(CNN) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he had no knowledge or involvement in the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, and according to a new national poll, a plurality of Americans believe him.
An NBC News/Marist survey released Wednesday also indicates that nearly seven in 10 say the bridge controversy has not changed their opinion of Christie, and nearly half describe him as a "strong leader," with only a quarter labeling him a "bully."
But the poll suggests that Christie, who's seriously considering a bid for the White House in 2016, has lost ground to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical presidential election matchup.
The poll was conducted entirely after Christie apologized at a news conference last Thursday for the closure of access lanes to the nation's busiest bridge for four days in September, which caused massive traffic jams on the New Jersey side of the bridge and entangled the governor in the biggest political controversy of his career.
Christie fired a senior aide and other associates who appear to be connected to the access lane closures have left their jobs.
Documents released so far in an investigation into the scandal suggest the Christie aides orchestrated the traffic tie-ups in an alleged case of political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, who declined to endorse the governor for re-election.
Did Christie know?
"I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here," Christie said last week.
The poll indicates that 44% of the public believes Christie is mostly telling the truth, with one in three saying he’s not and nearly a quarter unsure.
Sixty-nine percent of those questioned say the controversy hasn't changed their opinion of Christie with 18% saying the scandal's made them like Christie less, with just 5% saying they now like him more.
At last Thursday's news conference, Christie declared that "I am not a bully," in response to questions about his brash style of politics. Nearly half of those polled say Christie comes across as a "strong leader," with a quarter describing him as a "bully."
More than seven in 10 say they know a lot, or some, about the controversy.
The poll indicates that Christie's lost ground to Clinton in a possible 2016 matchup.
Christie trails the former Secretary of State by 13 percentage points. He was only down 3 points last month. And the survey suggests that Christie's small advantage over other possible contenders for the GOP nomination has shrunk in the past month.
The NBC News/Marist poll was conducted January 12-14, with 1,200 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.