Friday, January 12, 2018

So long Chris, and thanks for all the juice

by Patrick Murray

There’s no question that Chris Christie has made a significant impact on both the New Jersey and national political scenes. I’d like to take a quick tour of his 8-year journey as seen through his home state polling numbers.

Christie’s rollercoaster ride in public opinion can be seen in his job approval ratings. I took a rolling 3-poll average based on data from polling organizations that regularly survey New Jersey (Monmouth University, Public Mind at FDU, Quinnipiac University, Rutgers-Eagleton). At approximately 6 month intervals (or following key events), Christie’s approve-disapprove rating among registered voters was:

July ’10:  44-43 (first budget)
Jan ’11:   49-40
June ’11:  45-47 (post-helicopter ride to son's game, "Take the bat out")
Jan ’12:   54-38 (post-Hurricane Irene, Reagan Library speech)
July ’12:  56-37
Feb ’13:   72-19 (post-Sandy)
June ’13:  67-26
Dec ’13:   65-26
Mar ’14:   48-43 (post-Bridgegate revelations)
Sep ’14:   48-41
Jan ’15:   44-47 (post-extensive travel during midterm)
Apr ’15:   38-53
July ’15:  33-57 (post-Bridgegate indictments, launches presidential bid)
Feb. ’16:  34-60 (ends presidential run)
May ’16:   29-64 (post-Trump endorsement)
Dec ’16:   19-75
July ’17:  16-79 ("Beachgate")
Dec ’17:   17-76

Christie’s record high approval among polls conducted with a standard probability sample* was 74% (Quinnipiac on 1/23/13 and 2/20/13.  * Another poll that has been cited with a higher number did not use this standard methodology). His lowest ever disapproval rating was 16% (Monmouth 2/12/13 – not counting a 15% disapproval rating in the first month of his term when most voters had no opinion of him).  Conversely, Christie’s record low approval rating was 15% (Quinnipiac 6/14/17 and Monmouth 7/10/17). His record high disapproval rating was 81% (Quinnipiac 6/14/17).

[Note: you can find all of Monmouth's New Jersey polling on Christie here.] 

The story behind the numbers:

Christie came to office with a narrow but clear victory over an unpopular incumbent. He made headlines as a corruption busting U.S. Attorney, but the New Jersey public still didn’t know much about his plans for the state. After being burned by a generation of politicians who kept passing the buck on major fiscal problems, the public initially greeted Christie with a healthy dose of skepticism.

His first budget received mixed reviews. An April 2010 Monmouth University Poll found that 46% said that it was the product of tough choices and an identical 46% said it was the product of the same old political deal-making. Two-thirds felt that the pain of his proposed budget cuts would be unfairly distributed.  It took Christie a while to win the public over.

There were a few missteps along the way.  A plurality of 38% blamed Christie for the bungled “Race to the Top” application for federal education funds in September2010. A majority believed his first budget was hurting the middle class. Basically, polls showed that New Jersey did not, at first, buy into Christie’s plans as the panacea for all that ailed the state (which consequently led to the governor’s first public diss of the Monmouth University Poll and me personally on his monthly radio show).

Christie’s job rating did go up, but fell back a bit in 2011 as his personality – and YouTube moments – overshadowed his policies. A low point was when he asked the media to “take the bat out” on a state legislator critical of his administration. But by the end of 2011, he had convinced the public – with his budget cuts, property tax cap and pension reforms – that he was taking a new approach. They may not have liked every aspect of his program, but they gave him credit for shaking up Trenton.

On the other hand, New Jersey was under no misapprehension about Christie’s personal ambitions. Even as his approval rating registered a solid majority in early 2012, New Jerseyans felt he was more concerned about his own political future (48%) than he was with governing New Jersey (39%).

This followed a year of speculation about whether Christie would get into the 2012 presidential race. At the time, most New Jerseyans had no problem with all the national attention – as long as he did his job and his personal ambitions coincided with what was good for the state.  That opinion would change. But not until after what many consider to be Christie’s finest moment.

After Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in October 2012, Gov. Christie showed a willingness to put partisanship aside for the good of his state. He would ride that high through re-election in 2013, until it all came crashing down with the Bridgegate revelations in early 2014.

But even that scandal was not a death knell for Christie. His job rating dropped, but it quickly leveled off and remained positive – even as most New Jerseyans believed that Christie had prior knowledge of the plan to close the George Washington Bridge entrance as political payback.

