Winter weather waayyy more interesting than Chris Christie, public says

Fully 76 percent of Pew poll respondents closely followed news of the polar vortex, compared with just 39 percent – about half – who did the same for the Chris Christie-Bridgegate saga. Good news for the governor.

Mel Evans/AP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pauses as he addresses the media during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton.

The polar vortex beat Chris Christie, hands down. According to a new Pew poll, many Americans closely followed the recent roll of Arctic weather across the nation, while fewer intensely studied the unfolding scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge.

Fully 76 percent of the nation looked at news of the cold snap very or fairly closely, according to the Pew results. Meanwhile, only 39 percent followed the story about Christie and the punitive bridge lane closings either very or fairly closely.

That put Bridgegate well down the list of most popular news items of the week, just below the unemployment debate in DC and just above the release of the new book by former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.

“There also has been little short-term change in opinions about Christie: 60 percent say their opinion of Christie has not changed in recent days, while 16 percent now view him less favorably and 6 percent more favorably,” writes Pew.

Good news for Christie, right? Yes, pretty much. It’s early yet and there’s still lots of time for new developments that might grab the public's attention. But so far the story does not seem to excite many voters, despite pundits’ confident predictions that traffic tie-ups are a political scandal average people might relate to and follow with interest.

There’s at least one amber warning light in Pew’s numbers for Christie, however. If you break the numbers down by partisanship, they become a bit more interesting.

Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all say their opinion of Christie hasn’t changed. But Democrats were disproportionately likely to say the whole thing has made them feel worse about the New Jersey chief executive.

Twenty-three percent of Democrats say they now think less of Christie. The comparable figure for the GOP, meanwhile, is only ten percent.

That’s good for Christie, right? He’s a Republican, so he needs to hold onto his base. That’s true, but if he wants to run for president, one of his arguments is that he’s a rare Republican who can attract strong Democratic support. If that trend does not hold party elites may judge him less electable, and thus less deserving of their support.

Meanwhile, those who know Christie best – New Jersey residents – have a somewhat more mixed opinion of the Bridgegate business.

A new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press survey shows Christie has lost a bit of support in the Garden State. His job approval rating among state voters now stands at 59 percent, down from 65 percent just one month ago.

Again, partisanship makes a difference here. His ratings remain strong among New Jersey Republicans and have dropped disproportionately among New Jersey Democrats. Only 38 percent of the latter group say their opinion of Christie is favorable, down from 47 percent in December.

All this confirms one of our core beliefs about gaffes, and scandals, and so-called “game changers” – they don’t. Change the game, that is. Usually, events such as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks about Democratic voters only reinforce each party’s pre-held beliefs about the politician in question.

It takes an event of Superstorm Sandy strength, metaphorically speaking, to truly dim a candidate’s prospects, particularly at the level of presidential contender.

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