Were Gov. Chris Christie to change his mind about running for president, he may find broad support among voters nationwide, according to the results of a poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind.
Christie outperforms several of the likely Republican challengers to President Obama, despite his repeated denials of interest in the nation's highest office. In hypothetical contests, the president trounces Sarah Palin (54 percent to 34 percent) Tim Pawlenty (48 percent to 34 percent) and Newt Gingrich (52 percent to 37 percent), the poll found.
However, Christie, the former Morris County freeholder and U.S. attorney, closes the gap with Obama to six percentage points, with 46 percent of poll respondents favoring the president over New Jersey's governor.
“That’s pretty good for a Jersey guy,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “People do not see New Jersey as typical of America, though it is. And they don’t see New Jersey problems as typical of America, though they are. And Christie is very New Jersey.”
The only Republican to garner more support against Obama is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with 43 percent of respondents' support to Obama's 44 percent. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee runs even with Obama, 46 percent to 46 percent, according to the PublicMind poll.
The poll does suggest Christie would have a tougher time winning the GOP nomination than he would in a general election contest. Only Romney and Huckabee break from the pack when Republican voters were asked for their preference on a candidate, with Huckabee garnering 21 percent of respondents' support and Romney 20 percent.
Ten percent of GOP voters would nominate Christie. Former Alaska Gov. Palin earned 12 percent of respondents' approval, former speaker of the House Gingrich 10 percent, and former Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty just 5 percent.
“Christie has now, without running, the kind of support among Republicans that some others have taken years to cultivate,” Woolley said.
Independent voters, who customarily are the deciding factors in a general election, said they prefer Christie to Obama in a head-to-head contest. The governor garnered 43 percent of independents' support to Obama's 40 percent. When asked, independents would choose Obama over Gingrich, Pawlenty or Palin.
“Christie can appeal to voters beyond the party base in a way that some other big-name Republicans can’t and won’t,” Woolley said.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone from March 21 to March 28 and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.