After a month of campaigning by the state’s Democratic governor and his Republican challenger, public opinion of the candidates largely failed to budge, though GOP candidate Jack Ciatarelli is slowly making ground.
Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a report released Sept. 22, showed Gov. Phil Murphy with a 13-point lead over Republican former Assemblyman Jack Ciatttarelli, compared to a 16-point lead in an August poll.
When asked in August, 52% of voters said they would vote for Murphy if the election were held today, compared to 51% in Wednesday’s poll.
Meanwhile, over the summer, 36% of voters said they would pick Ciattarelli if the election were held today, compared to 38% in the September poll.
Fifty percent of voters had no opinion of Ciattarelli, compared to 61% in August.
A significant number of voters said they had no real opinion of Ciattarelli’s views, or that they did not know what those views were, according to the poll, which relied on phone interviews with 804 New Jersey voters, conducted between Sept. 16 and Sept. 20.
That “small shift” is mostly due to “self-identified Republicans galvanizing behind the challenger,” the report reads.
Murphy’s favorability was 48% both in the September and August polls. His unfavorable rating went up from 33% in August to 37% this month.
“There have been some small shifts on issue advantages but nothing that has upset the underlying dynamic,” said Patrick Murray, who heads the institute. “Murphy retains a large edge on dealing with the pandemic. Ciattarelli’s ads have hit Murphy on taxes, small businesses, and even on the incumbent’s treatment of women, but the needle has not moved that much.”
Voters are heading to the polls on Nov. 2, but mail-in ballots are going out before the end of the month.
Next week, Murphy and Ciatarelli go head to head for their first televised debate.
Murphy’s campaign has focused on his efforts to “move [the state] forward,” be it with expanded access to K-12 and higher education, a cleaner environment, or with a “stronger and fairer” economy that “works for every family.”
“Our work isn’t finished — and we can’t go back to when New Jersey only worked for the wealthy and well-connected,” the governor said in his campaign filing with the state.
Murphy’s public message has, moreover, relied heavily on his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To that end, 50% of respondents said they’d trust Murphy to handle the pandemic, versus 23% for Ciattarelli. In August, 46% said they’d trust Murphy and 21% said they’d trust Ciattarelli.
Ciattarelli has depicted Murphy as a member of the ultra-wealthy class, hailing from out-of-state and having no real connection to the day-to-day lives of average New Jerseyans. It’s translated to higher taxes, and a higher cost of living and to do business in the Garden State, Ciatarelli says.
“Unlike Phil Murphy, I was born and raised in New Jersey,” reads his campaign statement.
Murphy and his campaign have in turn attacked Ciattarelli on his support of former President Donald Trump. Twenty-two percent of voters said they believe Ciattarelli agreed with Trump’s views, while another 26% said they felt he only voiced support of Trump’s views in order to court his wing’s support. Most New Jersey voters felt that an association of Trump was more of a bad thing, the poll found.
“The Murphy campaign has tried to cast their opponent as a Trump clone,” Murray said. “Maybe they should be planting the idea that Ciattarelli is just paying the Trump wing lip service to dampen GOP enthusiasm for him.”
The poll showed Murphy with a narrower lead on Ciattarelli on jobs and the economy, with 39% saying they’d support Murphy compared to 32% of voters siding with Ciattarelli.
On taxes and small business, Ciatarelli came out ahead, albeit narrowly. Thirty-nine percent of voters felt Ciattarelli would do a better job on taxes compared to 33% who sided with Murphy. Meanwhile, 36% of voters trusted Ciattarelli more to help small businesses, compared to 34% who picked Murphy.
“September shifts are not unheard of in New Jersey elections and we see some potential for a single-digit race in these results,” Murray added. “But we don’t really see movement in the underlying dynamics of this campaign, despite a stream of advertising from both sides.”
The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.i