Is Chris Christie now N.J.’s most unpopular governor ever?

It all depends on how you define “popular,” but by any measure, the governor is nearing the bottom, Rutgers Eagleton polls show.

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie is edging ever closer to becoming the most unpopular New Jersey governor in modern memory.

A new Rutgers Eagleton poll released Thursday showed that Christie had sunk to record low favorability and record high unfavorability for his time in office: Just 26 percent of voters had a favorable impression of him. Sixty-four percent viewed him unfavorably.

But as Rutgers’ Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling points out, “He’s not the worst.”

Who is?

That depends on how you define popularity, or more to the point, unpopularity.

Koning says Rutgers’ polling methodology is more or less consistent dating back to 1985, when the state’s most-beloved Gov. Tom Kean was in his heyday. Look back that far, and what does Rutgers find?

  • Among elected governors, Christie is second in unpopularity only to Democratic Gov. Jim Florio. After hiking taxes by $2.8 billion, Florio saw his unfavorability spike to 65 percent with voters in July 1990. Just 17 percent viewed him favorably at the time.
  • Among all New Jersey governors, Christie is third lowest in popularity. That’s tanks to little-liked and even more deeply unknown Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, who scored a 19 percent favorable rating in Jan. 2001.

But as Koning notes, “a lot of people were unaware” of DiFrancesco, who only became governor only because then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman resigned to head the EPA. Fully 68 percent of those Rutgers polled didn’t even know who he was, or had no opinion. That’s also why DiFrancesco’s unfavorability was extraordinarily low, too: Just 13 percent. In order to hate you, people need to first know who you are.

  • Technically, Gov. Brendan Byrne (1974-1982) has the lowest job approval ratings of any New Jersey governor in the modern era. But Rutgers Koning cautions that the way it measured popularity back then was different. It was based solely on “job approval” and did not take into account other factors, like personality or policy positions.

Like Florio, Byrne got hurt by tax hikes. He enacted the state’s first income tax in 1976 to pay for school funding, and by April 1977, Byrne’s approval rating in the Eagleton poll fell to just 17 percent.

  • Christie’s predecessor, Gov. Jon Corzine was never lionized by New Jersey voters, but now seems beloved by comparison.
    The Democratic governor and former U.S. Sen. never went higher than 51 percent in approval rating polls, nowhere near Christie’s highs. But when Corzine lost his shot at reelection, he’d bottomed out at 31 percent in a Quinnipiac Poll, a number that today would be an improvement for Christie.

Claude Brodesser-Akner may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ClaudeBrodesser. Find Politics on Facebook.


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