MADISON, NJ - As Chris Christie makes his first State of the State speech, a majority of New Jersey voters (53%) approve of the way he is handling his job as governor, while 36% disapprove, according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™. His current approval is marginally better than his 49%-39% measurement taken after the November election and similar to his 51%-37% approval rating in October.
“Voters are focused on finances,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll, “theirs and the state’s. Voters didn’t get a tax hike at the state level as they did in past crises. The key is whether, or how much, they might get in local property tax hikes later this year or next.”
In fact, Christie’s favorable-to-unfavorable opinion rating of 47%-39% is better than that of most governors in the past two decades: Jim Florio weighs in at 25%-33% favorable to unfavorable; Christie Whitman breaks about even with 39%-41%; Jim McGreevey is well under water with 23%-48%; and Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine gets 36%-52%, actually an improvement from 30%-61% when he left office one year ago. Only Richard Codey shines, with 37% favorable and 11% unfavorable, better than a three-to-one ratio.
Senate President Steve Sweeney who was acting governor during the recent blizzard, benefited a little by the attention, his name recognition moving up four points and his favorable rating moving up six points from (9% to 15%). “My guess is that people who saw Sen. Sweeney on the news thought he conducted himself very well,” added Woolley, “and people who already approved of the governor did not begrudge him a family trip to Disney World over the holidays or think he should have been shoveling snow instead.”
However, voters on both sides of the ratings equation tend to feel strongly: 28% have a “very favorable” opinion of the governor while 27% have a “very unfavorable opinion,” and 17% rate his job performance as “excellent” while 23% rate his performance as “poor,” and 28% “strongly” approve of him while 22% “strongly” disapprove.
Public employee households are part of the explanation for low grades and strong feelings: 40% of voters from public employee household rate the governor’s performance as “poor” compared to just 17% among other households.
Two-thirds of public employee households (67%) say the state is “on the wrong track” and a majority (54%) disapprove of the governor’s handling of his job.
Three of five voters (62%) continue to say the state should hold the line on spending even if many programs are reduced, while one in five (21%) say the state should raise taxes if necessary to support state programs. Among those who say “hold the line,” Christie’s approval rate is 67%-23%. Among those who say the state needs to raise taxes to support its programs, Christie’s approval runs well behind, 29%-64%.
“Voters who are in an anti-tax and budget-cutting mood find that Christie has not disappointed them,” said Woolley. “Of course, people who object to budget cuts are the ones who are deeply disappointed.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 802 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from Jan. 3, 2011, through Jan. 9, 2011, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.