As he cuts school and health care aid in the face of two major budget deficits, Gov.
Chris Christie has significant support from New Jerseyans, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll made public Monday.
Christie is viewed favorably by 45 percent, and unfavorably by 26 percent. Another 26 percent feel neither favorable nor unfavorable toward him.
But most voters agree that tax rates for New Jerseyans making $400,000 or more per year should not be cut, despite Christie's support for allowing the surcharge imposed on high earners to expire.
A majority of virtually every demographic group opposes the cut, and even Republicans are not sure, with 46 percent supporting and 47 percent opposing the tax cut. Independents strongly oppose the tax cut, by a 2-to-1 margin, the same ratio among voters who are unsure of their opinion about Christie. Even voters making more than $150,000 per year oppose the tax cut, with only 35 percent supporting the cut and 64 percent opposing it.
"Governor Christie has built up a lot of favorability since he took office, but cutting taxes for high-earning New Jerseyans is very unpopular, even when we made clear that Christie supports the expiration of the surcharge on high-income filers," said David Redlawsk, poll director and professor of political science. "At the same time, there has been much less focus on this, and a lot more on his moves to cut costs, so overall the tax rate issue does not seem to be hurting him directly."
Christie's positive rating comes though few voters say it is "very likely" he will be able to make the sweeping changes he proposes, and most oppose his call for cutting tax rates for wealthy New Jerseyans. The governor will unveil his proposed 2010-11 budget on March 16 and detail how he expects to confront a deficit of as much as $11 billion.
A random telephone poll of 953 New Jersey adults was conducted Feb. 19-22 and included 886 registered voters.
"Governor Christie has managed to solidify a strong net positive rating among New Jersey voters in a short time," Redlawsk said. "While Democrats predictably view him very unfavorably, independents view Christie favorably by a 2-to-1 margin. Continuing support among independents will be important to Christie's ability to make changes in Trenton, since Democratic legislative leaders are likely to pay close attention to that."
Redlawsk also observed that more than a quarter of New Jerseyans are not ready to give an opinion and may be swayed by what they see in the weeks following the budget address.
Christie's favorability rating falls between two national politicians. President Barack Obama is viewed favorably by 56 percent and unfavorably by 31 percent of New Jerseyans. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, has little support in New Jersey, viewed favorably by only 27 percent and unfavorably by 52 percent. Christie's net positive rating of 19 percent, though not quite as high as Obama's 25-point margin, is far above Palin's 25-point negative rating.
Christie is viewed particularly positively by Evangelical Christians, 52 percent to 20 percent, and men, who give him a 54 percent to 22 percent favorable rating. Women are much less positive, supporting Christie 37 percent to 29 percent.
New Jerseyans living in union households are also slightly positive, 42 percent to 35 percent. Blacks are negative, 40 percent to 22 percent. New Jerseyans over 65 are much more favorable than younger ones. The former group views Christie favorably, 52 percent to 18 percent, while the latter group splits, 35 percent both favorable and unfavorable.
Asked if the future of New Jersey is better, worse, or the same since Christie's defeat of former Gov. Jon Corzine, most believe prospects are about the same (42 percent), while 27 percent say "better" and 18 percent say "worse." Not surprisingly, Democrats and Corzine voters are much more likely to think the future will be worse, while half of Republicans and Christie voters say the future will be better. Evangelical Christians are not as positive, with only a quarter saying the future will be better, while 43 percent expect it to be the same.
Views of the future vary greatly by age. Registered voters under 30 are much more likely to say the future will be worse (29 percent) than better (14 percent), while 31 percent of New Jerseyans 65 and over believe the future will be better, while only 9 percent think it will be worse. Likewise, high-income voters are twice as likely as lower-income voters to say the future will be better (40 percent to 20 percent).
Significant skepticism that Christie's plans for a sweeping change in Trenton ever will come about appears to be softening New Jerseyans' optimism for the future.
A November post-election Rutgers-Eagleton Poll showed that only 5 percent of those who wanted Christie's top priority to be cutting taxes thought it was very likely to happen. The new poll shows that New Jerseyans still are not sure change is really coming - only 7 percent think the "sweeping changes" proposed by Christie are "very likely" to happen, while 55 percent think they are "somewhat likely." More than one-third (36 percent) say sweeping changes are not likely at all. Even Christie voters are somewhat skeptical, with only 17 percent saying sweeping changes are "very likely."
"Voters recognize that while Governor Christie has an agenda of change and reform, politics in Trenton is complicated," Redlawsk said. "They have seen governors come in before promising change and still their taxes go up, roads remain in terrible shape and state government doesn't seem to change."
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM