Governor Chris Christie—overweight, pugnacious, and conservative—isn’t the first politician you would expect to appeal to women voters, especially in a Democratic-leaning state such as New Jersey. But the Republican governor won reelection yesterday with a lopsided majority of the women’s vote, taking 57 percent to his female opponent’s 42 percent, according to exit polls (pdf). That wasn’t as strong as his performance with men, where Christie won 63 percent to 35 percent, but it was a dominant performance nonetheless against a female challenger.
Christie’s performance is all the more remarkable considering that he opposes abortion rights and “early in his term cut $7.5 million to women’s health-care centers such as Planned Parenthood, saying that federally qualified health-care centers can fill the need,” as Jenna Portnoy of Newark’s Star-Ledger wrote last month.
What explains Christie’s strong performance with women? One reason is that he was up against a weak candidate: Barbara Buono, a state senator, had low name recognition and never energized donors or voters. In contrast, exit polls showed Christie losing New Jersey in a hypothetical 2016 presidential race against Hillary Clinton, taking 44 percent to her 48 percent.
The Atlantic Wire speculated earlier this year that Christie’s very public and partially successful battle to lose weight might have helped him with female voters: “Women love weight loss narratives,” wrote Elspeth Reeve, citing such tabloid headlines as “HOW I LOST 42 LBS!”
But more than anything, Christie’s strong leadership of the state after Superstorm Sandy a year ago seems to be what clinched women’s support. In September 2012, a month before Sandy struck the Jersey Shore, the governor suffered from a huge gender gap. Men approved of his performance 61 percent to 31 percent, while women’s approval was only 47 percent to 41 percent. That’s a 30-point edge among men vs. a 6-point edge among women.
After Sandy, everything changed. In the first post-superstorm poll by Monmouth University in December (pdf), the gender gap in performance approval nearly closed: men 68/19; women 66/23. Christie built on that in the following months. By April (pdf) he was actually doing better among women, with a 65 percent approval rating, four points higher than his standing with New Jersey men.