The task for New Jersey Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli over the next five months is simple: How does he make up a 26 point gap between himself and Gov. Phil Murphy?
According to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Polling, 52% of registered voters say they would vote for Murphy in a head-to-head competition, compared to 26% for Ciattarelli. The poll found 42% of New Jersey registered voters would definitely vote to reelect the governor, 21% say they are on the fence, and 31% would definitely vote for someone else.
“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 and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “Murphy currently has a stronger lock on his base than Ciattarelli and beats him among Independents right now by a double-digit lead.”
For Ciattarelli, his lack of name recognition will give him an opportunity over the next few months to win over voters. More than 75% of New Jerseyans either have no opinion of him (26%) or do not know who he is (52%), while the rest are split between having a favorable (12%) or unfavorable (11%) opinion of him.
Republicans are slightly more likely to have an opinion on their candidate compared to most other groups, according to the Rutgers poll. But even most of Ciattarelli’s own base does not take a side: 25% are favorable toward him, 12% are unfavorable, 22% have no opinion, and 41% do not know him.
“Despite this being his second attempt for the nomination, Ciattarelli’s name recognition deficit is almost twice as large as Murphy’s when Murphy began to run for his first term,” said Koning.
Murphy’s Favorables Above Water
Both candidates start with strong support in their own party—Murphy wins 83% of his Democratic base, while 67% of Republicans back Ciattarelli. Independents are split but give the nod to Murphy at 39%-29% with 19% undecided.
The support for Murphy comes in large part with the incumbent having a favorable rating that sits above 50%. According a different Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, 47% of residents currently have a favorable impression of the Governor (down 7% from October 2020), while his unfavorable rating was up eight percentage points to 36% for the same time period.
The pattern is the same when it comes to the governor’s job performance: 55% approve of the job he is doing (down from 62%) compared with 40% who disapprove (up from 33%).
“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 Koning. “But the Governor still garners the kind of ratings most politicians envy, especially in a reelection year and during an increasingly polarizing crisis and recovery process.”
On his first term report card, the Rutgers poll found 15% of New Jerseyans give him an ‘A,’ 32% a ‘B,’ 20% a ‘C,’ 14% a ‘D,’ and 19% an ‘F.’
Murphy received his highest marks on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, up four point from the Fall with 31% of New Jerseyans continuing to give him an ‘A,’ dropping 10 points to 23% for a ‘B,’ 13% a ‘C,’ 10% ‘D,’ and 23% an ‘F,’ up from 15%.
In Better Shape than Christie
Murphy gets his next highest grades on the economy and education, followed by transportation and infrastructure, crime and drugs, and the state budget. The governor’s lowest marks come from his handling of taxes with 31% respondents giving him a failing grade.
“Gov. Murphy earns higher marks, on average, than Gov. Chris Christie received in each of these same areas at the end of his second term,” noted Koning.
Despite the pandemic, 52% of New Jerseyans say the state is headed in the right direction; 41% believe it has gone off on the wrong track.
“New Jerseyans’ outlook on the state has improved over the last few years,” said Koning. “These numbers were practically flipped back in 2019, when 44% of residents thought New Jersey was going in the right direction and 56% thought it was off on the wrong track.”