Obama, Christie Share High Negatives as President Arrives in New Jersey

On the eve of President Obama's visit to Paterson, N.J. to inspect flood damage caused by Hurricane Irene, a significant number of New Jersey residents disapprove of his job performance, according to the first-ever New Jersey Speaks poll conducted by the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy. The results are part of a broader poll whose results will be released on Tuesday, September 6 measuring New Jerseyans attitudes toward public education.

Some 44 percent of likely voters in New Jersey said they disapproved of the president's performance, while 53 percent said they approved. Mr. Obama captured 57 percent of New Jersey's vote in the 2008 election, and the Garden State has been a solidly Democratic state in recent national elections.

A sizeable majority of independent voters, some 55 percent, said they disapproved of the job the president is doing. “The independents are a key voting bloc,” said Terry Golway, director of the Center. “In the last gubernatorial election, New Jersey voters showed that no Democrat should take the state for granted.”

Not all the news was bad for the President. Although commentators have suggested that Mr. Obama's conciliatory tactics during the debt-ceiling crisis alienated his liberal base, 84 percent of self-described liberal voters said they approved of the president, as did 55 percent of self-described moderate voters. “The figures show that Obama has retained a solid base, at least in New Jersey, while continuing to hold onto a majority of moderates,” Golway said.

Governor Chris Christie, who praised the president's response to his state's Irene-related flood damage, shares Mr. Obama's high negatives. Forty-four percent of likely voters disapprove of the governor – the same percentage the president received. Fifty-four percent said they approved of the governor's job performance. The Kean University survey was conducted on August 30, in the immediate aftermath of Irene and the governor's high-profile appearances in local media.

Although the president and governor share the same high disapproval rating, there's a difference between the two, according to Golway. “President Obama has tried to be a conciliator, somebody who seems averse to confrontation,” Golway said. “Yet his negatives are as high as Governor Christie, who clearly relishes confrontation and gives the appearance of not caring whether people like him or not. As a result, he is bound to be a divisive figure. If Governor Christie arranged for a sunny afternoon in mid-winter, a significant portion of voters would disapprove because he didn't provide sunblock.”

Christie, unlike the president, has won over independent voters in New Jersey. Some 57 percent of respondents who said they were neither Republican nor Democratic said they approved of the governor's performance. Fifty-three percent of self-described moderates also approved of Mr. Christie.

While some observers have speculated that Christie's confrontational tactics have alienated women voters, 51 percent of female respondents said they approved of his job performance, as did 59 percent of male respondents.

The New Jersey Speaks poll surveyed 1,000 likely voters in New Jersey on August 30. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3 points.

The Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy was founded in July by Dr. Dawood Farahi, president of Kean University. “The center will provide a wealth of expertise and analysis from Kean University's faculty,” Dr. Farahi said. “Whether the conversation concerns climate change, human rights, New Jersey politics, or computer literacy, Kean University faculty have the knowledge and wisdom to enrich our civic conversation. The Center for History, Politics and Policy will bring that knowledge and wisdom into the global community.”

Terry Golway

September 2, 2011

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