There’s good news and bad news for Chris Christie in a new nationwide public opinion poll released today by Fairleigh Dickinson’s Public Mind. The good news is that despite his nonstop troubles since last fall, the New Jersey governor runs pretty much even with the rest of the Republican party’s leading would-be candidates for 2016. (The poll tested Christie head-to-head with Hillary Clinton, along with similar matchups for Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee.) But that’s also the bad news. After his 60-percent-plus re-election win last November, Christie might have been positioned to be a clear front-runner for 2016. Now, not so much.
And there’s some more bad news for Christie and his GOP competitors: not one of them gets any traction—at least not so far, though it really too early to read too much into it—when pitted against Clinton. In the poll, Clinton leads Christie 46-36 percent, and she leads the rest of the field, too, by margins that are pretty much identical, given the poll’s margin of error: 48-37 vs. Paul, 49-33 vs. Bush, 49-36 vs. Huckabee and 46-38 vs. Ryan.
Some of what the poll measures is simply name recognition, says Krista Jenkins, associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University in northern New Jersey and the executive director of its Public Mind polling unit. And in that case, Hillary Clinton is almost universally recognized, whereas the Republican candidates, at least nationally, are far less known.
It does, however, does raise an interesting question about Jeb Bush, whose last name, at least, is part of a dynasty at least as well known as the Clintons’. If so, perhaps there’s a small message in the poll results for Bush, despite his widely recognized name. According to the numbers, Bush does least well head-to-head against Clinton, especially among women, where Clinton beats Bush by a hefty margin of 55-30 percent. If it means anything, it could be that American voters react instinctively, and negatively, to “another Bush,” and not so much to “another Clinton.”
The fact that the Republicans are all clumped together around each other in the poll is a sign of the GOP’s splintered state at present. “Part of what we are seeing is a reflection of the identity crisis that the Republican party is going through,” Jenkins tells us. “The fact that there is no front-runner yet is telling about the fractured state of the party.”
For Christie, it isn’t clear exactly what the impact is of the scandals that have surrounded him since the Bridgegate revelations emerged. The Christie investigations are big news in New Jersey, of course, but less so around the country. Says Politicker NJ:
The current poll finds registered voters nationwide are paying decidedly less attention to Bridgegate than what the FDU poll has found in its statewide surveys of New Jersey voters. Nationally, around a fifth (18%) say they are paying very close attention to the story, with an additional quarter (28%) who are following the story somewhat closely. The majority—54 percent—aren’t following the story closely at all.
As for whether Governor Christie’s claims of ignorance about his aides’ behavior in closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge for political reasons are perceived truthfully by those who are following the story, around a third (37%) nationwide give him the benefit of the doubt, with the majority (57%) who believe it’s unlikely that he knew nothing.
So how should that data be interpreted, and what does it mean for Christie 2016? Jenkins tells us, “Just because somebody says that they’re not following it doesn’t mean that they’re unaware of the story.… Yes, there’s not as many people following the story as in New Jersey, with some degree of closeness, but I still think that there is an awareness that there’s a scandal, that something is wrong, or potentially wrong, with his leadership, and they’re hearing stuff that uses words such as ‘scandal’ and ‘wrongdoing.’”
On the other hand, she says, perhaps Christie is still in good position if he can put the crisis behind him:
I guess it tells me that it’s an unknown at this point. But if everything that happens at the state level and the federal level clears him, yes, he can be held accountable for having people around him who were making bad decisions, but he’s still in a pretty decent position to come back from this. Because if all of this stuff is out there, and he’s still doing as well as Paul and Huckabee and Jeb Bush, then it suggests that he has not been hurt by this as much as he could have been.
On the other hand, if the feds or other investigators find that smoking gun that might be out there, well, he’s toast.