GOP’s Ciattarelli lags by double-digits

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy maintains a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, that is slightly smaller than the incumbent’s advantage in last month’s Monmouth University Poll.

Murphy continues to enjoy a large issue advantage on handling the pandemic, while Ciattarelli has a small edge on taxes.

The Murphy campaign’s ads painting the GOP nominee as being too close to former President Donald Trump do not appear to have had much impact on the race, with half the electorate still having no opinion of Ciattarelli.

Just over half (51%) of registered voters polled currently support Murphy while 38% back Ciattarelli. Last month, the incumbent held a 52% to 36% lead.

The small shift comes mainly from self-identified Republicans galvanizing behind the challenger (91%, up from 85% in August).

Murphy, on the other hand, has the support of 90% of self-identified Democrats (up slightly from 87% last month) and maintains a 44% to 39% edge among independents (similar to 44% to 38% in August).

Murphy continues to lead Ciattarelli in the northern (55% to 34%) and central (52% to 36%) regions of the state, while the race is basically even in South Jersey (46% Murphy and 45% Ciattarelli).

“September shifts are not unheard of in New Jersey elections and we see some potential for a single-digit race in these results. But we don’t really see movement in the underlying dynamics of this campaign, despite a stream of advertising from both sides,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

A range of potential electorate models* show Murphy with a lead from 9 points to 14 points, depending on the scenario (compared to a range of 11 to 19 points last month).

Murphy’s lead is the most narrow among voters who have cast ballots in every general election since 2016 (50% to 43%).

This is smaller than his lead among these consistent voters last month (53% to 38%), but this group represents only one-third of the potential electorate.

Turnout will likely be higher than this – it was 39% in 2017 – and Murphy holds a double-digit lead among less consistent voters, including a 51% to 40% lead specifically among those who voted in the 2017 gubernatorial contest.

Governor vote choice:Registered
Range of
electorate models

When asked whom they trust more to handle key concerns, voters give Murphy a clear advantage on the pandemic (50% to 23% for Ciattarelli) and a narrower edge on jobs and the economy (39% to 32%). The electorate gives Ciattarelli a 39% to 33% edge over Murphy when it comes to taxes. Voters are divided on who can better help small businesses (36% Ciattarelli and 34% Murphy) and handle crime (32% Murphy and 30% Ciattarelli). Compared to Monmouth’s August poll, Murphy has gained a few points on handling Covid while Ciattarelli has gained a few points on jobs and taxes.

“There have been some small shifts on issue advantages but nothing that has upset the underlying dynamic. Murphy retains a large edge on dealing with the pandemic. Ciattarelli’s ads have hit Murphy on taxes, small businesses, and even on the incumbent’s treatment of women, but the needle has not moved that much,” said Murray.

Voters trust Murphy (40%) more than Ciattarelli (17%) on who will make sure women are treated with respect. The challenger ran ads trying to undercut the incumbent’s standing by using footage of a former Murphy aide accusing his campaign of ignoring her sexual assault allegations.

In terms of overall impressions of the two major party nominees, nearly half (48%) of the state’s voters have a favorable view of Murphy while 37% have an unfavorable opinion, with 16% giving no answer. Murphy’s rating stood at 48% favorable and 33% unfavorable in August.

Ciattarelli registers a net positive opinion of 31% favorable and 19% unfavorable, with both numbers increasing by a few points over the past month (from 26% and 12%, respectively). Still, half the New Jersey electorate has no opinion of the Republican nominee (50%, down from 61% in August).

About a third (35%) of Garden State voters say Murphy’s political views are in line with most New Jerseyans while 24% say he is out of step. Fewer voters have an opinion of Ciattarelli’s views – 16% say his views are in line with the state and 17% say they are out of step.

“This is typical New Jersey voter inattentiveness. Ciattarelli has not been able to introduce himself yet, but these results also mean the Murphy campaign’s attempts to paint their opponent as an extremist have not penetrated either,” said Murray.

When asked to describe Ciattarelli’s views regarding the Trump wing of the Republican Party, 22% of New Jersey voters say he is in agreement with that wing and 26% feel Ciattarelli does not necessarily agree with the Trump wing but says things to keep their support. Another 20% feel the GOP nominee is independent of the Trump wing of his party and 32% say they do not know where Ciattarelli stands relative to that wing.

Most Garden State voters who see Ciattarelli as associating with Trump tend to see it is a bad thing (65% of those who say he is in agreement with the Trump wing see it as bad and 66% of those who feel Ciattarelli is just saying things to get that wing’s support see it as bad). Among the Republican electorate though (including GOP identifiers and those who lean toward the party), 91% of those who feel Ciattarelli is in line with Trump see it as a positive (just 7% say it is a negative). Opinion is more divided among Republicans who say the nominee is just accommodating the Trump wing (50% see this is as good thing and 40% see it as bad).

“The Murphy campaign has tried to cast their opponent as a Trump clone. Maybe they should be planting the idea that Ciattarelli is just paying the Trump wing lip service to dampen GOP enthusiasm for him. But in the end, Trump himself does not appear to be a driving factor for where this race stands right now,” said Murray. The poll finds most New Jersey voters (73%) do not care one way or the other that the former president spent the summer months at his golf club in Bedminster. Half (50%) aren’t even aware he was living in the state.

The poll also asked about the Democratic governor’s views in relation to the progressive wing of his party. Nearly half of the electorate (44%) see Murphy as being in agreement with that wing and 25% feel he does not necessarily agree with the progressive wing but says things to keep their support. Another 17% feel Murphy is independent of the progressive wing of his party and 15% say they do not know where he stands relative to that wing. New Jersey voters who say Murphy is in line with the progressives are more likely to see that as a bad thing (54%) rather than a good thing (41%). However, among Democrats and Democratic leaners who see Murphy as part of the progressive wing, 91% see this as a good thing.

“Being aligned with the polar end of the party’s base plays well within that party. But that also means whoever has the bigger base wins because there is no appeal to voters in the middle, if such voters even exist anymore,” said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from September 16 to 20, 2021 with 804 New Jersey registered voters. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

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