Monday, February 25, 2013

Chris Christie's post-Sandy Bounce Holding Strong 4 Months Later, Buono (D) Barely On The Radar

Photo courtesy of Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty

From the standpoint of political popularity, it doesn't get much better than it currently is for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R). He assumed office in 2009 with a respectable 3.5 point victory over the incumbent Democrat, and remained reasonably well-liked, reforming state pensions and taking on the teachers union, in a state known for its preference for Democratic politicians.
But that all changed in the days following October 30, 2012. Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, and Chris Christie made a very impassioned, and very public plea for aid for New Jersey residents. Furthermore, as President Obama toured the storm-ravaged area, just days before his reelection, Republican Christie heaped praise on him, to an excessive degree in the minds of many Romney supporters. The total effect of Christie's leadership and bipartisan cooperation in the wake of a devastating storm had a huge lifting affect on attitudes towards Christie personally, as well as the job he was doing in New Jersey. Even nationally, Christie saw a boost in his ratings.

That's why the much touted Newark Mayor, Cory Booker (D) decided against a 2013 gubernatorial run last month. At a point before Hurricane Sandy, Christie was viewed as vulnerable in 2013, and not just because he was your standard Republican running for reelection in a Democratic state, but also because Booker was particularly popular among the Democratic base. In fact, PPP found Booker beating Christie in a hypothetical race in July, 47-43%. Quinnipiac found him trailing just 46-42% in October, while also finding the little-known State Senator Barbara Buono losing by a to-be-expected 49-33% margin. But unfortunately for both of them, that's not the Chris Christie they will get to face in November 2013. No, the new, wildly popular, post-Sandy Christie led Booker in polling by anywhere from 14 to 18 points. As for the woman who is most likely to actually have to face Christie?...
Quinnipiac Poll, Feb 13-17, 2013; NJ Gubernatorial Race:

Chris Christie (R)  -  62%
Barbara Buono (D)  -  25%

She trails by a staggering 37 points. In a post on this blog in December, I argued that Cory Booker, as the Democrats strongest candidate, should still consider running for Governor, under the belief that Christie's post-Sandy job approval would inevitably fade. But as of today, his numbers have shown no recent signs of fading: Consider the below chart on Christie's job approval rating since he took office in 2010:

Compiled from TPM, The Argo Journal, and other random finds

As you can see, his post-Sandy job approval average is stratospheric, with 72% of New Jerseyans approving of the job he is doing, and just 1 in 5 voters disapproving. That's difficult for anyone to overcome, no matter how much the Democratic base loves Booker. Even Christie's pre-Sandy job approval average was strong (49/38%), though failing in comparison to where it stands today. And if Buono was struggling against Christie before Sandy, she's barely on the radar as of now. What makes a Republican like Christie have such a commanding lead over his Democratic foe, especially in a state that voted for Obama by 15 and 18 points in 2008 and 2012 respectively? Ironically, a one word answer is: Democrats.

Democrats are a big part of what is driving Christie's 62-25% lead against Buono. He attracts 31% of New Jersey Democrats, while Buono barely manages to scrape by with a majority of them (51%). The built in Democratic lead in partisan identification in New Jersey doesn't help that much when your Republican opponent attracts one-third of them. To understand how significant this is, consider the fact that Christie only managed to get 8% of the Democratic vote in his successful election in 2009. The sitting Governor at the time, Jon Corzine (D), won 86%. To illustrate the effect of Christie's numbers among Democrats, the table below depicts the results of the Quinnipiac poll had they found Buono doing at least as well with Democrats as Jon Corzine in 2009:

Christie would still lead Buono by double digits, 50-36%, but his lead is cut by more than half. Though in a state with a built-in advantage for the Democratic party, why is Buono still down double digits, despite winning 86% of Democrats?  You see, Buono has more electoral issues than just under-performing with her own party. Independent voters are backing Christie by an overwhelming margin, 68-18%. Christie did well w/ Independents against Jon Corzine in 2009, but not that well (he carried them 60-30%). Just for fun, the below table illustrates how the Quinnipiac poll would have looked if Buono had managed to do as well as Jon Corzine in 2009 with Independents AND Democrats:

Finally, Buono puts up a respectable showing, trailing 47-40%. But she's still behind. And Christie '09 is no Christie '13. He's a popular man, both nationally and in his home-state, and the post-Sandy polling boost has remained strong for four full months after the storm made landfall. Christie has eight months to blow it, but when you start with 3 quarters of the state loving you, you have an awful long way to fall before you are electorally vulnerable. Do I think it's likely Barbara Buono will win just 51% of Democrats in the end? No. But I do think she's fighting a losing battle.

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