Enmeshed in a growing scandal over alleged political payback, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is facing a loss of confidence at home but as yet no significant damage to his national political standing, according to a pair of opinion surveys released Monday.
A majority of New Jersey residents, 51%, said that Christie has not been completely honest about events leading to the closure of lanes approaching the busy George Washington Bridge, according to the Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll. Forty percent believe Christie has been fully forthcoming.
Internal emails show that Christie staffers orchestrated the shutdown, which caused four days of epic traffic jams last fall in Fort Lee, N.J. Why they did so remains unclear, although one leading theory is that they sought to punish the city’s mayor for failing to endorse Christie for reelection.
Christie said he learned of his staff’s involvement only last week and immediately fired the employees responsible. Only a third of those surveyed accepted Christie’s timeline of events, and 52% of those following the story said they thought the Republican governor knew about his staff’s involvement before it became public.
The scandal has so far exacted only a modest price on the governor’s job approval rating. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said they approved of Christie’s performance, down from 65% in December. Disapproval rose to 32%, up from 25% last month. Most of the decline reflected a loss of support among Democrats and political independents, suggesting many were viewing the developments through a partisan lens.
Still, the controversy has taken another toll: Fewer than half, 44%, of New Jerseyans said Christie has the right temperament to be president, while 49% said he does not. Those figures are a reversal from September, when Christie was cruising to reelection: In a poll taken then, 56% said his personality was a good fit for the Oval Office and just 34% felt it was not.
Ironically, the purpose of securing endorsement from Democratic mayors like Fort Lee’s Mark Sokolich was to demonstrate Christie’s broad political appeal and enhance his prospects for a widely anticipated 2016 bid for president.
While the scandal is being closely followed in New Jersey — more than 8 in 10 residents said they were paying attention — the story has drawn much less notice outside the state, except for political insiders closely following the next White House contest.
A survey by the Pew Research Center found the public paid far more attention to last week’s cold snap than the New Jersey bridge scandal, with 44% very closely following the weather and just 16% paying close to notice to Christie’s apology and political developments in the Garden State.
The poll also found very little change in opinions about the governor nationally, with 60% saying their views of Christie had not changed in recent days. Sixteen percent of respondents said they now viewed him less favorably and 6% viewed him more favorably.
Still, both surveys must be considered snapshots of opinion as the scandal unfolds. Among developments Monday, New Jersey legislators announced the creation of a committee, with subpoena power and a special counsel, to press an investigation into who ordered the lane closures and what Christie knew.
Separately, the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has undertaken an audit to determine whether Christie’s office improperly used Superstorm Sandy aid funds for political purposes.