Poll: Christie stops the bleeding in New Jersey, but...

Good news/bad news for Christie in the latest Monmouth University poll.  On the bright side, his approval free fall is over — at least for now — with his overall job approval ticking slightly up to (51/41) among New Jerseyans:

Public opinion of Chris Christie has stabilized after suffering a significant drop when the Bridgegate scandal broke in early January. The Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll found the governor’s job approval rating hovering just above 50% – similar to his standing in February which had fallen by double digits since his re-election last year. While a recent report contends that Gov. Christie had no involvement in the toll lane closures, the internal inquiry does not seem to be the cause behind his steadying job ratings. In fact, most New Jerseyans say the investigation was conducted mainly to improve Christie’s reputation and they actually disagree with many of the report’s findings. Currently, Gov. Christie’s job rating stands at 51% approve to 41% disapprove among New Jersey residents and 51% approve to 43% disapprove among the state’s registered voters. His approval numbers are nominally, but not significantly, better than February, when they were 50% among all adults and 49% among registered voters.

The big fella attracts a thumbs-up from 84 percent of Republicans, a sizable majority (55/36) of independents, and is above water among women (47/42). Democrats disapprove of his job performance (34/59). His personal favorability is also right-side-up at (40/35), with a somewhat surprising 25 percent declining to express an opinion.  The news isn’t all good, of course.  Even though Christie’s approval ratings appear to have stabilized with support outweighing opposition, his numbers are still dramatically lower than the rarefied air he enjoyed in the aftermath of his overwhelming re-election victory.  Also, based on this poll, it’s clear that many New Jerseyans are skeptical of their governor’s version of events as it pertains to the “Bridgegate” scandal.  Forty-seven percent say they think Christie was personally involved in the lane closures, while 53 percent hold the opposite view or aren’t sure.  Christie has consistently and emphatically denied any knowledge or involvement in the scandal.  Fully 61 percent of voters believe Christie hasn’t been completely honest about what he knows, meaning that quite a few people who like him personally and approve of his performance as governor don’t completely trust him.  A majority of respondents (52 percent) say the recently-released internal investigation commissioned by Christie’s office was not totally “fair and unbiased.”  Perhaps most galling is the fact that 45 percent of New Jerseyans say they “tend to believe” thoroughly-debunked accusations leveled against Christie’s administration by Hoboken’s Democratic Mayor.  The internal investigation also found no truth to her story.  Setting aside understandable public skepticism of the report, its key findings are exculpatory for Christie:

“Our investigation found that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes…Nor did we find any credible evidence that the Governor had knowledge of the lane realignment while it was occurring from September 9 to 13, 2013. Our examination…found no evidence that the Governor had knowledge of the lane realignment during its implementation … [I]n all the documents we reviewed (including the personal texts and emails of the Governor and his senior staff) and from all the witnesses we interviewed, we uncovered nothing contradicting the Governor’s account.”

The governor held a lengthy press conference on this subject last Friday, at which he fielded dozens of questions from reporters.  He was especially adept at picking apart and rejecting the false and inaccurate premises of several loaded questions.  Doing so strongly and convincingly is a crucial skill set for any prominent Republican.  As for the inquiry, Christie made a compelling case for why its conclusions shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand:

“The reputation of the six people who were running this thing. These are six former federal prosecutors who I can guarantee you have worked hard to develop the reputations that they’ve earned of the course of their careers, and would not give away those reputations to do some type of slip-shod job for me…I think the report will stand the test of time. But it will be tested by the other investigations that are ongoing.”

That last point is important.  The Christie-ordered review is one of three concurrent investigations.  The others are being undertaken by the US Attorney’s office, and by a legislative panel dominated by Democrats.  If his internal investigation turns out to be a whitewash, Christie will look terrible.  If not, Christie will be able to claim further vindication.  The Democrat leading the Trenton-based probe admitted on Meet the Press in February that his group hadn’t unearthed any evidence implicating Christie.  Exit question (Allahpundit™):  What to make of the fact that Christie attracts an approval majority, even as many New Jerseyans aren’t convinced of his innocence or honesty vis-a-vis Bridgegate?  The soft bigotry of low expectations, or perhaps evidence that the media has flogged this story to death?

UPDATE – On MSNBC last night, the legislative panel’s lead Democrat investigator, John Wisniewski, told Chris Matthews that he views Christie’s internal review as “very troubling” because it’s “almost a definite attempt to shut down the inquiry so that nobody looks any further.”  Um, what?  How do the results of one investigation “shut down” the others?  Christie explicitly said that expects the fresh conclusions to be tested by the other inquiries.  Suppression!  Team Christie notes in an email that Wisniewski (a former state Democratic chairman) has now appeared on MSNBC 25 times since January.  Is he “troubled” by any of the rhetoric being employed by that network’s hosts?  Matthews alone has compared Christie to Saddam Hussein, OJ Simpson and mafia bosses.