A new poll released by Stockton University on Sept. 29 shows Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy leads his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli 50% to 41% among likely voters.
The report’s release comes the day after an hour-long debate at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center between the incumbent Murphy and Ciattarelli, a former three-term state Assemblyman from Somerset County. It shows a nine-point lead with undecided learners and an eight-point lead without them.
But according to Stockton the poll of 552 likely voters was conducted by phone between Sept. 17 and 25, before the two went head to head.
A second debate is scheduled for Oct. 12 at Rowan University.
The Stockton results mark Murphy’s narrowest lead over Ciattarelli. A Monmouth University poll from last week showed the governor 13 points ahead of Ciattarelli, down from 16 points in an earlier survey.
Patrick Murray, who heads the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said the three-point change in his center’s poll was most likely from already-established Republicans “galvanizing” behind Cittarelli.
John Froonjian, who heads the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, which ran the Stockton poll, cautioned that polls from different institutes are not apples to apples “because the question wording and methodology will differ slightly.”
“Murphy holds a comfortable lead over Ciattarelli,” he said in an email. “Despite a month of online and TV advertising, nearly half the voters still don’t know who the challenger is.”
The Stockton poll showed that while 36% of voters had a favorable view of Ciattarelli, 45% were still unfamiliar with him – something which likewise had been seen in many other polls dating back to before the Republican primaries.
“[M]any voters only start paying attention now, especially once the debates begin,” Froonjian added.
The poll showed 54% of voters approving of Murphy’s job as governor, while 41% disapproved of his job. Fifty percent of voters trusted Murphy to do a better job handling the pandemic, while 34% trusted Ciattarelli.
On Tuesday evening, Murphy attacked Ciattarelli over his opposition to vaccination requirements and mask mandates, and for saying that children were not vulnerable to COVID-19.
“The assemblyman and a bunch of governors in the Deep South are choosing to throw that playbook out the window and it’s costing lives,” the governor said.
Ciattarelli tweaked his views during the debate, acknowledging that children can and have gotten sick, and that “if I had the chance to say it again, I’d say it differently and more perfect.”
On the economy, Ciattarelli had a slight edge over Murphy, 43% to 42% respectively. On taxes, 46% felt Ciattarelli would do a better job than the 38% who felt Murphy could better handle the policy.
Ciattarelli has proposed cutting the corporate tax rate in half over a five-year period and making the first $50,000 of revenue for businesses tax-free.
But Murphy pledged to not increase any taxes in his next four years as governor after successfully pursuing higher levies on millionaires and the state’s most profitable businesses.