Gov. Phil Murphy, still in the lead.
That is the result of the latest Monmouth University Polling Institute in which 50% of registered voters responding to the survey support Murphy while 39% back GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli. The surprising 11-point margin is the first poll this month to show Murphy with a double digit lead. The last poll the Jersey Shore polling outfit released had Murphy with a double-digit lead over Ciattarelli on Sept. 22, with just over half (51%) of registered voters polled backing Murphy while 38% planned to vote Ciattarelli at that time. In August, the polling outfit found Murphy with a 52% to 36% lead.
The Monmouth poll goes against the trend in the last month of a tightening race, Less than a week after an Emerson College/PIX11 poll released Oct . 21 showed Murphy with a six-point lead over Ciattarelli, 50% to 44%. Earlier, a Stockton survey released Sept. 29 showed Murphy with a nine point percentage lead over Ciattarelli, 50%-41% including voters who lean toward one candidate or the other.
Why Murphy Leads
The Monmouth poll released Oct. 27 found Murphy is more trusted across a wider range of policy areas. Even though the coronavirus pandemic has diminished as a voter concern as education has risen as a priority, the Democratic incumbent maintains a lead because he has a clear edge on both issues.
“We’ve had a couple of debates and a slew of advertising since the last Monmouth poll. Ciattarelli has chipped away at Murphy’s lead but hasn’t delivered the knockout he needs,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a press statement releasing the poll.
As far as demographics, Murphy continues to hold a large advantage among Black voters (83% to 6%) as well as Latinos, Asians and other voters of color (63% to 22%). While he has a small lead among White college graduates (49% to 43%), Murphy trails Ciattarelli among White voters without a bachelor’s degree (35% to 55%). The GOP challenger has been able to cut into the incumbent’s spread with voters 65 and older, once a 53% to 37% lead for Murphy in September to a 48% to 43% advantage currently.
Lead Across All Models
A range of models show Murphy with a lead between 8 and 14 points depending on the scenario. A traditional likely voter model similar to one used by Monmouth during the 2017 gubernatorial campaign gives the incumbent an 11-point lead (51% to 40%). Ciattarelli has a lead among those who intend to vote on Election Day, ranging anywhere from 5 to 12 points depending on the turnout model. However, Murphy enjoys a large 63% to 26% margin among voters who have already cast their ballots or who intend to vote early.
Another encouraging factor for Murphy in the unaffiliated, or Independent, vote. With both candidates enjoying the backing of 75% of their party’s registered voters, Murray noted New Jersey’s large group of “unaffiliated” voters are tilting toward the incumbent, 46% to 40%.
“Even if we figure in potential error margins for these partisan group results, Ciattarelli cannot win this race based on registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters alone. That outcome would require a pretty sizable collapse of Democratic turnout,” said Murray.
Turn or Tuned Out?
On the subject of turnout, only 27% of Garden State voters say they are more enthusiastic about this gubernatorial election than usual. By party, the breakdown is 38% of self-identified Republicans and 24% of self-identified Democrats.
Since August, 67% of all registered voters have consistently said they are very motivated to vote in the election for governor. In August, Republicans had a 12 point advantage (77-65%) in being very motivated. That advantage, which had flipped to Dems in September (76%-73%), is down to only five percentage points in the current poll, 77% Republican to 72% Democrat.
“The partisan difference in voter motivation seems to be related to the national mood as much as anything going on in the New Jersey campaign. Republican enthusiasm may help narrow the gap a bit down the stretch, but it’s not clear that it can close it in the next few days,” said Murray.
Standing on Issues
As for the issues, from a list of seven different policy areas asked about in the poll, “taxes” emerges as the top issue at 27%. It is followed by jobs and the economy (20%), schools and education (16%), the pandemic (15%), crime (7%), abortion (5%), and transportation infrastructure (4%).
Ciattarelli has an advantage over Murphy on being trusted more to handle taxes by a 10 point margin—39% to 29%. But Murphy has a larger edge on education (42% to 27%), the pandemic (45% to 26%), abortion (39% to 23%) and transportation (36% to 24%). The two candidates are about evenly matched on handling jobs and the economy (34% Murphy to 33% Ciattarelli) and crime (32% Ciattarelli to 30% Murphy).
“Ciattarelli’s attack on Murphy as being out of touch on taxes has resonated with some voters, but not enough to change the overall issue picture for this campaign,” said Murray. “Even though concerns about the pandemic have lessened, the shift toward education policy basically produces the same benefit for Murphy. He is viewed as the better candidate on both issues.”
Monmouth Governor History
The last Monmouth Poll in the campaign for governor has been seen as a reliable bellwether in the Garden State. Six days before the 2017 governor’s race, the Monmouth poll had Murphy up 14 percentage points over Republican Kim Guadagno; the final result was 56%-42%.
Four days before the 2013 general election, Monmouth had Republican Gov. Chris Christie 20 points ahead of Democratic State Sen. Barbara Buono, an election he would go onto win 60%-38%. The 2009 last poll had Gov. Jon Corzine up by two over Christie, 43%-41% with Independent Christopher Daggett at 8%. Christie beat Corzine by a 48.5%-44.9% margin, with Daggett, at 5.8%.
The first Monmouth University poll, in 2005, put Corzine nine points ahead of Republican Douglas Forrester, 47%-38%. Corzine won that election by 10 points 53.5%-43%.