Who’s More ‘Jersey,’ the Governor or the Boss?

How do people react when they learn that I am from New Jersey?

Back in 1978 when Bruce Springsteen released Darkness on the Edge of Town, the reaction often was: “New Jersey? That’s where Bruce Springsteen is from.”

By that time, Bruce already was well-known nationally. He was not the first rock star to come out of New Jersey, nor was he the first New Jerseyan to make it big in the entertainment field. But because his music was so closely entwined with his New Jersey roots, he came to symbolize the Garden State and its people for many of those who lived outside of the state.

This month, as Springsteen releases a box set chronicling the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, he no longer has a monopoly on symbolizing his home state. For better or for worse, New Jersey now conjures up a myriad of images that range from “Jersey Boys” and the music of the Four Seasons to popular television programs, such as “The Sopranos” and “Jersey Shore”.

But these days our Governor is trumping them all. As I travel and tell people I am from New Jersey, the response often is something like: “New Jersey? That’s where Chris Christie is Governor.” I even had people asking me about Christie when I was in Europe this summer.

So could it be possible that the “Jersey Guy” prototype now is more Chris Christie than Bruce Springsteen?

The truth is, despite their ideological and political differences, there is a lot of Jersey in both the Governor and the Boss. That is why, in the hope of finding some data to illuminate the situation, I searched for references to “Chris Christie” and “Bruce Springsteen” in Access World News, a database that includes about 2,000 U.S. newspapers.

Since Springsteen has been a public figure for nearly 40 years, it was not surprising that his name has appeared in the press far more often the Governor – 149,989 Springsteen references in the nation’s newspapers to 24,893 for Christie. Even after Christie became U.S. Attorney in 2002 and maintained a high profile fighting corruption, he lagged far behind the Boss. Between 2002 and 2008, Springsteen received more than 7,000 mentions in U.S. newspapers per year while Christie had less than 200 in all but 2007 and 2008, when received 333 and 461 mentions, respectively.

The most interesting numbers are from 2009 and 2010. Not surprisingly, references to Christie in the nation’s newspapers skyrocketed to 7,789 in 2009 when he ran successfully for Governor. But that still was far less than Springsteen. With a new album and national appearances at the Super Bowl and the Obama Inaugural Celebration, he was mentioned more than twice as often as normal – 17,233 times – in 2009.

This year, however, is a different story. With Christie emerging as a national figure and possible presidential candidate, he has surpassed the Boss. Between the start of the year and November 15, the day before the release of the Darkness box set, Christie had been mentioned in 14,967 newspaper stories – over 6,000 more stories than Springsteen. Of course, that may change between now and the end of the year, given the excitement surrounding the new box set.

At the moment, however, Chris Christie is the Jersey guy getting his name into the nation’s newspapers more often. On the other hand, there are many ways to measure popularity. For example, Bruce Springsteen has sold more than 65 million albums. So even if Chris Christie is on the short list for the national ticket, when it comes to album sales, he still has a lot of catching up to do.

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