After Bridgegate, Christie loses hold with independents

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference, Jan. 9, 2014.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference, Jan. 9, 2014.

Gov. Chris Christie’s approval rating is still high following the Bridgegate scandal, but he’s losing ground with a key part of his base.

A new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll out on Monday found that 59% of New Jersey voters approve of the job Christie is doing, with 32% disapproving, according to a press release of the poll.

The GOP is siding with Christie—a full 89% approve of the job he’s doing despite the scandal—but a key part of the governor’s base is losing faith: Christie’s approval among independents dropped from 73% a month prior to 62%.

Independents have long bolstered Christie’s approval ratings: In October, a poll by Rutgers-Eagleton found that 68% of independents said they approved of his work, seven points higher than the governor’s overall approval rating at the time, and he earned 66% of independent voters in his November election race, according to exit polls. That’s six points higher than the overall 60% of New Jerseyans who voted for Christie.

But the new poll finds his stronghold of independents backing away in the light of the scandal. Documents released on Friday have moved the scandal even closer to Christie: two top aides, including Christie’s newly appointed chief of staff and press secretary both appear to be implicated by the documents, though the governor’s office has not yet commented.

The poll was conducted from Friday, January 10th to Sunday, January 12th of this year, beginning just two days after news broke that top Christie aides had orchestrated a massive traffic jam in Fort Lee as political retribution.

There’s still much that’s unknown about the planned traffic jam and there’s an intensive investigation underway: New Jersey’s legislature is investigating the closures, congressional investigators lead by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller set a Wednesday deadline for the Port Authority to answer their questions on the closures, and there’s a federal inquiry being launched by the very office where Christie worked as a prosecutor and made a name for himself for taking on corruption.

Christie will likely touch on the bridge scandal during his Tuesday State of the State speech at 3 p.m.

Christie’s independent base is one of his most unique selling points as a Republican and a key advantage he has against Democrats in 2016 polls, so it’s this number that may best indicate how the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal will affect the governor’s political future.

Independents political power on a national stage is growing: more Americans than ever before identify as indepenedents.

Down six months from a month prior, the latest approval rating is the first time since Superstorm Sandy sent the governor’s approval rating sky high that it has fallen below 60%.

Before Sandy, Christie’s rating had not risen as high as 59%, though.

The poll found New Jersey voters to be paying close attention to the revenge traffic story—83% are following it—and few think the governor told the full story during his nearly two hour, apology press conference last week.

A strong majority of New Jersey voters, 80%, think more staffers will be implicated than the initial two who were cut from Christie’s inner circle and a third of voters think the governor was involved directly. 

However, New Jersey residents appear willing to give Christie the benefit of the doubt for now 62% say they believe the governor when he says he wants a full inquiry and 67% say their trust in the governor was not shaken.

The poll does not account for Christie’s latest potential black eye: on Monday, New Jersey Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone announced that the federal government would launch an investigation into whether the governor used federal aid money earmarked for Sandy for his political gain.

The poll was conducted by telephone and has a margin of error of +/- 4.2%.