Republican Jack Ciatterelli lags behind incumbent governor

Republican gubernatorial nominee and former Assemblyman Jack Ciatterelli has his work cut out for him to overcome Trump baggage

In the first public opinion survey released before the New Jersey general election, Fairleigh Dickinson University say Democrat Phil Murphy retains a significant lead over his Republican challenger, who remains unknown to most of the electorate.

At the start of the general election campaign, former Assemblyman Jack Ciatterelli is doing no better among registered voters than an unnamed generic Republican candidate, while the specter of former President Donald Trump haunts the race.

Even after winning the Republican nomination for New Jersey governor earlier this month, Ciatterelli is still an unknown quantity to most voters.

He is viewed favorably by 16 percent of voters, and unfavorably by 14 percent – but fully 70 percent say that they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion at all, with 17 percent volunteering that they have never heard of him.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to have a favorable view of Ciatterelli with 35 percent saying they have a favorable view, but 57 percent say that they don’t have an opinion.

Only 4 percent of Democrats say that they view him favorably, with 20 percent saying that they have an unfavorable opinion.

“Ciatterelli has his work cut out for him,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the executive director of the poll. “Being unknown is better than being disliked, but running ads in New Jersey to build up awareness is an expensive proposition.”

As Murphy is the incumbent, many view the race as a referendum on his governorship, and at this point, voters have a largely positive view of him. 50 percent – including 81 percent of Democrats, and 11 percent of Republicans – say that they approve of the job he’s doing, compared with 39 percent saying that they disapprove.

These numbers are higher than they were before the pandemic: in a February 2020 poll of New Jersey adults, just 42 percent approved of the job Murphy was doing.

Similarly, most voters in New Jersey think that the state is on the right track: 50 percent of registered voters, including 81 percent of Democrats, say so.

Forty percent of voters – including 82 percent of Republicans – say that the state is on the wrong track.

In the poll, half of the respondents were randomly assigned to choose between Murphy and Ciatterelli, and half were asked to choose between Murphy and an unnamed Republican candidate.

The results show that Murphy does no better or worse among registered voters against Ciatterelli than against an unnamed Republican: when Ciatterelli is named, Murphy leads 48 to 32. When the Republican candidate is unnamed, the margin is no different.

“Democrats have a significant edge in New Jersey,” said Cassino. “So, in order to win statewide, Republican candidates need to outperform a generic candidate, and so far, Ciatterelli just isn’t doing that.”

Even though most voters, as of now, say that they don’t have an impression of Ciatterelli one way or the other, both candidates seem to have largely sewn up the support of their partisans. Overall, 84 percent of Democrats say that they’ll support Murphy in November, with 77 percent of Republicans saying that they’ll support Ciatterelli.

Registered voters were also asked about how the state of New Jersey should treat former President Trump when he visits his golf course in the Garden State.

A plurality of voters (42 percent) said that he should be left alone or ignored, but 24 percent – including 37 percent of Democratic voters – say that he should be discouraged from coming.

Only 32 percent – including 70 percent of Republicans – think that New Jersey should welcome the disgraced former president.

To test for the effect of views about Trump on vote intentions in the gubernatorial election, half of respondents were asked how he should be treated before being asked about their vote choice.

The other half got the question only afterward During the primary, Ciatterelli was pressed by his opponents about his inconsistent support for the former President, raising the possibility that bringing Trump into voter’s minds could help solidify support for the Republican candidate.

Priming voters to think about Trump in this way didn’t significantly impact Ciatterelli’s support at all. Overall, voters who were made to think about Trump before being asked about the gubernatorial vote favored Murphy 45 to 33 over Ciatterelli; voters who weren’t asked about Trump first favored Murphy over Ciatterelli 52 to 33.

Most of the change came not from Republicans, but from Democrats, who became less likely to support Murphy (from 88 percent to 80 percent) when made to think about Trump, with independents showing a similar pattern. These voters didn’t become more likely to support Ciatterelli, though: just more likely to say that they didn’t know, or refuse to answer the question entirely.

“Trump remains popular among Republicans in New Jersey,” said Cassino. “But, as in past elections, Trump doesn’t seem to have coattails: bringing him into an election doesn’t help the other Republicans on the line at all.”

The survey was conducted between June 9 and June 16, 2021, using a certified list of registered voters in New Jersey. Voters were randomly chosen from the list, and contacted in one of two ways. Three-quarters of the respondents (608) received an invitation through SMS (text) to fill out the survey online, via a provided link. The other quarter of respondents (193) were contacted via telephone, using the same registered voter list. The survey covers 803 registered voters in New Jersey, ages 18 and older, and was conducted entirely in English. The survey was carried out by Braun Research, Inc, of Princeton, New Jersey. Of the interviews, 123 were conducted over landlines, the remainder via cell phones.

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