Garden Staters have responded very positively to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s leadership following Superstorm Sandy, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. More than 90 percent praise the governor for his handling of the storm: 69 percent say Christie handled the crisis “very well” and another 23 percent say he handled it “somewhat well.”
And what about the headline-making, controversy-causing bipartisan relationship between Governor Christie and President Obama in Sandy’s wake? Eighty-one percent of New Jerseyans believe the two politicians showed “needed cooperation and bipartisanship,” compared to only 12 percent who think Christie “went too far in his praise” of the president.
The governor’s overall favorability rating now stands at 65 percent with all residents and 67 percent among registered voters, up more than 15 points from before the storm. Sixty-one percent of respondents say they support Christie more strongly due to his handling of the storm.
"Governor Christie has emerged as a clear leader in this crisis, with New Jerseyans applauding his efforts, and in particular his literal and figurative embrace of President Obama in a time of need," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. "Despite a recent New York Times story that some national GOP leaders are condemning the governor for his show of bipartisanship, New Jerseyans of all stripes say it was exactly the right thing to do."
New Jersey residents also commend President Obama, with 84 percent of residents saying Obama did “somewhat” or “very well” during the crisis. But most say this had no effect on how they voted: more than three-quarters of voters say the president’s response made no difference, while 18 percent say his assistance with Sandy made them more likely to vote for him.
State Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski was less than flabbergasted by the poll.
“I think that’s to be expected,” said Wisniewski, in a nod to Sandy. “Polls are snapshots in time. That’s not a predictor. They’re nice numbers, now. Bush had a 92 percent approval rating in 1992 and look what happened to him.”
Results are from a poll of 1,228 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from Nov. 14-17. The sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. Within this sample is a subsample of 1,108 registered voters; this subsample has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.
Strong bipartisan support for Christie
Democrats, independents, and Republicans all applaud the governor’s storm efforts. Two-thirds of Democrats and independents, and 78 percent of Republicans, say Christie did very well. Sixty percent of Democrats and independents say they now are stronger Christie supporters; 68 percent of Republicans feel the same. The governor’s favorability has reached bipartisan highs, with 49 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents, and 89 percent of Republicans saying they now have a favorable impression of Christie. Only 38 percent of Democrats report an unfavorable impression, a drop from 68 percent in early October, when only 22 percent of Democrats felt favorably toward the governor.
“Christie’s bipartisan outreach and his visible leadership resulted in high marks from people of all political persuasions,” said Redlawsk. “This is a nice exception to the typical partisan splits over nearly anything the Governor does. In a time of crisis, people expect their elected leaders to put politics aside, and when that happens, they respond very positively.”
Christie receives high praise even from his customary detractors. Almost three-quarters of women (72 percent) think Christie handled the crisis very well, and 64 percent say they are now more supportive of him. Fifty-three percent of black residents and 61 percent of Hispanics say the governor did very well. Forty-three percent of blacks and 55 percent of Hispanics also say they are now more supportive of Christie.
The governor’s strongest support comes from those regions most heavily affected by Superstorm Sandy. Eighty-three percent of shore county residents say Christie handled the crisis very well, as do 76 percent of northwestern New Jersey (exurban) residents. More than 60 percent in each region are now more supportive of Christie because of his actions. Little difference in opinion exists between those personally affected by the storm and those who were not.
“The governor has clearly built a reservoir of goodwill through his aggressive approach to Sandy,” said Redlawsk. “The timing makes things interesting – those intending to run against him next year must make their decisions soon, yet the governor is clearly riding high right now. How long this reservoir lasts will help determine who gets in and who stays out of the 2013 gubernatorial race.”
Obama’s response also praised
While the president’s support does not quite reach the lofty levels seen for Christie, majorities of most groups say the president did at least somewhat well handling the crisis.
Virtually all Democrats commend him, and 76 percent say he did very well. While 61 percent of GOP respondents give the president a positive rating on his post-Sandy actions, only 27 percent say the president did very well.
Obama’s response to the storm had little impact on voters on Election Day, however, except for those already likely to vote for him. Thirty percent of Democrats say Obama’s storm response made them more likely to vote for him, compared to 12 percent of independents and five percent of Republicans. About one-fifth of women and 30 percent of black voters feel the same. Voters in the hardest hit regions – exurban and shore counties, which lean Republican – were most likely to say Obama’s response had no effect on their votes at all (81 percent and 77 percent, respectively).
Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s storm efforts, though not as well known throughout the rest of the state, notably score highly in urban areas, with 58 percent saying the mayor did somewhat or very well with the crisis. One-third are unsure.
Christie-Obama storm tour earns strong bipartisan support
In the midst of countless media stories and GOP controversy over Christie’s praise and embrace of Obama after the storm, New Jersey residents – including over two-thirds of Christie’s own party – support the show of bipartisanship by the Governor and the President. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents, and 69 percent of Republicans say Christie’s gratitude toward and interaction with Obama was a necessary display of bipartisanship. Only a quarter of Republicans feel Christie went too far and possibly hurt Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Likewise, 67 percent of conservatives support the bipartisan showing. Among those who voted, 68 percent of Romney supporters feel the bipartisanship was necessary, while 28 percent think Christie’s praise of the President was detrimental.
Sandy made voting more difficult for a few
Despite the storm’s timing, few voters had trouble casting their ballots. Only 7 percent of voters personally affected by Sandy say they found it difficult to vote. Statewide, 86 percent of voters said they experienced no difficulty at all. Among registered voters who said they failed to get to the polls, 20 percent say the storm played a role, though most had other reasons for not voting. Residents living in areas most affected by Sandy, shore and exurban counties, are most likely to blame the storm for their failure to vote.
“Turnout here was noticeably lower than in most presidential elections,” noted Redlawsk, “but it’s hard to determine if Sandy was the reason. It seems likely that much of the drop was Sandy-related, although it also might be attributed to the fact New Jersey was not a battleground state.”
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