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March 13, 2014

Americans in poll don't believe Christie or Clinton

CHICAGO — Americans aren't buying the explanations offered by Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton about controversies that could stand between them and the White House if either runs for president in 2016.

Sixty-three percent say they don't believe the New Jersey governor's claims that he knew nothing of a plan by his top aides to create a politically motivated traffic jam, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

"I think he kind of knew what was going on and chose to ignore it," said David Smith, 66, a Republican-leaning retired high school science teacher from Quincy, Mass. "Am I going to hold that against him forever and ever? No."

More than half say they don't believe Clinton, the former secretary of state, when she says she never saw requests for more security before the 2012 attack at a U.S. diplomatic compound that resulted in four American deaths in Libya.

"I don't believe that she did anything recklessly, but I tend to believe that there was something, and it just wasn't realized at the time that it was significant," said Lee Proctor, 49, a Democratic-leaning author and online consultant in Philadelphia who wants to see Clinton run. "I don't think we've gotten the whole, true story."

The poll also shows the declining importance of the limited-government tea party movement eight months before midterm elections that will decide control of the U.S. Senate.

The poll's findings reveal an electorate that remains sour on Washington with neither party being rated favorably by a majority of the public and such bold-faced names as Christie and Clinton experiencing sharp declines in their popularity. That suggests candidates will face surly voters as they begin ramping up for November's elections.

Clinton's favorability rating has declined to 56 percent from a Bloomberg poll high of 70 percent in December 2012, a month before she clashed with Republicans at a Senate hearing on the events that sparked the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Christie's popularity fell to 32 percent from 50 percent in June, about two months before a senior aide sent an Aug. 13 email saying it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" and the closing of ramps to the George Washington Bridge.

"These controversies appear to do more damage to Christie than to Clinton," said J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll for Bloomberg. "It could be she's built enough credibility on other fronts to carry her through. Christie is still in the hand-shake phase of his relationship with the public."

If a head-to-head matchup were held now, Clinton would easily beat Christie. Among likely voters, 52 percent pick her and 39 percent go for Christie. Clinton takes independent voters by a slim margin, 45 percent to 43 percent.

The survey of 1,001 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points on the full sample and larger on subgroups. It was taken March 7-10.

Clinton's partisan backers are also more strongly behind her than Christie's. Thirty percent of Republicans say they want him to run; 78 percent of Democrats say that about her.

"I think she can win," said Ron Gaschel, 67, a retired postal worker and Democratic voter from Newark, Ohio.

Cynthia Stipech, 59, a Republican who stays home to care for her mother-in-law in Reno, Nev., said she was skeptical about Christie for 2016 even before the bridge scandal.

"I'm not sure about him," she said. "It would depend on who else is in the field. I think he is more liberal on social issues than I personally am."

The New Jersey governor's political fortunes have bounced around over the past several months. After winning a second-term by 22 percentage points in November in a heavily Democratic state, he was viewed as a favorite 2016 presidential candidate in the business-oriented wing of the Republican Party.

That changed in January when the bridge scandal erupted into a national story after disclosures about the August email that apparently was an act of political revenge against a mayor who had failed to endorse the governor's re-election bid. Christie fired those directly involved and has said that he had no knowledge of the plan.

Republicans are more willing than Democrats to believe him. Still, even 43 percent of those in Christie's party say he's not telling the truth, compared with 63 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats.

About a quarter of Democrats think Clinton isn't telling the truth about never seeing requests for more security before the attack of the compound in Benghazi, compared with 57 percent of independents and 77 percent of Republicans.

When it comes to the tea party, Americans are increasingly down on the movement. Its favorability rating has fallen to 29 percent, down from 37 percent in December 2010.

More than half of Americans — 53 percent — say the tea party is a mostly negative force in U.S. politics, essentially unchanged from September 2011. Fewer people are now willing to categorize it as mostly positive, with that share falling to 29 percent from 37 percent.

Just one in 10 Americans say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who had tea party backing, down from 25 percent in October 2010, the month before an election where energy from the movement helped Republicans win control of the U.S. House.

The Republican Party's favorability stands at 37 percent. That's only 3 percentage points higher than a low point recorded for the party in a September 2013 Bloomberg poll, just before a 16-day partial government shutdown in October after House Republicans refused a budget compromise that didn't include a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

The Democratic Party is viewed favorably by 49 percent of Americans, a 12-percentage-point advantage over the Republicans. That gap, if it remains, could prove helpful to Democrats as they sell themselves in this year's elections.

Democrats are more likely to say they're satisfied with the quality of candidates their party is nominating for Congress than are Republicans. Eighty-one percent of Democrats say they're mostly or very satisfied, while 54 percent of Republicans will go that far.

When looking at candidates for Congress, Americans prefer those willing to compromise to get things done versus those who will remain true to their principles and are willing to confront both members of their own party and the opposing party. Half of Americans would pick a compromiser, while 43 percent prefer someone determined to hold their ground.

Republicans are more likely to say that they find candidates who remain true to their principles more appealing, with 51 percent selecting that quality. About a third of Democrats say they find those qualities more appealing than compromise.

Americans also remain skeptical about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups spending money on primaries to defend their Republican allies in Congress against tea party- backed rivals. Only a quarter like such efforts, while 53 percent don't. The proportion of those who say they don't like the chamber's efforts is down from 61 percent in December.

The U.S. Chamber, the nation's largest business-lobbying group and a traditional Republican supporter, has spent roughly $675,000 on broadcast television advertising in House and Senate races in the past 90 days, according to New York-based Kantar Media's CMAG data.

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