Friday, May 13, 2011

Gov. Christie's Leadership: A Point of Praise and Contention

In our April 2011 poll, we wanted to give voters a chance to directly express their feelings about Gov. Chris Christie, so rather than giving just a closed-ended, favorable/unfavorable, or job performance question, (reported here) we asked New Jerseyans to tell us how they feel about Christie in their own words. Respondents were prompted to tell us what they like and what they dislike about the governor in two questions, randomly ordered.

The responses we received were then coded into categories for analysis. What emerged is a leader who is “trying” – in a good way - but who is also somewhat of a “bully.”

The big picture shows that many respondents pointed to Christie’s leadership style as a reason both to like and to dislike him.

While the number of those who have an unfavorable impression of Gov. Christie is almost the same as those with a favorable impression (42 percent to 44 percent), voters are more likely to say positive things about the governor when given a chance. Nearly two-thirds offer something to like about Christie, compared to 56 percent who have something negative to say. However, only about one-third have reasons to both like and dislike the governor, while 31 percent say only positive things and 25 percent say only negative. Few voters, only 18 percent, have no reasons to like or dislike Christie.

Twenty-five percent of those who say anything positive about the governor praise Christie’s leadership, while 18 percent of those offering negative statements also mention his leadership. For those who like Christie, “leadership” is often paired with words like “courageous” while for those who dislike the governor, his leadership is often described as authoritarian by saying he is a “bully” or “dictator.”

The Governor is Trying, and New Jerseyans Like That

In addition to leadership related responses, those who like something about the governor point to how he is “trying” to do things like cut taxes, take on unions, deal with the budget, and so on. What links these, as is clear from the word cloud ( below, is that these voters like that the governor is trying to shake things up, to make changes to business as usual. “Trying” is the word that pops out here, with 19 percent actually using this word. Yet this also suggests that voters are not yet ready to give credit for actually completing any of these things. Which makes sense, since the tasks are ongoing.

Another fourteen percent mention various policies as reasons for liking Gov. Christie. The policy decisions most frequently mentioned are related to his attempt to balance the budget and to cut spending.

On the Other Hand: Lots of Dislikes

In addition to leadership related responses, Christie’s policy decisions also heavily influence how voters evaluate the governor for good and bad. In fact, for those with something negative to say about him, Christie’s policy decisions weigh heavily into their assessment. Forty-one percent of those who express a dislike mention policies as a basis for their dislike. At the same time, as the word cloud of reasons to dislike the governor makes clear, leadership related and personality statements abound.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, reasons to dislike the governor vary across party identification. Policies top the list of reasons to dislike him among Democrats. Democrats also strongly disagree with the Governor’s leadership style, which they describe as authoritarian. Republicans who have something they dislike about the Governor are more likely to talk about confrontation, rather than leadership.

Women Care More about Policy than Style

In expressing dislikes about Gov. Christie, women are much more bothered than men by his policy decisions. Among women, 51 percent mention policy decisions as reasons for disliking Christie – with educational policy heading the list. Women are far less bothered by his authoritarian style (only 5 percent), and by his authoritarian leadership. Men and women are equally likely to say they dislike his arrogance.

When asked to give reasons for disliking Christie, 32 percent of men who provide an answer mention his policy decisions, and another 14 percent say they dislike his authoritarian leadership style, while 11 percent specifically point to his confrontational tone, and 10 percent mention his character as reasons to dislike him.

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll staffers Mona Kleinberg developed most of the analysis for this post, and Ashley Koning prepared the word clouds. Both are political science graduate students at Rutgers.

Well, another academic year is ending. As we move into summer, things will slow down for the Poll in terms of our public face, but we're working hard behind the scenes to learn from what we've done - the good and the bad - and to continuously try to do a better job each year. So we'll be relatively quiet for a while, unless something really exciting happens!

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