Perhaps just saying the sentence “I am not a bully” convinced some of his constituents. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows that a higher number of New Jerseyans see their governor, Chris Christie, as a “leader” than as a “bully” than they have in almost any other time in his tenure.
Battling the biggest scandal of his career, Governor Christie told the people in New Jersey in a two-hour press conference last week that he had nothing to do with lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last September that caused four-hour delays – closures meant to be political retribution to Christie’s enemies according to emails obtained by the Bergen Record. He has since once again mentioned the scandal publicly and apologized in his State of the State address Tuesday. A Quinnipiac poll released today seems to indicate that Christie’s damage control is working – at least with New Jersey voters.
54% of those polled told Quinnipiac that Christie was more of a “leader” than a “bully,” one of Christie’s highest ever ratings in the leader category, according to the Star-Ledger. Quinnipiac began asking this question more than three years ago. The only demographic in which this number was unfavorable for Christie was among Democrats, as was his approval rating, which with that group dropped significantly.
His approval rating generally dropped as well but is still at 55% approval versus 38%. Last summer, Christie enjoyed a 68% approval rating.
New Jersey voters seem to like Christie but doubt that the rest of the country will like him as much now. Asked whether the bridge scandal hurts Christie’s chances in the 2016 presidential race, almost half (49%) said yes, while 7% said that the scandal definitively ends any chances Christie had of running for president. Bizarrely, 2% of New Jersey residents think the bridge scandal helps Christie’s chances in 2016.
The numbers look very different from what many predicted given the extraordinary amount of media coverage and the content of the many emails released by the New Jersey legislature last week, which put the scandal right in the Governor’s office in Trenton. However, the history of the state makes it clear that voters here are more likely to forgive corruption when they perceive that the politician in question is doing things that benefit them. Christie’s poll numbers skyrocketed even a year after the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy because many of the victims of the storm saw him as the only person doing anything to help them rebuild.
Even when governors do not have that level of approval because of stand-out work on a specific project, New Jersey voters have been somewhat forgiving. Take former Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey. McGreevey resigned in August 2004, revealing in a press conference that he had appointed his gay lover, an Israeli citizen, to be head of the state’s Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the September 11th attacks. He didn’t focus so much on the national security part of his mistake; he merely said, “I am a gay American.”
McGreevey’s approval ratings were sinking fast from the beginning of 2004 into the summer, but not because the people of New Jersey suspected that he was gay. He lost seven percentage points between January and June because of increasing reporting on his backroom corruption, which he abruptly cut short with his “gay American” speech. Almost to the day of his resignation, his and the Democratic Party’s poll numbers began to rise. New Jerseyans love a good apologia. Today, in 2014, Jim McGreevey can say he is a public servant in the state of New Jersey yet again, in charge of the Jersey City jobs commission and earning six figures. McGreevey was hired by the Democrats’ new golden boy in the bridge scandal, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who claims that he was a victim of political retribution by the Christie camp himself (and not for hiring McGreevey).
If McGreevey could rehabilitate his entire political career after a series of corrupt moves that put the state’s security at risk, it is not difficult to see how New Jersey voters would be so quick to see Christie as a leader after such a debacle as the one that has plagued him since October. However, Christie has a long way to go before his image is pristine enough to put up a fight in 2016 with voters nationwide.
Read the full poll results at Quinnipiac’s site here.