For the first time since taking office in January 2010, Gov. Chris Christie’s job approval rating among New Jersey registered voters has climbed above 50 percent, according to a Monmouth University/NJ Press Medial Poll made public on Friday.
But residents also gave the pollsters mixed signals on their understanding of state finances.
They give the Republican governor credit for signing the 2011-12 state budget on June 30 after vetoing nearly $1 billion in Democratic spending proposals. However, they are not happy with what they see as his effort to control government spending and provide property tax relief. Additional tax relief was among the Democratic proposals.
Christie currently earns a 48 percent approve to 42 percent disapprove job rating among all New Jerseyans. Among registered voters, his rating stands at 50 percent approve to 41 percent disapprove.
This is the first time he has hit the 50 percent mark in the Monmouth University poll since taking office. It is also the first time since early April that he broke 50 percent approval in any non-partisan New Jersey poll.
Polls during this past spring showed opinion of Christie declining after he unveiled his budget plan. In fact, the last Monmouth poll in May had the governor’s rating in net negative territory – 46 percent to 49 percent — among registered voters. His job approval rating among voters has since increased by 4 points while his disapproval number has gone down by 8 points.
Christie’s decision to veto the nearly $1 billion in spending from the Legislature’s budget may have caused an uproar among Democrats, but most New Jerseyans appear to accept his decision even if they may not like it. Among residents who followed the budget debate, 33 percent say they were dissatisfied with the governor’s line-item cuts compared to 22 percent who say they were satisfied by his veto choices. Another 42 percent say they can live the cuts he made even though they are not particularly satisfied with them.
While the governor’s job rating has gone up, the Legislature’s has remained flat — 35 percent approve to 47 percent disapprove.
Most residents (63 percent) continue to feel that the Republican governor and the Democratic legislative leadership have not been working together well, although more are now likely to blame both sides equally (61 percent) than were a few months ago (54 percent). Among the remainder, 19 percent blame Christie more and 16 percent blame the Democrats more.
“Overall, the public has never been particularly happy with the size of the cuts Governor Christie has made in either of his budgets,” Prof. Patrick Murray, the poll‘s director, said. “However, they recognize New Jersey is in dire economic straits and continue to give the governor positive marks for leadership. How he performs on the individual issues important to state residents is still very much up in the air.”
New Jerseyans were asked to grade the governor in the areas of education, controlling costs, and property taxes. Just over 18 months into his term, Christie’s grades on improving the state’s schools have remained stable, although not stellar: 28 percent give him an above average grade of A or B, 26 percent grade him a C and 40 percent give him a low grade of D or F. These results are very similar to polls taken at the governor’s 6 month and one year marks.
Christie’s grades on controlling costs and cutting waste have slipped in the past six months. He currently earns an A or B in this area from 34 percent of residents, a C from 34 percent, and a D or F from 28 percent. The proportion of residents giving him an above average grade has slipped from 41 percent in February and 43 percent in July of last year. Most of that drop has shifted to an average C grade, while the percentage of poor D and F grades remained stable over the past year and a half.
The governor’s grades on providing property tax relief have also experienced a drop. Currently, just 20 percent of New Jerseyans give him an A or B in this area, 30 percent give him a C, and 43 percent say he’s only earned a D or F. Christie’s grades in this area have steadily declined. Six months ago, 24 percent of the public gave him an above average grade and just over one year ago, 31% gave him an A or B.
Currently, 35 percent of New Jerseyans say it is at least somewhat likely that they will see significant property tax relief in the next few years, compared to 61 percent who say it is not really likely. While the current level of optimism is five points lower than in February (40 percent), it is higher than it was in September 2010 (22 percent). The high point for optimism about property taxes during Christie’s term so far occurred just over a year ago in July 2010 (49 percent).
“The public’s outlook on property taxes has been on a roller coaster ride since Governor Christie took office,” Murray said. “Pessimism over property taxes has not been a noticeable drag on the governor’s overall job rating, but it’s difficult to shake the sense that it hangs over him like a Sword of Damocles. The big question is whether opinion will shift in a year or two as voters start to consider whether Christie deserves a second term.”
Almost no residents think that state government has made a lot of progress on the property tax issue, although a majority of 52 percent say it has made at least a little progress (which includes 3 percent who say a “lot” and another 49 percent who say a “little”). This compares to a sizable 43 percent who feel the state has made no progress on property taxes. There are no significant partisan differences in this opinion – 57 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents say the state has made at least a little progress.