(Almost) everybody hates Chris — But can Christie save his image in 2017?
A few years ago, after Superstorm Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie had a 74 percent approval rating — one of the highest ever recorded in New Jersey.
But a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found only 18 percent of voters now approve of the job he’s doing — the lowest approval rating for a Garden State governor in 20 years.
With a year to go in his term, some are wondering if there’s a way for Christie to recapture the trust and admiration he had built up with voters.
Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider University, believes it’s possible.
“New Jersey’s governor is constitutionally the most powerful chief executive in the entire country. Things still have to go through him. He’s still the center of the political wheel of New Jersey politics. The question is whether he wants to,” said Dworkin.
He noted the governor’s recent failed attempt to push through legislation that would have changed the state’s ethics laws and allowed him to write a book and receive money for it while still in office, is an example of why Christie is no longer perceived as someone fighting for the average taxpayer.
“The bill that was put up for the book deal came across as the exact opposite. It wasn’t to defend the taxpayer; it was special legislation for one person: Chris Christie. And I think that’s part of why it failed,” he said.
“if Christie continues to pursue those kinds of bills, it’s going to be a frustrating year.”
He pointed out that many state residents now perceive Christie as someone who doesn’t really care about what’s going on in Jersey.
“The public is viewing him as an absentee governor, someone who’s been more focused on his own political ambitions than the future of the state,” said Dworkin.
“The hope had been if the run for the presidency didn’t work out, that he would come back and spend the next two years building up his legacy here in New Jersey. The state is facing many challenges, but 2016 was largely focused on his efforts to help Donald Trump win the presidency.”
Dworkin said Christie has been “parachuting in” on issues he’s interested in, including the Atlantic City bailout and solving the Transportation Trust Fund problem, but there are other situations that Christie has been passionate about in the past, including Jersey’s school funding formula, drug rehab and pension reform and he needs to focus in on those issues on a regular basis with a sustained attention in order to cement his legacy and increase his popularity.
“What we’re talking about here is the Chris Christie of his first two years, when he was constantly doing town halls, when he was available to the press,” said Dworkin.
“When he was very much a public figure, fighting, in his view, on behalf of the taxpayers, demanding that certain issues be addressed — that kind of public access and media access is absolutely part and parcel of any sustained effort to get something done in his last year as governor.”
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Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.