A new poll released Aug. 18 by Monmouth University shows Gov. Phil Murphy with a sizable lead and name recognition over his Republican challenger for governor, Jack Ciattarelli.
Fifty-two percent of New Jersey voters said they would pick Murphy, the incumbent Democrat, compared to just 36% of voters who would select Ciattarelli if the election were today.
Even more, 61% had no opinion of Ciattarelli, a former Assemblyman from Somerset County, compared to just 19% of voters when asked how they felt about Murphy.
“Welcome to New Jersey elections, where a large chunk of the electorate does not tune in until mid-October,” said Patrick Murray, who heads the Monmouth University Polling Institute, which ran the poll. “That means Ciattarelli still has to be introduced to most voters.”
Murphy, a first-term Democrat, is the only governor in the nation fighting to keep his state this year. In Virginia, incumbent Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam is ineligible to run due to a state law barring consecutive terms.
No Democratic governor in New Jersey has won a second term since 1977. And despite record-high polls during the pandemic and his sway over Ciattarelli, Murphy’s voter approval has slid to pre-COVID levels as the pandemic drags on for nearly 17 months.
The latest numbers from Monmouth strongly mirror previous polls going into the primaries at the start of June.
On June 8 – the day of the New Jersey Democrat and Republican primaries – the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling found that 52% of voters had never heard of Ciattarelli before, while another 26% of them 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 at Rutgers.
Head to head
Monmouth relied on 810 New Jersey voters interviewed by phone between Aug. 11 and Aug. 16. It found some of the major issues like taxes, COVID-19 and the overall economy still were on most voter’s minds.
But just 21% of voters trusted Ciattarelli to handle the pandemic well, compared to 46% who said Murphy was doing a better job, and 17% who felt both would do an equally good job.
Amid the widespread surge of the delta variant, Ciattarelli has aggressively courted the face-covering opposition and “vaccine freedom” voting constituent, arguing that parents should have new means to exempt their school-age children from facemasks and all manner of immunizations, especially the COVID-19 shot.
Murphy and his team have aggressively gone after Ciattarelli on this front, contending that such stances could jeopardize New Jerseyans’ health and safety.
But the difference in their potential handling of taxes and the state economy was far less clear, according to the poll.
Just 35% of voters felt Murphy would do a better job on the economy and jobs, compared to 27% of voters who felt the same about Ciattarelli. On taxes, Ciatarelli actually held a narrow lead, with 30% of voters saying he would do a better job and 29% opting for Murphy.
Twenty-two percent of voters felt they would do equally well in both categories. Ciattarelli has widely criticized the taxation policies enacted under Murphy.
“A good bet is the Murphy team will pour resources into ads casting the largely unknown challenger as too extreme for the state,” Murray continued. “Either way, the issue picture right now is very favorable for Murphy.
The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that the Monmouth University Polling Institute survey included approval ratings for Gov. Phil Murphy; it does not. It, and its headline, was updated at 12:59 p.m. EST on Aug. 18, 2021, to clarify that the poll detailed name recognition and who voters would choose for governor if the election were held “today.”