Most Americans following "Bridgegate" do not believe New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was unaware his aides caused a traffic jam for political payback, a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll shows.
Nearly three-quarters of those interviewed said they are aware of the scandal involving the Republican governor's aides, who appear to have ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge to cause gridlock in a town where the Democratic mayor had declined to endorse Christie's re-election. Of those who are aware of the issue, 58% said they did not believe Christie's denials that he knew of the plan. Just under one-third, 32%, said they believed the governor was unaware of his aides' actions.
Christie, who won a landslide re-election in November, had dismissed questions about the September traffic jams until Jan. 9, when – after e-mails were released that revealed his aides discussing the lane closings – he held a two-hour press conference and said he was "blindsided" by the news. Now, a special state legislative committee is investigating and some 20 people have received subpoenas in the Christie administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge. In addition, federal prosecutors are taking a preliminary look at the bridge allegations at the request of the Port Authority.
On Saturday, a new allegation was thrown into the mix: Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, said the state's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, told her Hoboken would not receive recovery funds for Superstorm Sandy unless Zimmer approved a redevelopment plan favored by the governor. On Monday, Guadagno called Zimmer's story "false.''
Polls show Christie is a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 on the strength of his blunt persona and his record of governing a heavily Democratic state. He has not ruled out running, and on Friday told Yahoo News that he is "readier'' than he was in 2012, when some Republican donors urged him to run. During a weekend of fundraising in Florida, in his new job as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he put off questions about his presidential aspirations. "Come see me next year,'' he told potential donors, according to CNN.
The new poll shows nearly as many people view Christie favorably now, 38%, as in a Pew poll taken a year ago, when 40% gave him a favorable rating. But his unfavorable rating has jumped, from 17% of respondents a year ago to 34% now -- partly because many more of those interviewed had heard of Christie than a year ago. In 2013, 26% of respondents said they had not heard of the New Jersey Republican. Now, only 16% say they don't know who he is.
The poll, released Monday, shows 45% of the public has heard a lot about the scandal, and 28% know a little about it. Just over one-quarter of respondents, 27%, said they knew nothing about "Bridgegate."
The USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll of 1,504 adults nationwide was taken Jan. 15-19 and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.