FDU Poll: 67% do not see 'Bridgegate' as business as usual

By PolitickerNJ Staff | January 29th, 2014

At the heart of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal are charges of corruption by public officials accused of using unsuspecting motorists as political pawns. A new survey of New Jersey registered voters from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind finds that two-thirds (67%) believe this type of behavior is beyond the pale. Only a quarter (23%) believe “Bridgegate,” as it’s been dubbed by the media, is behavior that’s par for the course in politics these days.

“Even the casual observer of New Jersey politics would note the rough and tumble nature of the state’s political process,” said Krista Jenkins, director of PublicMind and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “The fact that the lanes were closed for reasons other than safety heightens the behavior’s seriousness in the eyes of voters.”

Partisans understand the issue differently, however. Republicans are considerably more likely to count the lane closures for political reasons as a fact of life in New Jersey (30%), whereas Democrats are far less sanguine when it comes to this type of behavior (18%). Democrats (73%) and independents (68%) consider “Bridgegate” as a more serious affair than do Republicans (59%).  

Despite voters’ belief that the GWB lane closures aren’t simply part and parcel of the New Jersey political way, most also believe Port Authority decision makers often put politics ahead of what’s in the best interests of motorists. Two-thirds (67%) believe a great deal or some decision making by Port Authority officials is influenced by politics rather than motorists’ safety, compared with a quarter (24%) who say politics rarely or never enters into Port Authority policy.

“Taken together, these numbers suggest that despite the expectation that politics and the Port Authority are often intertwined, closing the lanes for partisan purposes is bad news,” said Jenkins. “Traffic is enough of a headache for motorists these days. Knowing that someone is pulling strings and you’re the unwitting victim is no doubt adding to the lower approval for the governor that PublicMind reported on Tuesday.”

Unflattering views of the governor and Bridgegate are not, however, taking much of a toll on how voters evaluate the health of the state. Half (51%) of registered voters say the state is headed in the right direction, with 39 percent who believe it’s on the wrong track. These numbers are down slightly from the last time the same question was asked, in November 2013. At that time, 56 percent said the state was headed in the right direction.

Garden Staters are significantly less optimistic about where the country is headed. Only a third (35%) think the country is on the right footing, with over half (54%) who say they’re worried about the direction it is headed. However, when it comes to leadership, President Obama is evaluated positively by about as many as Governor Christie is these days. As PublicMind reported on Tuesday, 48 percent  approve of the job that Governor Christie is doing. When it comes to President Obama, a similar number  (44%) give him high marks for his job performance.

“Governor Christie’s transcendent appeal often distinguished him from the more polarizing President Obama. Today, that’s no longer the case, with support for both leaders breaking along the usual party lines,” said Jenkins.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 734 registered voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from January 20 through January 26 and has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points.

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