According a new statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, 53% of Garden State voters approve of the job Chris Christie is doing as Governor, while 37% disapprove, a net advantage of 16 percentage points. “His numbers are virtually identical to where they were a year ago when he also showed good numbers right before his State of the State speech,” says Peter Woolley, director of the poll. “That’s the way any office-holder wants to begin the New Year, but in this economic climate, many aren’t.”

Voters even seem willing to give Christie a pass on the recent toll hikes. Households that pay daily tolls are less likely to say the state is headed in the right direction than they are to say the state is on the wrong track (40-51), while those who don’t pay daily tolls split on the right track/wrong track question (46-45). But daily toll payers are statistically just as likely as others to approve of the Governor’s job handling (50-41) and to rate his performance as “excellent” or “good” (44%).

Woolley says, “As the year wears on and the higher tolls take their toll, some voters may change their minds.”

Men strongly approve (63-30), while women edge to disapproval (42-45): non-public employee households approve strongly (60-31) in mirror opposite to voters in public employee households (31-58): those who prefer to cut the state budget rather than raise taxes approve heartily (65-27) in contrast to those who say taxes should be increased to support state programs (31-59).

Three of five voters (59%) continue to say the state should hold the line on spending rather than raise taxes to support state programs (25%).

“Of course, most candidates for Governor or any other office claim they’ll get the budget under control and avoid new taxes,” says Woolley. “Many in the public seem pleasantly surprised that someone stuck to it.”

Christie’s favorable rating remains unchanged from the poll’s previous measure in October: 50% say they have a somewhat or very favorable opinion of him; 38% say their opinion is somewhat or very unfavorable. Among the Governor’s actual or potential Democratic rivals, Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker registers 39%-8% favorable to unfavorable opinion; former Governor Dick Codey 32%-11%; Senate President Steve Sweeney, who is hinting at running for US Senate, just 13%-14%, and state Senator Barbara Buono barely registers at 5%-4%.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from Jan. 2 through Jan. 8, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.