More than half of New Jersey residents say they wouldn’t back Governor Chris Christie for a second term, disapproving of his choices on a range of policy and personal issues, from killing a commuter tunnel to using a state-police helicopter to attend his son’s baseball game.
Teachers, whose union Christie has targeted on tenure, pay and benefits, received a far higher favorable rating, 76 percent, than the first-term Republican. His favorable rating was 43 percent, according to a Bloomberg New Jersey poll conducted June 20-23.
“Teachers I know got laid off because of him,” Fred Lavin, 61, a poll respondent from Toms River who is troubleshooter for an electronics company, said in a June 24 telephone interview. “He’s not in favor of the average working person.”
Fifty-eight percent of New Jersey residents disagreed with Christie’s decision not to extend a surcharge on the state’s highest-earning taxpayers, a measure that was revived for a vote this week by the Democratic-led Legislature. A majority, 51 percent, opposed his October cancellation of an $8.7 billion rail tunnel to New York, and 70 percent disagreed with his traveling via helicopter to his teenage son’s baseball game.
Christie campaigned on a theme of fiscal soundness, and in his first year cut $10 billion of spending, including a $3 billion pension payment and money for schools and cities. The governor and Republicans reimbursed the state about $3,400 for two trips aboard the chopper.
The governor’s education-spending reductions were opposed by 65 percent and favored by 31 percent, according to the survey of 1,302 adults conducted for Bloomberg by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based public-opinion research firm. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
The austerity trend continued yesterday, when Christie signed legislation to raise government workers’ pension and health-care contributions, increase the minimum retirement age to 65 from 62 and freeze cost-of-living adjustments to help address a $53.9 billion retirement-fund deficit. The moves will save $132 billion over 30 years, he said.
“They are sort of saying, ‘Look, you’re too much on our side,’” J. Ann Selzer, the polling company president, said by telephone June 27. “It just feels as though Christie misread the public on education or believed that he had to go that far in cutting the budget. Even if it’s the latter, he didn’t rhetorically sell it to his audience properly. They’re not with him.”
The governor was viewed unfavorably by 53 percent of those polled. The results were in line with recent surveys that showed growing disapproval of Christie. In the Bloomberg poll, 45 percent said their view of him has worsened since he took office in January 2010. Just 25 percent said their opinion of him has improved, while 29 percent said it hasn’t changed.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on the poll.
Christie often says he was elected to do a tough job, and he is governing as though he won’t win re-election. In the November 2013 election for governor, 51 percent of respondents indicated they wouldn’t pick Christie -- a turnaround for a group that said it voted for him in 2009 over Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, 37 percent to 31 percent.
Christie declared 2011 his year of education changes, and the agenda has met challenges. New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled May 24 that he went too far with cuts in the poorest school districts, and ordered the addition of $500 million starting next month.
The 200,000-member New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has funded an ad campaign to criticize the governor, who called its leaders “political thugs.” Support for the union was similar to Christie, at 44 percent, the poll found.
Christie’s education reductions were strongly opposed by 48 percent overall. The issue split in suburban households, where 62 percent of mothers and 48 percent of fathers strongly opposed. Overall, strong opposition was registered in 68 percent of households with public employees, and 60 percent of union households.
In terms of which side they believe Christie is on, 75 percent overall in the poll said he stands with taxpayers, and 9 percent put him with teachers. The governor was said to support property taxpayers over the state’s 1.4 million public-school students, 65 percent to 17 percent.
The survey showed 68 percent believe Christie stands with the business community compared with 22 percent who said he sides with “ordinary New Jerseyans.”
In the suburbs, where Christie proved more popular than Corzine in 2009, parents now disapprove of the Republican, 57 percent to 38 percent.
Mothers in those towns reported voting for Corzine over Christie, 34 percent to 32 percent. Now, 61 percent said they wouldn’t vote for the Republican. Fathers in those towns chose Christie over Corzine, 43 percent to 26 percent. Now, 51 percent said they wouldn’t vote for Christie.
State government employees had a 52 percent favorable rating. Fifty-one percent of respondents supported Christie’s proposal to require workers to pay for 30 percent of the cost of their health-insurance premiums. That plan received higher marks, 57 percent, from suburban fathers, and lower, 45 percent, among suburban mothers. In households with government workers, 68 percent were opposed.
“We really value the teachers,” Camille Bareham, 43, a poll respondent in Pittstown, said in a June 24 telephone interview. “I’m not fond of unions but I really feel the teachers needed something better.”
Bareham, who is studying for a master’s degree in health administration, said her feelings about the governor started to erode when some talented teachers left her children’s schools. “I think there could have been some way around it.”
Respondents’ answers fell along party lines, with 44 percent of Republicans saying they have a very favorable image of Christie. One in five Republicans also said their opinion of the governor has worsened. Among Democrats, 56 percent said they had a very unfavorable opinion. Independents -- who represent 47 percent of the state’s registered voters -- rated Christie unfavorable to favorable, 51 percent to 44 percent.
Christie is the state’s first elected Republican governor of the 21st century. He has cast New Jersey as a national role model for states with a collective $103 billion in initial deficits heading into fiscal 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit group in Washington that focuses on issues affecting lower-income Americans.
Lawmakers in Trenton face a June 30 deadline to pass a budget reconciling Christie’s $29.4 billion spending road map and its own $30.6 billion proposal.
A plan from the Democrats includes $1.1 billion more for schools. A separate bill projects another $550 million from a revived levy on residents earning $1 million or more, which would raise the top rate to 10.75 percent from 8.9 percent for two years. All of the increase would go to education.
A similar tax surcharge lapsed at the end of 2009 under Corzine. Christie vetoed legislation last year reinstating that tax, and has said he would reject any new levies this year.
Stephanie Bertono, 25, a poll respondent from Old Bridge, said in an interview that she has been looking for a retailing job since becoming unemployed last year. The increased pension and health-care charges will force her and her boyfriend, a police officer, to cut their budget further. As a result, she said, she’s no longer a Christie fan.
“I was a supporter of his when he ran for governor but recently, I don’t support what he’s doing with the unions,” Bertono told a reporter by telephone June 24. “I don’t think it’s fair to all these people that took jobs with these pensions. People are living paycheck to paycheck as it is with gas prices so high, and the economy being so bad.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Elise Young in Trenton, New Jersey, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com