Just 1 percent of those surveyed in a new poll of Iowa Republicans that was released yesterday said they “support” Gov. Chris Christie as a candidate.
But that poor showing in the crucial early-voting state may not be his biggest problem as the presidential primary season continues to unfold.
Instead, it may be that as Republican voters across the country are getting to know more about Christie, they’re finding reasons not to like him: 51 percent of those surveyed by the same poll said their general impression of Christie was “unfavorable.”
That was by far the highest unfavorable rating of any GOP hopeful in the poll.
The Monmouth University Poll released yesterday canvassed more than 450 Iowa voters who are likely to participate in that state’s February 2016 GOP presidential caucuses.
It follows a poll taken in New Hampshire last month — another key early-voting state and one that may be critical for Christie — in which voters who said they were very likely to participate in the 2016 GOP presidential primary there gave the New Jersey governor a 42 percent unfavorable rating, only slightly below the 43.6 percent who rated him favorably.
Pollsters tend to point to a politician’s favorable and unfavorable ratings as more meaningful than where the candidate stands in a crowded field this far out from an election. The thinking goes that it’s tougher to win over undecided voters — there were 11 percent who hadn’t made up their minds in Monmouth’s new Iowa poll — when they’ve already figured out they don’t like you.
Patrick Murray, the director of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute, said Christie’s high unfavorable rating and general poor showing in Iowa is a “significant problem.” He added that the results come after Christie’s official presidential campaign launch on June 30 and despite trips to Iowa that Christie has made over the past year or so to court voters.
“It’s hard to find a path to the nomination when you have a majority of Republican voters who simply don’t like you,” Murray said.
By contrast, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker led the Monmouth poll of Republican voters in Iowa with 22 percent. And those who said they have an unfavorable impression of Walker added up to just 9 percent. But for Christie, only 26 percent said they had a favorable impression of him, compared to the 51 percent unfavorable impression.
Businessman Donald Trump, meanwhile, placed second in Monmouth’s new poll of Iowa voters, with 13 percent support. And that’s after 35 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Trump.
But 47 percent said they had a favorable impression of Trump. Since the poll was taken from July 16 to July 19, it spanned the exact period when Trump drew widespread rebuke from most other GOP presidential hopefuls for comments he made over the weekend that were critical of U.S. Senator and former GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s military service. McCain, a Vietnam War veteran who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war, has been critical of Trump on the issue of illegal immigration.
Yet in Iowa, Murray said Trump has “outmaneuvered the rest of the field to earn the second spot despite his controversial statements over the weekend.”
For Christie, the high unfavorable numbers are nothing new, both nationally and in New Jersey.
Monmouth’s poll of national Republican voters from July 9 to July 12 showed Christie registering at just 2 percent, trailing poll leaders Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, and Trump, who received 15 percent and 13 percent support, respectively.
[related]In that poll, 45 percent of those surveyed said they had an unfavorable impression of the governor, the highest among any candidates in the poll.
Christie’s numbers in New Jersey are no better: 55 percent of the voters surveyed last month by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll said they disapprove of the job he is doing as governor, compared with 30 percent who approved.
Krista Jenkins, a Fairleigh Dickinson political science professor and the director of the PublicMind poll, said Christie’s poor approval rating in New Jersey can be attributed to a number of reasons. She pointed to the results of another FDU poll from January that found voters believed things had gotten worse during Christie’s tenure on a number of key issues like taxes and the economy.
There’s a “general sense of unease people have overall with his leadership,” Jenkins said.
Yet Christie once had some of the highest favorability ratings among any politician in the country, particularly after he led the state’s response to 2012’s superstorm Sandy. Christie was ranked favorably in January 2013 by 40 percent of those surveyed and unfavorably by just 17 percent, according to Pew Research Center/USA Today. That was just a few months after the storm hit New Jersey, causing 34 fatalities and billions of dollars in damage.
But a year later, displaced residents started to experience problems with the state’s ongoing storm recovery efforts, and the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal broke out. Christie’s unfavorable ratings doubled by January 2014, with Pew Research Center/USA Today finding 38 percent with a favorable view of Christie and 34 percent with an unfavorable view.
Though the Brigdgegate scandal and lingering Sandy recovery problems may explain Christie’s high unfavorable ratings nationally, Ben Dworkin, a Rider University political science professor and director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, said his record on issues that GOP primary voters care about most is more likely the cause for their concern.
Christie may be looked at by primary voters as not conservative enough on issues like gun control and abortion. And he noted Christie drew a lot of negative attention among strident Republicans for greeting President Barack Obama warmly as the two men prepared to tour Sandy damage in New Jersey just days before Obama’s presidential election against that year’s GOP nominee, eventual loser Mitt Romney.
“During the primary season, the electorate is dominated on the Republican side by hardcore conservatives,” Dworkin explained.
Instead, Christie has billed himself as a Republican who can ultimately go on to win a general election against the likes of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Dworkin said Christie should not be counted out despite the bleak outlook.
“He’s a man of supreme confidence. He has very talented people working on his campaign,” Dworkin said. “He has the time to reintroduce himself and to rebrand himself outside of the caricature he is sometimes portrayed as in the media.”
And Jenkins also said there’s still time for the dynamics of the GOP primary to change despite Christie’s challenges.
“I don’t think there’s anything fixed about the numbers,” Jenkins said.
“There’s still at this point a great deal of fluidity,” she said. “We haven’t even had a debate yet.”