fdu_public_mind_pollMADISON, NJ - In a head-to-head match-up against President Obama, New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie outperforms several marquee Republicans, according to a new national poll of registered voters by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™.

The president steamrolls former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin by a 20-point margin, 54%-34%.  The president also wins easily - 48%-34% - over the only major Republican to have formed an exploratory committee for the 2012 election, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.  And the president handily beats the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, by 15 points, 52%-37%. Yet the New Jersey governor in his first term, and his first time in the national spotlight, closes the gap to just 6 points, running behind the president by 46%-40%.

“That’s pretty good for a Jersey guy,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “People do not see New Jersey as typical of America, though it is. And they don’t see New Jersey problems as typical of America, though they are. And Christie is very New Jersey.”

Only two Republicans outperform Christie in match-ups with Obama. The president runs even with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 46%-46% and about even with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 44%-43%. “Huckabee and Romney have a huge advantage since they’ve run before for the presidency and are more familiar to voters than Christie,” said Woolley.

Asked about the Republican nomination for president, 10% of Republican voters pick Christie first, while Pawlenty gets just 5%, Gingrich 10% and Palin 12%. Only Romney (20%) and Huckabee (21%) break from the pack. “Christie has now, without running, the kind of support among Republicans that some others have taken years to cultivate,” said Woolley.

Christie also shows appeal among independent voters.  While Palin runs behind Obama 34%-52% among independents, Christie runs ahead of Obama with independents 43%-40%. Similarly, Gingrich loses to the president 40%-45% among independents, and Pawlenty comes in behind by 33%-41%. “Christie can appeal to voters beyond the party base in a way that some other big-name Republicans can’t and won’t,” Woolley added.

Three of five voters (59%) continue to say the country is “on the wrong track” while just 27% say the country is moving in the right direction.  The president is also running behind in his approvals, with 44% saying they approve of the way he is handling his job but 48% saying they disapprove.

“I know Christie is not running for president,” said Woolley. “But because New Jersey’s fiscal problems are a reflection of the nation’s fiscal problems, it is well worth testing his national appeal.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from March 21, 2011, through March 28, 2011, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.