(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 poll, most Garden State voters believe him.
A new Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday also indicates that a majority describe Christie as a "leader" rather than a "bully". And while the Republican governor, who's seriously considering a 2016 run for the White House, gets positive marks on his personal characteristics, his approval rating among New Jersey voters has slipped, and half of them say the bridge controversy has hurt his potential presidential bid.
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The poll was conducted entirely after Christie apologized at a news conference 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 the two senior aides who appear to be connected to the access lane closures. 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 as he ran for re-election last year.
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 93% of New Jersey voters have heard or read about the controversy, and of those, two-thirds say the governor didn't personally order the traffic jams. Even a majority of Democrats (53%-32%) agree.
At last Thursday's news conference, Christie declared that "I am not a bully," in response to questions about his brash and in-your-face style of politics. According to the survey, New Jersey voters agree, with four in 10 labeling him a "bully" and 54% describing him as a "leader." Those results are similar to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll of Garden State residents also conducted in the past few days. Only 32% in that poll described Christie as a "bully."
New Jersey voters questioned in the Quinnipiac survey give Christie positive marks on key personal characteristics. By a 51%-41% margin, they say he's honest and trustworthy; nearly three-quarters say he's a strong header; and by a 55%-41% margin they say he cares about their needs and problems. But the Monmouth poll indicated that the governor's favorable rating has dropped from 70% a year ago to 44% now.
Approval rating edges down
Christie's approval rating stands at 55% in the Quinnipiac poll, a drop of 13 percentage points from last summer, with his disapproval now at 38%, up 12 points. According to the Monmouth University survey, Christie's approval/disapproval rating among New Jerseyans now stands at 59%-32%, down from 65%-25% last month. This is the first time since Superstorm Sandy struck the state in late October 2012 that the governor's approval rating has dipped below 60% in Monmouth and Quinnipiac polling.
"New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is doing better with the public than with the news media. His job approval has dropped from the stratosphere, but it's still double-digit positive, pretty much where he was before his Superstorm Sandy hug with President Barack Obama," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Will the controversy impact 2016?
According to the Quinnipiac poll, nearly half of New Jersey voters think the controversy could hurt Christie's likely White House bid. Seven percent of those questioned say it ends Christie's chances, with 49% saying it damages his chances. Just two percent feel the controversy helps Christie's presidential ambitions, with nearly four in 10 saying it will have no impact.
"Christie for President? This scandal hurts his chances, both Democrats and Republicans think. But – maybe it's pride in having their governor tops on the list – many New Jerseyans think he's still up there," adds Carroll.
Most Americans say their opinion of Christie hasn't changed
While New Jersey residents are glued to the bridge controversy, a national Pew Research Center poll conducted in the past few days suggests that Americans are not enthralled with the story and the political turmoil surrounding Christie.
According to the Pew survey, Americans paid more attention to last week's frigid weather than to Christie and the George Washington Bridge controversy. Forty-four percent say they very closely followed the news about the cold weather, with just 18% saying the same thing about events in New Jersey.
The poll also indicates that six in 10 Americans say their opinion of Christie has not changed in recent days, with 16% now viewing him less favorably and six percent seeing him in a more favorable light.
"The survey finds that majorities of Republicans (69%), Democrats (55%) and independents (60%) say that their opinion of Christie has not changed lately," says a release from Pew Research.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted January 10-13, with 1,207 registered voters in New Jersey questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 2.8 points.
The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll was January 10-12, with 541 New Jersey adults questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
The Pew Research Center poll was conducted January 9-12, with 1,006 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
"he does not appear to have had anything to do with this
Except he does APPEAR to have had everything to do with it. It was his closest staff, his top aide, a high school classmate he appointed to the Port Authority, top aides aren't generally in the business of issuing orders to state agencies, and the "time for some traffic" "got it" exchange suggests this was something pre-planned and already understood by everyone who had their marching orders.
Appearance and evidence are different things. That goes both ways. Yes, there's no direct evidence of involvement yet. But to suggest that there's no "appearance" of Christie being involved, just because there's no direct evidence, that ignores the circumstantial evidence we do have that permits the inference of his involvement.