It wasn’t until 2015, after he took the reins of the Republican Governors Association, that the public started to feel he was taking his eye off his day job to pursue his political ambitions. Certainly, Bridgegate didn’t help – his rating took a further hit after indictments were announced in May – but his overall approval drop during this time was due primarily to the sense that he abandoned New Jersey.  Fully 70% said he was putting his personal political future ahead of the Garden State.
By the time he launched his presidential bid in the summer of 2015, Christie was one of the least popular governors in the country – a fact that Christie seemed to disbelieve.

A Quinnipiac Poll that year found the vast majority of New Jerseyans saying that Christie would not make a good president. In a subsequent interview with Megyn Kelly, Christie said they were only saying that because they didn’t want him to leave the state. 

We at Monmouth took that as a challenge and repeated the Quinnipiac question in a poll taken when Christie announced his presidential bid. We also found 69% of the state saying their governor would not make a good president. Then we followed up with a fact check among those who gave Christie a poor job reference – just 5% affirmed the Governor’s interpretation that they only said that because they wanted him to stay in New Jersey. Fully 9-in-10, though, said that they really meant it when they said he would make a bad president.

Christie’s job rating remained negative but steady throughout his presidential run. When it came to an end in February 2016, there seemed to be a sense that he would finally come back to New Jersey and focus on the last two years of his job here. That didn’t happen according to the public. After he decided to endorse Donald Trump his ratings began to slide again. 

By the time that election was decided – and Christie had been ousted as Trump’s transition chief – New Jersey had finally had it with him.  His job approval rating slipped below 20% – a point from which it never recovered.

Perhaps the lasting image of Christie will be him sitting on a beach that was off limits to state residents because of a government shutdown. An image that left his constituents “disgusted” according to what they told us in a poll taken shortly after the incident.

On a personal note, I am a little more sanguine about Chris Christie’s tenure as governor. It’s been a very good time to be a New Jersey pollster. When Christie, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, said that no one was “on the edge of their seat waiting for the Monmouth Poll to come out,” our media hits skyrocketed. Thanks Guv!

Responding to a question about the numerous perks he enjoyed as governor, Christie once bragged that he tries to “squeeze all the juice out of the orange.”  Extending that analogy, Gov. Christie was a pollster's orange. And this pollster bids him a fond farewell.

So long, Chris. And thanks for all the juice.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

History suggests the GOP tax reform celebration will be short-lived

by Patrick Murray

Bookmark that photo of Republican lawmakers gathering at the White House today to celebrate their first major legislative victory of the Trump era. If history is any guide, many of them may be on their way out this time next year.

As others have documented, including Harry Enten at 538, the just-passed tax reform bill starts out life as the least popular tax legislation going back to at least 1981. Tax HIKES in 1990 and 1993 got better reviews. For the record, the Monmouth University Poll puts public opinion of the current package at 26% approve and 47% disapprove.

Polling shows that the public feels the package was mainly designed to benefit the wealthy rather than the middle class. Republicans, and Pres. Trump in particular, currently suffer a credibility deficit with the middle class. Based on Trump’s rhetoric that he would put average Americans first, fully 66% of the public believed when he took office that the middle class would benefit from a Trump administration. That opinion has flipped. Currently, a majority of 53% say that middle class families have seen no benefit at all from the president’s policies to date.

Importantly, fully half of the American public believes that their own federal taxes will increase because of this new tax reform package. Only 14% expect that their taxes will go down. In reality, many more than 1-in-7 taxpayers will see at least a nominal decrease. This reality is what GOP lawmakers are banking on when they face the voters next year.

But politics – and voters’ decision-making process – isn’t always based on reality. It is, however, always based on perception. And based on historical perception metrics, the short-term future doesn’t look quite so bright for the bill’s proponents.

Even though voters won’t feel the full impact of this tax cut until they file their returns in early 2019, they should get a small increase in their net take-home pay when the IRS adjusts the withholding tables in the next few months. Will this be enough to turn around public opinion? History says no.

For example, the 2009 stimulus package included tax cuts for nearly all taxpayers that was reflected in an increase in net take-home pay. Most Americans didn’t notice. A University of Maryland/Knowledge Networks survey conducted in November 2010 found that a majority of the public (52%) did not think the stimulus bill included any tax cuts at all. In fact, 39% said their own federal income taxes had gone up and 48% said they hadn’t changed. Just 9% said their taxes had gone down – a perception that was far from the “reality” of nearly 95% of Americans whose taxes were decreased.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that the mid-point increase in net income for the current package will be about 1.6%. My rough back of envelope calculations suggest that this might amount to anywhere from $25 to $50 extra in the biweekly paycheck of someone earning $60,000. I’m not convinced this amount will be perceived as significant by many voters.

