotations). Of the last four, three are negative. Even with the job performance rating sitting in negative territory, Garden Staters are more positive than negative towards the Governor, at least given this list of descriptors.
Of course, public employee union members are somewhat more negative towards the Governor but they also see his positive traits as well, especially as a strong leader. Given the high profile battles between Governor Christie and public employee unions, especially the New Jersey Teachers’ Association, it is not surprising that members of these unions are more negative. Yet they also perhaps begrudgingly recognize that he is clearly leading and perhaps a smart politician even if he is going where they don’t want to go.
There is also a gender difference in the trait words. This reflects both partisanship, in that women are more likely to be democrats, but also suggests different takes on Christie’s style as governor. Women see him as stubborn and independent first, with many also saying "arrogant" describes him very well, while men characterize him as smart and a strong leader, though also recognize that stubborn can describe the governor as well.
Here's the actual release. Tables and Questions available here.
New Jersey Voters Think Gov. Christie is Stubborn but Independent and Smart
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J –New Jersey’s registered voters think Gov. Chris Christie is “stubborn,” but they also see him as “independent” and “smart,” according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. About 4 in 10 Garden Staters think these words describe Christie “very well,” while fewer than 2 in 10 say they do not describe him at all. Given a set of four positive and four negative character traits, slightly more voters say the positive traits describe Christie very well.
The telephone poll of 751 registered voters statewide was conducted Aug. 5 to 8 and has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points.
“New Jerseyans describe the governor as a smart leader, but they are also quite willing to call him stubborn,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science. “Many who say he isn’t doing a good job, describe him in positive terms.”
Positive and negative views of Christie
Asked how strongly they agree with a random list of four positive (smart, independent, strong leader and reformer) and four negative traits (stubborn, uncaring, arrogant and bully) to describe Christie, three-quarters say stubborn “very” (42 percent) or “somewhat” well (34 percent). About the same percentage call him “very” (39 percent) or “somewhat” smart (37 percent). Seventy-four percent agree Christie is at least somewhat independent; 70 percent view him as a strong leader. Sixty-six percent call him a reformer, 60 percent arrogant, 49 percent a bully and 47 percent uncaring.
“That both the positive and negative descriptors fit is striking,” said Redlawsk, “that some of this is driven by partisanship is not. But a majority of Democrats say that all the positive traits are at least somewhat applicable, while a majority of Republicans (69 percent) agree that one negative – stubborn – applies. Republicans are very positive about the governor. Democrats see both positive and negative.”
Independents are mixed; a majority agrees that all the positive traits apply at least somewhat to Christie, as well as two negatives – stubborn (76 percent) and arrogant (59 percent).
“Stubborn can be seen both ways,” said Redlawsk. “The governor does seem to make it a virtue, but its possible coupling with arrogance in independent voters’ minds could suggest there is a thin line between a positive and negative assessment of such a trait.”
Favorability is positive, but job performance negative
According to the poll, Christie’s favorability among registered voters has returned to February’s level (46 percent), but his unfavorable rating during the same stretch has increased 13 points to 39 percent. Only 15 percent of respondents today say they don't have an opinion of Christie, down from 29 percent in February.
At the same time, though almost half the voters say they have a favorable opinion of the governor, a majority think Christie is doing only a fair or poor job. Thirty-nine percent say he is doing a good job, but 33 percent say he is doing a fair job and 25 percent rate him poor. The state budget is the issue that most strongly influences attitudes toward Christie – 63 percent of voters think more could have been done to alleviate program cuts. Only 30 percent say they support the budget as passed.
Public employee union members are more negative
Public employee union members (about 12 percent of respondents) are significantly more likely to say the negative traits describe Christie “very well.” More than half (57 percent) agree he is stubborn, while 49 percent call him arrogant, 41 percent a bully 34 percent uncaring. At the same time they are relatively likely to agree Christie is independent (41 percent) and smart (34 percent). Fewer see him as a reformer or leader (each 26 percent).
Perceptions of Christie as leader vary by employment status
Among unemployed New Jerseyans, only 27 percent call Christie a strong leader, compared to 36 percent of registered voters; 35 percent of the jobless disagree with the description. However, more than half of retired New Jerseyans think Christie a strong leader, while 15 percent disagree. The evaluation of part-time or full-time workers is more mixed: about one third from each employment category think him a strong leader. About one-quarter from each disagree.
A gender gap in perceptions
Men and women hold different perceptions of Christie and his job performance. More men – 51 percent to 42 percent – feel favorable toward Christie and his job performance; 36 percent of men compared to 31 percent of women rate his work performance as fair.
Nearly 80 percent of women agree Christie is stubborn, 75 percent call him independent and 71 percent say he is smart. He is called smart (82 percent), a strong leader (76 percent) and independent (73 percent) by men. Almost half the men, compared to one-third of the women, think the bully label does not apply to Christie. By a 10-point margin, women are more likely to say Christie is not a strong leader.