Take a look at NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s approval ratings from three separate polls released in the past few days:
- Farleigh Dickinson University: 77% approval
- Rutgers-Eagleton: 67% approval
- Quinnipiac University: 72% approval
Those are some of the best numbers ever recorded for a New Jersey governor. And it’s quite clear where the boost is coming from: The Quinnipiac poll found that 95% of New Jerseyans rate Christie’s response to Sandy as “good” or “excellent.” All three of the pollsters found Christie’s approval ratings to be much lower prior to the storm.
So do these stratospheric approval numbers mean that Christie is a shoo-in for reelection? Recent head to head polling matchups show Christie handily defeating his potential Democratic challengers, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is widely seen as Christie’s most capable opponent. Quinnipiac shows Christie defeating Booker 53%-35%, and the other potential opponents fare even worse. Moreover, they find that two-thirds of registered voters say Christie should be reelected while only a quarter say he doesn’t deserve a second term.
But Christie may be more vulnerable than he appears right now.
First, bear in mind that approval ratings based on fleeting, one-time events aren’t particularly stable. For example, consider that George H.W. Bush’s approval dropped from 89% after the Gulf War to just 41% one year later. Likewise, George W. Bush’s approval rating declined from 90% after 9/11 to just 66% a year later. Christie’s approval will almost certainly drop as citizens refocus on politics as usual as the hurricane fades into memory.
George H.W. Bush:
George W. Bush
Second, consider where Christie’s newfound approval is coming from. In October of this year, only 19% of New Jersey Democrats said that he deserved reelection. In the latest poll, 41% did. Similarly, Independents became 14 points more likely to say he deserves reelection. Does anyone really think Christie will pull in 41% of Democrats and 74% of Independents? Not very likely.
Third, let’s remember that Christie barely limped over the finish line in his initial election. Granted, for a Republican in New Jersey, limping over the finish is a great achievement, but Christie managed only 48% of the popular vote against a sitting governor who earned approval ratings in the 30′s to 40′s.
Finally, New Jersey is simply a very Democratic state. According to Gallup, 47.6% of the population is Democratic or leans to the Democrats while only 36.3% are Republican or lean Republican. That’s a massive gap for Christie to overcome and it means that any Democratic candidate will be starting from a position of strength. Simply put, it’s plain tough to be a Republican in the Northeast.
Twelve months is a very long time in politics, and Booker shouldn’t let Christie’s temporary spike—however high—dissuade him from a race that is, while no cakewalk, certainly winnable.