Chris Christie may be the most popular governor in America. He is certainly the most popular governor in the nine states where Quinnipiac regularly polls. While other first term governors are around the 50 percent job approval mark or lower, Christie consistently hovers around 70 percent approval. While Christie will likely coast to an easy reelection, other incumbent governors will likely be involved in competitive races in their reelection bids, with some being underdogs.
What’s most remarkable about Christie’s popularity, is that he is doing it in a state where his party is in the minority. New Jersey is a blue state yet this Republican governor has found a way to achieve sky high approval ratings.
Governors Kasich, Branstad, Hickenlooper, McDonnell, Scott, and Corbett all start out with an inherent advantage over Christie. They come from presidential swing states which by their nature are roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Not only does Christie crush these governors in popularity but he also trounces neighboring governors Cuomo and Malloy, even though they have the most favorable political environment of all: their party is the dominant party. Malloy and Cuomo are Democratic governors in deep blue states.
Looking at it a different way:
No one should really be surprised that governors elected in 2010 are going to face tough bids for reelection next year. When they took office the economy was in bad shape and voters were in a grumpy mood. Faced with budget deficits, these governors had to make difficult choices about cutting programs and raising taxes that would only put voters in a worse mood. Some governors also have self-inflicted wounds (see McDonnell’s “giftgate” controversy). Others have been involved in controversial issues such as gun control (see Cuomo and Hickenlooper).
Chris Christie’s popularity has not been dragged down by economic discontent. Nor has he been involved in scandal or in the kind of controversial issues that could take a toll on his approval rating. Christie’s highly praised handling of Hurricane Sandy drove up his approval rating 16 points, from 56 percent to 72 percent approval. This so called “rally effect” is significant for two reasons. First, there is no guarantee that public approval for the way an elected official handles a crisis will translate into higher overall job approval numbers. For example, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy got high marks for his response to the Newtown shootings but it didn’t help his overall job approval rating which has been stick in the mid 40’s. Second, while public officials sometimes get a bounce in their job approval numbers for their handling of a crisis, it is often short lived. Sandy happened 10 months ago, yet Christie’s numbers are still in the stratosphere.
A key to Christie’s success in maintaining strong popularity is that he has struck a chord with independents. His job approval among independents is 70 percent, far higher than any other governor.
The other key to understanding Christie’s popularity is he has strong crossover appeal. He has a remarkable 51 percent approval among Democrats. No other governor comes close to matching Christie’s bipartisan appeal.
*Job approval percentage from most recent Quinnipiac University Poll.