Chris Christie’s poll tumble — and why it matters

A longstanding cornerstone of New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie's popularity (and why national GOP strategists are drawn to him) has been his cross-party appeal. But a major traffic scandal has diminished Christie's luster in the eyes of Democrats -- and fast.

Christie's favorability has plunged 19 percentage points since last November, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jersey voters. Among Democratic voters, it's down 26.  His job approval rating has dipped a whopping 22 points among Democrats, driving the overall drop from 68 percent to 53 percent.


(Image courtesy of Rutgers-Eagleton)

Other recent polls have also shown the bridge scandal, in which aides to Christie snarled traffic from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge in an apparent act of political retribution, has whittled Christie's once robust Democratic support, which held up throughout most of 2013. Christie's approval rating among New Jersey Democrats dipped from 47 percent to 38 percent in a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll. Just 36 percent of New Jersey Democratic voters said they approved of the job Christie was doing in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, compared to 55 percent who said they disapproved. That's roughly a 180 degree turnaround from his numbers in early 2013.

Nationally, the news isn't much better. Christie's unfavorable rating rose sharply among independents (+18) and even quicker among Democrats (+25), according to a Pew Research Center-USA Today poll released this week.

Here's why this is such a big deal: Christie has carefully cultivated a reputation as a no-nonsense problem solver who's committed to getting things done -- party affiliation be damned. (Who can forget the images of him touring storm damage with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy? Or his willingness to lash congressional Republicans for not approving Sandy recovery money quickly enough?)

Working with the other side to get stuff done was a big part of Christie's ticket to a second term. And it's a major part of the lane he occupies leading up to the 2016 presidential election. An appeal beyond Republicans' historically small base in the Garden State is what made Christie such a promising candidate nationally. But after the bridge scandal, that core advantage (or at least the perception of that core advantage) appears to be slipping.

The good news for the governor is that his support among Republicans and independents has held steadier. His approval rating is 83 percent among New Jersey Republicans according to the Rutgers poll. A majority of independents in the state say they approve of the job he's doing. His favorable ratings among Republicans and independents in the Pew poll are unchanged from a year ago. (A Fox News national poll shows troubling signs for Christie among Republicans, but it speaks more about predictions for him than their own ratings of the governor.)

In one way, this could be good for Christie. There's been considerable skepticism about his bipartisan maneuverings among the GOP's conservative base. But if he's no longer viewed as a darling of Democrats, it could boost his cred on the right. (And that explains why his team has been trying to turn the bridge scandal into a partisan scrum.)

The bottom line, though, is that if Christie's appeal to Democrats is diminished, he becomes less of a general election threat in the eyes of Democratic strategists.

There are no other Republicans in the prospective 2016 field who have the demonstrated ability to connect with the other party that Christie does -- with the possible exception of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. If Christie's forfeits that position of strength -- it's too early now to conclude that he has or hasn't -- the lane he occupies probably goes unfilled.

For Democratic operatives with an eye on keeping the White House in 2016, that would be welcome news.

Fixbits: 

Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell (R) wants his first court appearance postponed.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Congress will probably need to raise the debt ceiling by late February.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Obama is worse than Jimmy Carter.

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R) is exploring a Senate run.

A bipartisan commission suggested steps to take advantage of technological advances to make voting simpler.

FreedomWorks endorsed Matt Bevin (R) in the Kentucky Senate race.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) writes in his book that a wife is to "voluntarily submit" to her husband.

Super Bowl trash talk between Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has begun.

Katy Perry said she might have won Wisconsin for Obama.

Must-reads:

"Experts: McDonnell’s corruption trial will test line between political favors, official action" -- Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

"Should Scott Brown be worried after Executive Council primary results?" -- James Pindell, WMUR

Scott Clement contributed to this post

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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