Thursday, May 1, 2008

Corzine Job Approval: A Tale of Two Offices

About two months ago, I was part of a group from Leadership New Jersey that had the opportunity to meet with Governor Corzine’s chief-of-staff, Brad Abelow. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the governor’s highly unpopular fiscal restructuring plan and state budget proposal.

The Chief said that the governor has taken unpopular positions in the past and stood by them regardless of what happened to his poll ratings. Fair enough. But then Abelow said something curious – well, curious to a pollster. He asserted (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the all-time biggest drop in Jon Corzine’s job approval came during his U.S. Senate term, after he voted against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

I didn’t have Corzine’s senate career ratings memorized, but given recent events in his gubernatorial career, I was sure that wasn’t right. So, in our never-ending pursuit of the “Real Numbers,” I looked it up. Any way you slice it, the movement in Senator Corzine’s voter approval is nothing compared to what’s happened to Governor Corzine’s ratings this year.

According to the latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll, Governor Corzine has an upside down job rating among New Jersey registered voters – 36% approve to 53% disapprove. [Note: I’m using registered voters as the base in this analysis so the trend is consistent across polls.]

Corzine ended 2007 with a +3 net rating, or 46% approve to 43% disapprove according to the Quinnipiac Poll (see tables below for full trend). That dropped to a net –4 rating in the Monmouth/Gannett poll released January 16, 2008 – the week after he announced his toll road/fiscal restructuring plan. The governor then embarked on a series of town hall meetings to sell the plan, but by late February his ratings had dropped even further to a net –15. [An interesting side note: While the governor’s job rating declined during this period, opinion on the toll road plan itself did not budge (for details).] And two weeks after the governor announced his austere budget proposal, his approval dipped even further to a net –21.

In sum, from December 2007 to March 2008, Governor Corzine’s net job rating dropped a full 24 points. Specifically, his job approval declined from 46% to 34%, while his job disapproval increased from 43% to 55%.

Now, let’s turn to Brad Abelow’s assertion. Senator Jon Corzine’s job rating in September 2002, the month prior to his vote against the Iraq war resolution, was 47% approve to 19% disapprove – or a net +28 job rating (courtesy of Quinnipiac). This is fairly consistent with his job rating throughout 2002.

Senator Corzine’s job approval in December 2002 – his first public poll rating after the war vote – was a net +25 rating (47% approve to 22% disapprove), a nearly negligible change. To be fair to the governor’s chief-of-staff, though, we should look to the time of the actual conflict. After the Iraq war commenced in March 2003, Jon Corzine’s approval rating did indeed decline – to a net +17 (46% to 29%). It bottomed out at 44% to 30% in June (and again in November) of that year, before his approvals climbed into the 50s by August 2004.

Jon Corzine’s job rating as senator dropped 14 net points from September 2002 to June 2003. It’s also worth noting that President Bush’s net job rating among New Jersey voters (again, courtesy Quinnipiac) also declined by a similar 15 points during the exact same period – from +34 in September (64% to 30%) to +19 in June (58% to 39%). So, it’s not really clear whether it was specifically Corzine’s vote against the Iraq war or a general reaction against Washington that was responsible for the decline in his senatorial job rating.

In any event, Senator Corzine’s job approval never dropped below 44% and his disapproval never topped 30%. This is a far cry from where Governor Corzine’s job approval stands today, with a clear majority of voters who disapprove and a net rating that is now 20 points lower than it was at the start of the year.

What are the possible implications in today’s political climate? Well, if Congressman Rob Andrews thinks calling for change is a good primary strategy against a U.S. Senator with a +17 net job rating (48% approve to 31% disapprove of Frank Lautenberg’s performance), imagine how that change message may play out against a gubernatorial incumbent with a net –17 job rating.

Governor Corzine Job Approval (among registered voters)

DateApproveDisapproveN/ANet Approval
    4/30/08 *36%53%11%-17
    3/9/08 *34%55%11%-21
2/26/08: Announces budget proposal
    2/20/08 **37%52%12%-15
1/12/08 to 2/11/08: Holds town hall meetings
    1/16/08 *42%46%12%-4
1/8/08: Announces fiscal restructuring plan
    12/11/07 **46%43%11%+3
    10/7/07 *47%34%19%+13
    9/25/07 **49%40%11%+9
    7/22/07 *46%36%17%+10
    7/9/07 **48%39%13%+9
    4/19/07 *52%30%17%+22
    4/18/07 *51%36%13%+15
4/12/07: Auto accident
    2/28/07 **50%34%16%+16
2/19/07: Announces state worker contract
    2/18/07 *44%36%20%+8
    1/24/07 **42%42%16%+0
      Source: * Monmouth/Gannett;  ** Quinnipiac

Senator Corzine Job Approval (among registered voters)
DateApproveDisapproveN/ANet Approval
March 2003: Iraq war starts
October 2002: Iraq war resolution vote
      Source: all from Quinnipiac Poll