Christie the Outlier–and Not in a Good Way

It doesn’t quite matter how much evidence stacks up that Chris Christie is very unlikely to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee; some folk just think he’s too “logical” a rival to Hillary Clinton for those ever-rational rank-and-file Republicans to pass up (and/or that they have little to say about it, and “elites” will somehow force Christie’s nomination).

But just for the record, FiveThirtyEight‘s Harry Enten offers a graph showing the historical pattern of presidential candidates going back to 1980 in terms of name ID and net favorability. And Chris Christie just stands out like a sore thumb:

Since 1980, two types of candidates have won presidential nominations when an incumbent president wasn’t running in their party: those who were unfamiliar to voters early in the campaign, and those who were both well known and well liked.

Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is well known but not particularly well liked….

Some nominees, such as Democrats Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, weren’t well known at this point in the campaign. Some, such as Republicans Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan, were very well known and popular. There was George W. Bush in 1999, who was particularly well liked, even if he wasn’t universally known. But no prior nominee had a net favorability rating more than 10 percentage points below where you’d expect given his name recognition.

Christie is 25 percentage points off the pace. His net favorable rating among Republicans in an average of YouGov polls so far this year, a December Monmouth University poll and a late November Quinnipiac University poll is just +19 percentage points. That was despite 77 percent of Republicans being able to form an opinion of him. Given his high name recognition, you would expect him to have a net favorable rating of +45 percentage points.

Another way to put is that Christie’s already blown his first impression on a lot of voters,a and has no natural source of “growth” in his appeal. He’ll have to change minds, which isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re running in conservative-dominated caucuses and primaries and you’ve expanded Medicaid and mocked Islamophobes and praised Barack Obama and don’t have the best reputation for veracity. According to Enten’s numbers, Christie’s rivals for big-donor love, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, are in significantly better (though in Bush’s case, not great) shape with Republican voters. And as we know, these voters are going to have an awful lot of choices. It’s increasingly unclear why they’d settle on Christie.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.