Governor Chris Christie has seen his poll numbers go on a bit of a rollercoaster ride during his five plus years in office. He was able to break through in November 2009 to become governor in a Democratic-leaning state as a Republican against incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine. He was able to grow upon that success four years later winning the support of 60% of voters against Democratic nominee Barbara Buono. During the majority of his first term, Christie was able to maintain modest to good numbers and saw a tidal wave of support and major boost in the wake of his response to Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. That response set the table for his reelection campaign as he was presented as a tough to beat incumbent. Despite multiple decisions that have hindered sectors of the state’s residents and provided many negative responses from voters, he was able to use the momentum he got for his public responses to a horrible natural disaster to in essence limit a wide Democratic field from challenging him with support in the 70s as 2013 began.
Strong candidates like then Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) chose to pass up running against Christie.
The success of his reelection would only build upon the speculation that was swirling in 2012 about his potential presidential aspirations. He decided to forgo any type of run and threw his support behind Mitt Romney during the primary and general election cycles. Some thought that there was a chance that Romney would consider Christie as a possible vice presidential running mate. He was not chosen to run alongside Romney but was given a prominent spot during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL; where he talked more about himself than Romney.
Now with his reelection secured and a second term about to start, it would not be long before his name would start to reemerge with the 2016 presidential election on people’s minds already. A two term governor in a Democratic-leaning state who has helped campaign for Republican candidates both around New Jersey and beyond with a mix of viewpoints that could present a strong enough candidate to help lead the Republican Party back the White House could certainly be tempting for many Republican operatives.
Polls in the wake of his reelection would lead one to believe that he would indeed be a strong front runner for the Republicans and be able to compete better than most against the presumptive Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
If the election were to take place in the wake of Christie’s reelection, he would still lose to Clinton despite his popularity at the time. Roughly one in three voters in a NBC News poll would cast their vote for Christie when pitted against an unnamed challenger. Christie, not too surprisingly, did well in the Northeast carrying 57% to 22% in the hypothetical matchup. However, he struggled outside of that region. When opposite Clinton in a potential contest, she would win 44% to 34%. The remaining 22% in the poll were not sure, would not vote, or would vote for someone else.
Another sign of all things not being as great as they seemed, Christie’s across the board demographic victories in 2013 in New Jersey were not crossing over into a presidential contest. Clinton was carrying 83% of the black vote to Christie’s 4%. The Hispanic vote was a bit better but still not great as Clinton led by 11 points.
While he did well against a generic Republican in the Northeast, he again trailed Clinton by 17 points in that part of the country and 8 points in the South. Despite Democrats losing strength in the South, Clinton did well in 2008 in the primary cycle and would likely do well again and slightly better than President Barack Obama performed there against Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2008 and Romney in 2012.
While Christie was carrying roughly one in three voters against a generic Republican, Clinton was getting performing much stronger on the Democratic side as 2 in 3 voters preferred her to another candidate.
Another poll showed a better outcome for Christie against Clinton with him having an edge. A Quinnipiac poll had Christie leading by a point over Clinton by a 43 to 42 margin. This is very much within the polling error percentage.
Comparatively, Clinton had 9 point and 15 point leads respectively against candidates like Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).
In terms of the gender breakdown, Clinton had an 9 point lead among women while Christie had a 12 point lead among men. The gender breakdowns have been much talked about going back over 30 years and they could be crucial for whom runs in 2016 as will be where Independents stand. In this poll, Christie led Clinton by a 48 to 32 margin among Independents.
This poll showed a similar edge among blacks and Hispanics for Clinton as she had a 65 point edge among blacks and a 8 point edge among Hispanics.
A CNN/ORC International poll would follow the trend of mostly positive news for Christie when it came to his odds among the potential GOP field of presidential candidates. 24% of Republicans and Independents who lean towards voting for the Republican candidate would support Christie. Christie had an 11 point edge over his next closest potential primary foe, Senator Paul.
The relatively strong position among voters was highlighted in a late 2013 Monmouth University poll. The poll would give him a 65% approval rating to only a 25% disapproval rating. 85% of Republicans and 73% of Independents voiced positive reviews of the governor while Democrats were much more divided with 47% approving and 45% disapproving.
As Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, would outline:
Gov. Christie’s ratings are holding strong fresh off his resounding re-election victory. However, few New Jerseyans have a clear idea about what a second term holds in store. Stellar approval ratings and no specific expectations from his constituents could give the governor a lot of leeway in carving out his political future.
In the initial weeks after being reelected, the fallout and developing story surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures had yet to rise to the surface. Christie did not run heavily on what he was planning to do during a second term nor was he tested in a way that would prepare him for a presidential run. These points are something that Murray would speak to.
As Murray would add,
Gov. Christie’s re-election campaign was centered on past accomplishments, particularly around his handling of Superstorm Sandy. He was never really pushed, by voters or by his Democratic opponent, to address future plans on these major issues. It shouldn’t be too surprising then, that residents expect little more than incremental change in these areas (referring to a list of top issues facing the state).
As the calendar turned to 2014 and the news of the lane closures started to spread including the resignation of a top aide, Christie’s poll numbers both in terms of job approval and his presidential prospects began to take a hit. Christie would see his popularity and poll numbers decline as 2014 turned into a much different year for the governor than he would have likely predicted.