Chris Christie is the most unpopular ex-governor, remembered most for scandals

Tom Kean continues to top the leader board as New Jersey’s favorite living ex-governor while Chris Christie is stuck in the cellar, according to a recent Monmouth University Poll of state residents.

New Jerseyans were asked their views of the nine people who have served as the state’s chief executive since 1982.

The poll also finds that Christie’s former constituents remember his time in office more for scandals than anything else and are unenthusiastic about the possibility of him making another run for president.

Kean (R; 1982-90) is viewed favorably by 33% of the New Jersey public and unfavorably by 14%, with 53% having no opinion. Three years ago, he had a 45% favorable and 12% unfavorable rating, with 43% registering no opinion.

Among adults age 55 and older – i.e., those old enough to have voted for Kean at least once – he has a solid 51% favorable and 14% unfavorable rating.

“Memories may be fading more than 30 years after he served as governor, but Tom Kean still holds a fond place in the hearts of many New Jerseyans,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Despite the drop in familiarity, Kean remains on top of the Garden State gubernatorial leader board with a +19 net favorable rating. But the decline in awareness three decades after he left office means his lead is no longer as dominant as it had been. Just behind Kean in net positive ratings, but ahead in absolute favorability, is current governor Phil Murphy (D; 2018- ) with a 50% favorable and 34% unfavorable rating.

At the other end of the spectrum is Christie (R; 2010-2018). His negative -38 net rating – 26% favorable and 64% unfavorable – makes him the most unpopular living governor by far. However, there has been a slight improvement in Christie’s standing since he left office, when he held an even more negative -49 net rating (22% favorable and 71% unfavorable).

He continues to earn overwhelmingly negative ratings from Democrats (16% favorable and 74% unfavorable) and independents (22% favorable and 72% unfavorable), but Republicans have flipped (53% favorable and 35% unfavorable now compared with 43% favorable and 48% unfavorable in 2018). Early in his first term in 2010, Christie enjoyed a rosier +14 rating (31% favorable and 17% unfavorable).

“Christie left a lasting impression on the state. Nearly every New Jerseyan still has an opinion of him. The problem is those opinions tend to be fairly negative,” said Murray.

Net FavorabilityMay’21Apr.’18Feb.’10Sep.’06Among age 55+
Tom Kean (R)+19+33+37+44+37
Phil Murphy (D)+16+16n/an/a+9
Dick Codey (D)+7+12+14+34+18
Christie Whitman (R) +1 0-3-2-1
Donald DiFrancesco (R)0-4-8+1-3
Jim Florio (D)-1-3+2-8+3
Jim McGreevey (D)-6-5-28-22-2
Jon Corzine (D)-11-9-24+16-20
Chris Christie (R)-38-49+14n/a-25
Source: Monmouth University Poll

When asked to describe what they remember most about Christie’s eight years in office, 1 in 4 mention the Bridgegate episode (26%). This is followed by his closure of state parks and a related meme of him sitting on the beach (12%). Another 4% reference corruption or scandal in general.

Only 9% of state residents mention his response to Superstorm Sandy and just 6% mention accomplishments on the state budget, taxes, and pensions. Another 8% remember him for taking on the teachers’ union and school-related issues – some with admiration and others with resentment. On the other hand, 4% offer negative comments about his handling of state worker pensions and 3% express dissatisfaction with his handling of taxes, particularly the gas tax.

Some New Jersey adults recall aspects about Christie’s personality as their initial top-of-mind memory of his time in office. However, the positive references – 5% say he was bold, a straight talker, took a stand, etc. – are outnumbered by the negative ones – 7% use words like arrogant, bully, disrespectful, and liar while 5% reference his political ambitions, saying he only looked out for himself.

“The sense that Christie turned his back on New Jersey in pursuit of higher office was the main reason for a sharp drop in his ratings by the time he left office. Incidents like Bridgegate or Beachgate serve as vivid memes for this lingering sentiment,” said Murray.

Christie’s former constituents are unsure whether he continues to harbor White House ambitions. Just over 4 in 10 say he definitely (7%) or probably (35%) plans to make another presidential run in 2024. The Garden State public is more certain when asked whether they want to see him take another stab at national office. Just 10% would like to see him run in 2024 while 59% would not. Another 31% say they do not care one way or the other.

Just 19% of New Jerseyans currently feel Christie would make a good president, which is down from the already low 27% who said the same when he launched his first run in the summer of 2015. Even among Republicans, just one-third (34%) say he would make a good president. Six years ago, 57% of Christie’s fellow partisans gave him the thumbs up as Commander in Chief material.

“Christie’s former constituents do not offer a ringing endorsement of his presidential aspirations, but he probably doesn’t care since New Jersey is rarely pivotal in the nomination process. But these numbers also mean the state is likely to remain solidly blue in the general election even if the ex-governor is on the ballot,” said Murray.

Back to the ratings of former governors, Kean is one of only two living governors who earns a net positive rating from New Jerseyans of all partisan stripes. His rating stands at +28 among Republicans, +20 among Democrats, and +16 among independents. The other former governor to achieve this is Dick Codey (D; 2004-06), whose net rating ranges from +6 to +8 among the different partisan groups. Codey, who served fourteen months after Jim McGreevey’s resignation, has an overall rating of 17% favorable and 10% unfavorable with 73% registering no opinion.

The remaining names on the list earn anywhere from a divided opinion to slightly negative reviews after their time in office.

This includes Christie Whitman (R; 1994-2001: 34% favorable, 33% unfavorable, 33% no opinion), Donald DiFrancesco (R; 2001-02: 9% favorable, 9% unfavorable, 82% no opinion), and Jim Florio (D; 1990-94: 22% favorable, 23% unfavorable, 54% no opinion) in the split-decision category.

McGreevey (D; 2002-04: 25% favorable, 31% unfavorable, 44% no opinion) and Jon Corzine (D; 2006-10: 23% favorable, 34% unfavorable, 43% no opinion) earn more negative ratings.

The net ratings for these five governors are basically the same as the 2018 poll, but with a rise in the number of New Jerseyans who have no opinion of them.

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