A poll released June 21 shows incumbent first-term Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, with a 15 point lead over his Republican challenger, former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli–and many voters having never heard of the former lawmaker.
Fairleigh Dickinson University in its latest poll found that 48% of New Jersey voters would pick Murphy, while 33% said they would select Ciattarelli. That’s amid a slide of Murphy’s overall poll numbers into lukewarm territory as the state moves away from a global pandemic that triggered surges last year in his public approval.
An entire 53% of voters said they had no opinion of the GOP challenger, and 17% had never even heard of the former Somerset County lawmaker.
FDU interviewed 803 New Jersey voters on the phone between June 9 and 16 for the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.94 percentage points.
“Ciattarelli has his work cut out for him,” said Dan Cassino, a political science professor at FDU who runs the poll. “Being unknown is better than being disliked, but running ads in New Jersey to build up awareness is an expensive proposition.”
Public voting records, in fact, show New Jersey with 1 million more registered Democrats than there are Republicans.
Murphy garnered 84% approval in the race from Democrats, while Ciattarelli enjoyed a 77% approval rating among the Republican electorate. Ciattarelli led Murphy among independent voters by a 28% to 23% lead.
“Democrats have a significant edge in New Jersey,” Cassino added. “So, in order to win statewide, Republican candidates need to outperform a generic candidate, and so far, Ciatterelli just isn’t doing that.”
Ciattarelli’s uphill battle was evident in another poll, which came out just before the primaries on June 8, this one by the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.
It showed that 56% of voters said they would pick Murphy as governor if the elections were “held today,” compared to just 24% Ciattarelli.
Many New Jerseyans, 52%, simply had never heard of Ciattarelli before, according to the Eagleton poll, while another 26% said they had no opinion.
“New Jersey has seen some uncompetitive gubernatorial races the past couple of cycles, and this race does not seem to be the exception right now,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor who heads the polling institute.l