POLITICS
01/09/2014 05:47 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

HUFFPOLLSTER: How Badly Will Bridge Scandal Hurt Chris Christie?

Spencer Platt via Getty Images

Chris Christie is having a bad week -- but will it have any bearing on 2016? Polls conducted show Christie gained name recognition during 2012 and 2013, but that was before the George Washington Bridge controversy. This is HuffPollster for Thursday, January 9, 2014.

DEPARTMENT OF BAD TIMING - A Quinnipiac poll released during Chris Christie's apologetic press conference: "New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is the hottest politician in the nation, with a 55.5 degree mean temperature, when American voters rate their feelings toward players on the national political stage, according to a Quinnipiac University national thermometer released today….'He may not seem the warm and fuzzy type, but New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is a hot ticket in eyes of American voters,' said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute." [Quinnipiac]

Early 2016 polling gives Christie a narrow edge on his rivals

Putting those numbers into context - Ben Smith: "[A]nyone who brushes off the damage that has been done to the former Republican frontrunner for 2016 is falling prey to the fallacy that dictates a lot of early presidential campaign coverage: They’re assuming people who express a mild preference for Chris Christie in opinion polls know anything about the guy. In fact, the first political impressions on which early polls (and Christie leads Republicans with a modest 18% in one recent survey) are light, passing impressions. The voters who answer these polls know one thing about the candidate, maybe two, maybe three. If they knew one thing about Christie beyond his physical appearance, it’s that he was blunt and honest. If they knew a second, it’s that he wasn’t a partisan — that he hugged Obama when the president helped his state."
[Buzzfeed]

Christie seen as honest, but a bully - A national telephone survey of registered voters conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in June 2013 confirms Smith's point. They asked voters to volunteer "the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of Chris Christie." Monmouth release: "For Chris Christie, being honest and straightforward (5%) is the positive personal attribute that most comes to mind. On the negative side, being an opportunist (3%) or a bully (2%) stand out as terms used to describe him. Also, 7% mention Christie’s weight – positive, negative, or neutral – as the image that first comes to mind when voters think of him. Other common impressions include his role as New Jersey governor (6%) and his potential presidential candidacy (4%)." [Monmouth]

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Little depth - Per Smith's point, the perceptions of Christie offered six months ago among voters nationwide were thin. Note that 31 percent of all registered voters and 28 percent of Republicans were unable to offer any word or phrase to describe Christie on the Monmouth poll-- roughly the same percentages as said they had "no opinion" of Christie on a previous question on the same survey. Beyond that many of the terms showed little more than an awareness that Christie is Republican or conservative (6 percent), governor of New Jersey (6 percent) or a potential candidate for president (4 percent). The percentage of registered voters nationwide who were unable to rate Christie was roughly comparable to what the Quinnipiac University polls have found during 2013, although they found a slight increase in Christie's name recognition following his reelection in November. [Quinnipiac]

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CHRISTIE'S POPULARITY SURGED IN NJ IN 2013 - Charles Franklin tweets this chart of Christie's favorability in New Jersey polls since 2008 [@PollsAndVotes]:

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CHRISTIE AND THE 'INVISIBLE PRIMARY' - Two prominent political scientists argue that the most important reactions to the Christie controversy are not those of rank-and-file voters but party insiders. Jonathan Bernstein: "[T]he presidential campaign doesn’t begin in 2016 with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. It began months ago, with the invisible primary. That’s the competition to secure support from key party actors, including politicians, party-aligned interest groups, campaign and governing professionals, formal party officials and staff, activists, and the partisan press. In effect, it’s the efforts of these party actors to coordinate and compete over the leadership of the party...So we can speculate about how voters might react to this scandal two years down the road. But we will learn more from good reporting about how Republican Party actors are handling the news -- both actors who were prepared to support Christie and those who would've found him at least minimally acceptable as the party's nominee." [Bloomberg]

-John Sides: "In Chris Christie’s case, the important subset of party leaders to watch are Republican moderates. To be sure, this is not who he ultimately needs to appeal to. To win the nomination, Christie needs to convince conservatives that he’s at least 'good enough,' even if he isn’t their first choice. But at this point in time, conservative Republican leaders have no incentive to signal that Christie is good enough. They should be trying to steer the nomination toward a more orthodox conservative, and so should signal their opposition to Christie, including in the wake of this scandal. As Brendan Nyhan noted, they already are. [Quoting a NYTimes article by Michael Barbaro:] "Several leading conservatives, long suspicious of Mr. Christie’s allegiance to their cause, seemed eager to pounce. 'The point of the story is that Christie will do payback,' Rush Limbaugh said on his popular conservative radio show. 'If you don’t give him what he wants, he’ll pay you back.'" [WaPost's Monkey Cage, NYTimes]

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THURSDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data that we missed during our holiday break (starting with a few new items from today:

-Americans aren't quite ready to see Colorado's marijuana laws implemented nationwide. [CNN]

-U.S. Consumer sentiment increased in the first week of 2014. [Bloomberg]

-Americans prefer state control of abortion and same sex marriage laws. [YouGov]

-Only 27 percent of Americans can identify Brian Williams. [Pew Research]

-Rob Ford's approval rating in Toronto rises back to 47 percent. [Toronto Sun]

-Josh Kraushaar says Republicans should be worried about Colorado and Virginia in 2016. [National Journal]

-Amy Walter sees little evidence of an ideological divide among Democrats. [Cook Political]

-Joe Murphy exams how people use the word "survey" on Twitter and other social media. [RTI]

-Tony Fabrizio and David Lee (R) are forming a new polling firm. [Roll Call]

-Steve Lombardo (R) is going to work for the Koch brothers. [Politico]

-Time magazine tries to predict your political leanings through non-political questions. [Time]

-In Russia you have no choice but to be excited about the Olympics. [Deadspin]

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