After experiencing a period of unusually high support for an elected official, Governor Chris Christie was about to begin a decline as 2014 commenced.
With developments related to the George Washington Bridge lane closures starting to pop up, Christie started to feel the heat from voters. His high perch he was sitting on in November 2013 started to crack from under him not even two months later. The support among New Jerseyans in regard to Christie’s job approval in the state was not the only thing taking a hit due to the bridge scandal but so too was his potential presidential hopes.
A Washington Post poll in January 2014 would show Christie trailing Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI1) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. That for the most part would not be much Christie or any of his supporters to worry about. However, that was not the biggest takeaway from the poll as the bridge scandal was already making an impact in polls for Christie.
46% of those polled felt that the bridge incident was a “sign of broader problems” with Christie’s governance while 43% felt it was an “isolated incident.” Republicans were more likely to view the bridge incident as an isolated event while Democrats were more likely to believe that this event was a sign of broader problems. Independent voters were split in their opinion.
A Quinnipiac University poll released shortly after Christie was sworn in for a second term not only showed him losing ground in a head to head matchup with Hillary Clinton, but also voters were growing more uncertain of his ability to be a good president in general. 35% felt he would be a good president and 36% felt he would not be a good president. Right after his November reelection a couple months earlier, a similar poll showed 49% saying he would be a good president and 31% saying he would not be. He had 55-38 edge in terms of approval rating.
A third poll, a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll, would follow the previous two a month later and show another sign of declining support among voters for Christie. His approval rating (49%) was still higher than his disapproval rating (46%) but a drop of 9 points in terms of support from just a month earlier and 20 points from a year earlier in the first months after Hurricane Sandy.
The 49% approval rating was the lowest he had seen in over 2 years.
50% of those polled felt that he had a direct connection to the lane closures.
For Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute:
This hole is getting deeper. Christie’s image as the hero of Sandy is now just a fading memory.
The next month a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll would show Christie’s popularity and approval at an all time low as 41% approved of the job he was doing and 44% disapproved of his job performance. This was the first time a FDU poll would show a higher disapproval rate for the governor since Christie took office in January 2010.
32% felt that Christie was doing an excellent or good job compared to 61% who said he was doing a fair or poor job.
As Krista Jenkins, poll director, would outline:
Unfortunately for the governor, the investigation (regarding the George Washington Bridge lane closures) appears to be turning him into a more polarizing figure. As recently as late last year (2013), his approval numbers were consistently bigger than his disapproves – by a pretty big margin – and more voters liked everything about him than disliked everything about him. One of the defining characteristics of the governor that makes him a nationally sought after Republican is his widespread appeal in a Democratic state. Bridgegate continues to erode that asset.
While it would be enough to look at various polls in the Garden State to gain a sense of where voters stood in their opinion of Christie; a Des Moines Register poll would show troubled waters for Christie in the first caucus state as well. Iowa is a state that he was already going to face an uphill climb with high approval ratings.
57% of Iowa voters thought that Christie handled the bridge controversy poorly. Moreover, this view of his poor performance was voiced by a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
As 2014 progressed, Christie would see at least some stabilization in his poll numbers with a Rutgers Eagleton poll displaying 50% holding a favorable opinion of the governor and 42% having an unfavorable opinion. With his favorability numbers at least stabilizing; his credibility was equally seeing a sustained level, but unfortunately for Christie this was not in a good way. 49% of voters were not completely confident in Christie’s side of the story with the George Washington Bridge scandal. Only 22% fully believed him and 26% somewhat believed him.
As David Redlawsk, Director of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll, would voice;
Governor Christie appears to have stemmed the decline in his personal and job performance ratings, following their precipitous drop with Bridgegate, but he is not out of the woods yet. Not only has he failed to regain any lost ground, but the news that the U.S. Attorney has convened a grand jury investigation ramps up the stakes. Given the underlying skepticism about the administration’s actions, Christie’s continued positive ratings may not hold up for the long term.
Christie would also see continued struggles after initial positive success in Republican presidential polls as he had slipped to fifth by roughly a quarter of the way through 2014 after at least being in the top three to start 2014. An ABC News/Washington Post survey showed 9% of those polled nationally supporting Christie; a 5 point drop from a similar survey a few months earlier. Christie was trailing Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)(15%), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (14%), Bush (12%), and Ryan (12%). Besides those four and Christie were Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)(7%), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)(6%), former Texas Governor Rick Perry (5%), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (5%), Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (2%), and Ohio Governor John Kasich (1%). While he was not exactly where he would ideally like to have been, the differences in support among the field of possible Republican candidates was relatively narrow and spoke to the wide open field for the party’s nomination.
The pollsters would state:
Some say horse race polls this early in an election cycle mean little, and in a predictive sense that may well be the case. But there’s insight to gain nonetheless. An early advantage, even if based on name recognition, still is an advantage, and one that can carry through to the presidency, as in the case of George W. Bush.
Christie was only trailing Bush and Paul in an earlier poll.
Redlawsk also at this time spoke about the declining poll numbers and support and would express:
In the end, Governor Christie still has a solid base of support among New Jersey voters, even if it is no longer at the record levels we once saw. In retrospect, it was always unreasonable to expect his post-Sandy ratings would last forever, though we never anticipated how they would fall. Christie’s future may now depend on how well he can pivot to issues that have helped him in the past, including his recent focus on public worker pensions and health care costs.
Another Quinnipiac University poll would provide more negative news for Christie as his approval ratings were still not doing as well as before. His approval rating had slipped to 49% while is disapproval rating had increased to 44%. Voters were divided over whether they felt that Christie was a leader or a bully with a 48-48 split. That is the worst ratio he had seen with regard to this question. 57% felt that he would not make a good president up from 44% the previous year. 52% also said that they did not want him to run; up from 47% the year before.
Christie’s approval ratings in the state were not only continuing to slide, but so too was his standing among voters in regard to the wide open field of possible Republican presidential candidates. A Des Moines Register poll released around the same time would show Christie trailing six others among Iowa voters and struggling to keep his previous strong footing among the field.
Leading the pack in this poll was Huckabee with 14% followed by Paul (10%), Walker (8%), Ryan/Cruz/Bush (all with 7%) and then Christie with 6%. Behind Christie was Santorum (5%), Perry/Rubio (3%), and Jindal (2%).
A Suffolk University Iowa Presidential Primary poll released at the same time would show a similar picture of Christie’s place among the likely Republican presidential field.
Huckabee led the top half of the group of Republicans with 11% followed by Paul/Bush (10%), Cruz/Carson (9%), Christie (7%). There were six others receiving 6%: Ryan, Rubio, Santorum, Walker, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
As the calendar moved through April and deeper into 2014, Christie was working to stabilize public opinion and his poll numbers as voters were starting to push back against the governor in both New Jersey and in the key early presidential state of Iowa. How would he respond and how would poll numbers continue to look as the year continued? With an investigation in the bridge scandal in full swing along with all these polls, it was a complicated puzzle for Christie to deal with and solve.