Gov. Phil Murphy’s approval rating continues to slide down from sky-high satisfaction seen last year, but the numbers still work in his favor, a new poll finds.
According to the Monmouth University Polling Institute, 52% of New Jersey voters approve of the job Murphy is doing, compared to 54% in August and 57% in May.
Last year, at the onset of the pandemic, 72% of New Jersey voters approved of the job Murphy was doing, according to a Monmouth poll from April 2020. Voters are still widely supportive of how Murphy handled the COVID-19 pandemic, with 62% saying he’s done a good job.
“Murphy’s handling of the pandemic continues to be his strongest asset,” said Patrick Murray, who heads the institute. “New Jerseyans acknowledge there have been missteps over the past eighteen months, some of them very serious, but that has not noticeably weakened their overall view of his COVID performance.”
The slowdown of Murphy’s sky-high approval ratings was evident in other polls earlier this year. Monmouth’s April poll showed voters had an 80% approval rating of how Murphy was handling COVID-19. And in a June report from the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, 47% of respondents said they had a “favorable impression” of the Democratic governor, down from 54% in October.
“The ‘rally around the flag’ effect the pandemic has had on Gov. Murphy’s ratings in the past year is inevitably coming to an end,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor who heads Rutgers Eagleton polling institute.
In the most-recent Monmouth poll, 51% of voters felt Murphy had taken an “appropriate” level of steps to stop the pandemic, while 28% felt he went too far.
Sixty-three percent said they would strongly or somewhat support a new mask mandate, while 36% were opposed to it, according to the poll, which relied on 804 New Jersey voters interviewed by phone between Sept. 16 and Sept. 20. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
But a whole 82% of the respondents felt Murphy’s COVID-19 response has hurt small businesses across the state.
More than half of voters – 53% – felt Murphy could have responded differently in a way that would have spared small businesses some of their economic pain, while 40% said that would not have been possible.
“The governor’s opponents have been trying to focus voters’ attention on what they see as major failings in his handling of COVID,” Murray added. “We don’t see evidence in the poll, though, that knowing about these issues is putting a major dent in Murphy’s number.”
Murphy, a Democrat, is currently campaigning for a second term ahead of November’s gubernatorial election. His opponent, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican, has gone after the governor over the business closures and restrictions he ordered last year, saying they unnecessarily hurt businesses.
But Ciattarelli’s campaign efforts have struggled to make a good sale to New Jersey voters. Monmouth, in another poll that came out on Wednesday, showed Murphy with a 13-point lead, compared to his 16-point lead in an earlier report.
Murray said that Ciattarelli’s three-point catch-up was far from indicative that Murphy risked losing support among voters.
Voters head 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.