The scandal over closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge has done lasting damage to Chris Christie's public image
Just a few months ago, New Jersey Governor was considered the Republican Party’s best hope to attract Democratic and independent voters to the GOP in the 2016 Presidential election. He was a successful Governor, recently re-elected with a huge majority in an otherwise “blue” state. But then came Bridgegate.
Economist/YouGov Polls in January found opinions of Christie becoming more negative after Bridgegate became better known. The closure of several lanes on the George Washington Bridge last September, allegedly done by Christie staff members to punish a Democratic Mayor who would not support Christie’s re-election, raised questions about the Governor’s management style and tactics, even though he insisted he hadn’t known the reasons for the closure.
What had been a generally positive national assessment of Christie turned negative, and they continue to move in the wrong direction. In the latest poll, just 30% have a favorable opinion of Christie. Nearly half are negative. Democrats, who began the year judging Christie positively, are now overwhelmingly unfavorable. 59% of Democrats in this week’s poll have an unfavorable view of the Jersey Governor; only 15% are favorable.
Republicans remain positive, but only by 48% to 34%.
The Governor has had problems with Republicans for a while. Compared to other possible more conservative GOP 2016 candidate, Republicans have tended to view Christie less favorably. Most Republicans call themselves conservatives, and don’t see Christie that way. 38% of Republicans agree that Christie is conservative, but more think of his as a moderate – or even a liberal.
But the poll finding that may be the most disturbing to Christie and to those who support his presidential candidacy in 2016 is that today relatively few Republicans want him. Just 30% of Republicans say they want Christie to run for President; only 41% of Republicans even think he has the qualifications to do so.
Republican assessments of Christie are very different from Democrats evaluations of their current 2016 frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. In a February Economist/YouGov Poll 69% of Democrats wanted Clinton to run in 2016; 70% of Democrats held a favorable opinion of her.
Christie’s image is fairly well-defined, with supporters and detractors focused on specific aspects of his performance and character. The answers of some respondents seem to have been influenced by the Bridgegate scandal, although Bridgegate itself is hardly mentioned when Americans are asked for the word that best describes Christie. Those with an unfavorable opinion of Christie call him arrogant and a bully, or focus on a lack of honesty.
Those who like the Governor think of him as strong, honest and tough.
Also on the negative side is the word “RINO” – some say Christie is a Republican “in name only.” The Governor’s physical appearance is part of image he has with those on both sides: “fat” appears in both word clouds.
Those word images carry over in Americans’ responses to specific questions about Christie’s honesty and likeability. And in most cases, Christie doesn’t do particularly well. For example, only 11% say Christie cares a great deal about the needs and problems of people like themselves. Just 12% say he is someone whom they personally like “a lot.”
Those assessments are worse than those the public gives to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
When it comes to sharing the values “most people try to live by,” Christie also falls short. 30% say he does, but 36% say he does not. Clinton has fared much better than Christie on all those measures.
Americans are also dubious about Christie’s ability to deal wisely with an international crisis, although this is usually a hurdle that is difficult for most candidates.
When it comes to honesty, Christie looks pretty much like many politicians do. Just 16% say he has more honesty and integrity than most people in public life. Nearly twice as many say he has less. But the most common answer is that he is just as honest as others in public life.
As for his public persona, 40% say Christie panders by telling people what he thinks they want to hear. A third say he actually says what he really thinks – reflecting perhaps those that independently described him as bold and outspoken when asked what words best described him.
Full results can be found here.
Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.