Public Opinion on Christie: Too Concerned With Political Future?
By Patrick Murray
Monmouth University Polling Institute
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE’S public job approval rating remains above 50 percent, but many New Jersey residents say he now may be more concerned with his own political future than with governing the state. The latest Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll also found that the public’s priorities continue to be property taxes and jobs, higher than any other agenda item proposed by both the governor and legislature this year.
Currently, Governor Christie earns a 52 percent approve to 38 percent disapprove job rating among all Garden State residents. Among registered voters, his rating stands at 55 percent approve to 37 percent disapprove.This is basically unchanged from the ratings he received in our October 2011 poll.
For most of his tenure, the governor’s public standing has been subject to a gender gap, with men more likely than women to approve of his job performance. This gap closed in our last poll, but there are signs it may be starting to widen again. Currently, 56 percent of men approve of Gov. Christie while 33 percent disapprove. Among women, approval stands at 48 percent and disapproval at 42 percent.
The state legislature’s job rating is still upside down, but not by the margin it had been over the past few years. It currently stands at 35 percent approve to 39 percent disapprove. The approval number has not moved much over the past few months, but disapproval is the lowest reading since 2007, especially compared to April 2010 when disapproval topped out at 56 percent.
Governor Christie’s job rating remains strong as he enters the second half of his term. But with the national spotlight glaring and a re-election bid looming on the horizon, one question is whether he can avoid becoming preoccupied with his political future.
The poll asked state residents whether they feel the governor seems to be more concerned with his own political future or with governing the state of New Jersey. Nearly half (48 percent) say Chris Christie is more concerned about his political career while 39 percent say he is more focused on managing the state.
When asked to name, in their own words, the state’s most pressing issues right now, property taxes (42 percent) and jobs (42 percent) are the first things out of New Jerseyans’ mouths. Public schools (20 percent), general economic conditions (19 percent), and other taxes (15 percent) are named by no more than one in 5 residents. Other issues named by about one in 20 residents include the state budget (eight percent), crime (five percent), and health care costs (five percent). Compared to a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll form October 2009, during the gubernatorial campaign, property taxes are named by the same number of people (42 percent), while jobs is now much more important than it was then (20 percent). Health care is named by far fewer New Jerseyans now than it was just over two years ago (18 percent).
The new year brought a slew of new proposals from Trenton to address problems in the state. The poll included a list of some key issues recently raised by the governor and legislators, asking residents to rate the importance of each on a scale from one to ten. Four proposals from both parties receive high ratings with about four in ten residents giving the highest rating of “10.” These include reducing income taxes (average score: 7.7) and reforming teacher tenure (7.4), which are issues championed by the governor. High priorities also include two Democrat agenda items – raising the minimum wage (7.6) and the millionaires’ tax (7.3). The poll did not ask a detailed question about this, but the public’s emphasis on both cutting income taxes and raising rates for the wealthiest suggests that residents may not want income tax rates cut across the board – and is something to follow as these proposals move forward.
It is important to note, though, that none of these issues come close to property taxes in importance, which is rated a “10” by 63 percent of New Jerseyans, for an average score of 8.9. When asked specifically which tax cut should be a higher priority for Trenton, state residents overwhelmingly pick reducing property taxes (69 percent) over reducing income taxes (19 percent). Prioritizing property tax cuts is important for homeowners (75 percent) and renters (59 percent) alike.
New Jerseyans seem to agree that prioritizing cuts to the state’s highest in the nation property would benefit everyone, whether they directly pay those taxes or not.
Other items that have been proposed by the state’s political leaders, but are considered less important than property taxes by New Jersey residents include drug sentencing reforms (average score: 7.0), state higher education restructuring (6.7), charter school expansion (5.8), and same sex marriage (5.1).
On the issue of same sex marriage, the Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll found that 52 percent of New Jerseyans now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 34 percent are opposed. This is the first time that more than half of state residents express support using the current question wording. It also marks the first time that opposition has dipped below 40 percent. Moreover, residents who strongly favor legalizing same sex marriage now outnumber those who strongly oppose it by 32 percent to 25 percent. In a poll taken three years ago, it was the opposite (25 percent strongly favor to 30 percent strongly oppose).
The poll also asked residents to weigh in on the recent proposal to merge key units of the state’s higher education system. Most (57 percent) have no opinion on these plans. Of those that do, the proposed merger of Rutgers University and the UMDNJ medical school gets a thumbs up from 31 percent of state residents and a thumbs down from just 13 percent. Regionally, opinion is a similar 35 percent to 16 percent in the Route 1 Corridor counties of Mercer, Middlesex, and Union.
The idea to fold the Rutgers-Camden campus into Rowan University, on the other hand, produces a split decision – 20 percent of New Jerseyans say it is a good idea and 22 percent say it is a bad idea. Among those who would be most affected in the Delaware Valley counties of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester, opposition to the merger is higher – 25 percent call it a good idea, but 36 percent see it as a bad idea.
The Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll was conducted by telephone with 803 New Jersey adults from January 31 to February 4, 2012. This sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the New Jersey Press Media newspaper group .