NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Following his Feb. 22 budget speech, New Jersey’s registered voters are nearly evenly split on their feelings about Gov. Chris Christie: 46 percent have a favorable impression, another 44 do not, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today.

Voters were 10 points more positive than negative about Christie in a poll last December. They have also become slightly less positive about the governor’s job performance since then.
“While some polls showed Gov. Christie’s support increasing before the budget speech, reaction to the budget itself is mixed, which appears to be reflected in a decline in his postspeech favorability and job performance ratings,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers- Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. At the same time, the poll finds President Barack Obama’s favorability rating among voters has remained consistently better than the governor’s since December, at 57 percent favorable and 36 percent unfavorable.

The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

New Jerseyans remain polarized over Christie

By a slim margin (48 percent to 45 percent), more registered voters say they are displeased than pleased with Christie’ proposed budget. One result may be a decline in Christie’s overall favorability and job performance ratings to a nearly even split, 46 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable, down significantly from December 2010, Redlawsk said.

Republicans are three time more likely than Democrats to have positive impressions of Christie (76 percent to 24 percent). Independents also feel more favorable than unfavorable, 50 percent to 37 percent.

The trend for Christie’s job performance rating is similar. Half the respondents were asked to rate the governor on an “excellent to poor scale”; half graded him from A to F. The margin of error on these subsamples is +/-4.8 percentage points.

Forty-two percent rate the governor at least good, down only two points from December,but far fewer rate his performance excellent now, 14 percent compared to 21 percent. More rate his performance as fair (30 percent now versus 23 percent), while 29 percent say he is doing a poor job, mostly unchanged from December.

Republicans are somewhat less positive about the governor’s job performance following his budget speech: Christie’s 39 percent excellent rating among GOP voters after last November‘s election falls to 27 percent. Another 38 percent rate his performance as fair or poor compared to 26 percent in December.

Independents also are less likely to rate Christie excellent: 14 percent now compared to 21 percent in December. At the same time, they also are less likely to rate the governor poor: 19 percent now compared to 23 percent in December. Since the budget address, independents are less polarized about the governor’s job performance, and registered Democrats also are somewhat less extreme. More than half of Democratic voters in November rated Christie’s performance as poor. Forty-two percent rate him poor now.

Among registered voters asked to grade Christie’s job performance with a letter, 14 percent give him an “A” while 24 percent give him a “B,” very similar to his “excellent” and “good” ratings. Another 26 percent rate him “C,” while 15 percent give a “D” and 19 percent give an “F”.

“Looking at job performance with letter grades lets us examine negative feelings more closely,” said Redlawsk. “While 59 percent say the governor has done a fair or poor job, the letter grades show that many would probably give a ‘C’ if they had that option, while only about a third give truly negative ratings. This more nuanced evaluation helps us understand why Christie’s overall favorable rating is more positive than negative.”

Obama favorable rating higher than Christie’s; job performance similar

While New Jerseyans are split on Christie, a strong majority (57 percent) holds a favorable view of President Obama, while only 36 percent view him unfavorably. The president’s favorable rating remains largely unchanged from December.

Concurrently and in a trend similar to Christie, registered voters are less happy with the president’s job performance than they are with him personally. Only 11 percent say Obama is doing an excellent job as president, while 38 percent think he is doing a good job. Another 30 percent call his performance fair, and 20 percent perceive it as poor.

As with Christie, half of respondents were asked to use letter grades for Obama’s job performance. Among these registered voters, 11 percent give him an “A” and another 32 percent, a “B.” Both of these reflect the same responses as the excellent and good ratings. In the letter grading, 30 percent assigned a “C,” again similar to the 30 percent rating Obama as “fair”. Finally, 14 percent give Obama a “D” and 12 percent an “F.

“The president is doing a little better overall than the governor, according to voters,” said Redlawsk. “The biggest difference is that more give Christie very negative – D or F – ratings than do for Obama. We also learn that interpreting ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ ratings is pretty straightforward, but ‘fair’ might not be as negative as we usually say it is, since it seems to correspond with a ‘C’ rating.”

Menendez becoming better known; evaluation more positive than negative

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is viewed favorably by 34 percent of registered voters, and unfavorably by 28 percent. At the same time, 38 percent have no opinion on Menendez. In a December poll, 29 percent of voters had a favorable view of Menendez, while 27 percent viewed him negatively. Forty-four percent were neutral. In the span two months, Garden Staters have become more aware of Menendez, and are slightly more likely to view him favorably than unfavorably as they learn more about him.

While Democrats were more likely than Republicans to have a favorable view of Menendez (55 percent to 17 percent), even a third of Democrats still have no opinion, while 39 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents offer no impression of the senator.