Of course, the IRS could always release new payroll tables that significantly under-withhold federal taxes. This would mean taxpayers end up owing money to DC when they file their 2018 returns – but that would happen months after the midterm elections. Barring that type of manipulation, though, the net increase is unlikely to be seen as significant if at all.

In the end, we have a tax package that starts out in a very deep negative public opinion hole. Couple this with the prospect that the net take-home pay impact is likely to be perceived as immaterial. It does not look very likely that public opinion on this legislation will turn around in the next 10 months or so.


P.S. The 12 House Republicans who voted against the tax bill should not get too confident that they’ve inoculated themselves from any fallout in the upcoming midterms. In 2010, the ACA was the hot button issue and nearly three dozen Democrats decided to buck their party and vote against it. Of the 30 who ran for reelection that year, 17 lost. By 2013, only 6 of the original 34 Democratic nay votes remained in the House.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Monmouth University Poll Accurately Depicts Alabama Senate Race

            West Long Branch, NJThe MonmouthUniversity Poll accurately described the potential outcome in the Alabama Senate race, both in terms of the margin of victory and in the level of turnout.  Monmouth’s midpoint model showed a razor thin race that Democrat Doug Jones eventually won by 1.5 percentage points.
This unique special election involved a high degree of uncertainty and Monmouth used this opportunity to provide a realistic range of outcomes. Different turnout models were based both on individual voting history as recorded in the voter rolls and self-reported interest and enthusiasm in this election. Monmouth’s high turnout model (about 55-60% of registered voters) with a light screen based on presidential-electorate demographics showed Jones leading Republican Roy Moore by 3 points. A lower turnout model (about 30-35%) based on typical midterm demographics, including only voters who participated in at least two recent elections or expressed a very high level of interest, had Moore up by 4 points.
Monmouth also created an adjusted midterm model based on patterns seen in recent special elections as well as last month’s Virginia gubernatorial contest. This model projected a slight increase in typical midterm turnout (about 35-40%) driven by Democratic voters in Democratic areas of the state.
This model assumed that, regardless of overall turnout, Democratic strongholds would command a larger than normal share of the electorate. For example, in last month’s Virginia election, the region Monmouth defined as Northern Virginia accounted for 31% of the total vote whereas this area would normally contribute about 28-29% of the final tally, with nearly all that increase coming from Democratic voters. The model based on this turnout pattern produced a tied outcome for the Alabama race.
In the actual results, overall turnout came in at about 45% of registered voters, with relatively higher turnout among Democratic voters in Democratic parts of the state. For instance, Jefferson County – home to Birmingham, the state’s largest city – comprised 16% of the final electorate whereas it usually contributes 14% of the total vote.  This result put the actual turnout somewhere between Monmouth’s adjusted midterm model and high turnout model. The final margin of victory – Jones by 1.5 points – was also midway between the estimates provided by these two models.
“The 2016 presidential contest as well as the Virginia gubernatorial race last month showed that slight deviations from typical turnout can have a huge impact on election outcomes,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “I don’t think pollsters should present every possible model under the sun, but the current era of electoral instability suggests it may be a good idea to show a realistic range of outcomes in states where pollsters have little track record or where the nature of the campaign itself invites uncertainty.”
            Monmouth’s only other polls in Alabama were conducted during the 2016 presidential primaries. Monmouth’s Republican poll showed Donald Trump with a 23 point lead over his nearest opponent – a race he won by 22 points. That poll was within one percentage point of the actual vote share for 4 of the 5 candidates on that ballot, underestimating only Ted Cruz’s total by 5 points. Monmouth also showed Hillary Clinton ahead by 48 points in a Democratic primary race that other polls suggested would be much tighter. She won that contest by 59 points.
The Monmouth University Polling Institute was established in 2005 to be a leading center for the study of public opinion on critical national and state issues. The Polling Institute's mission is to foster greater public accountability by ensuring that the public’s voice is heard in the policy discourse. The Monmouth University Poll, which is conducted nationally and in 27 states, received an A+ rating from the polling website FiveThirtyEight.com.


For more information: www.monmouth.edu/polling