Rutgers-Eagleton Poll says “Murphy holds onto a solid lead” as clock ticks

Governor Phil Murphy holds onto a solid lead against former New Jersey Assemblyman and Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Fifty percent of registered voters in New Jersey say they will – or already have – cast their vote for the governor, versus 42 percent who side with his opponent. Likely voter models do little to change the race.

“Any good poll consumer needs to remember – especially in an election cycle – that any single poll is a snapshot in time, that poll numbers are estimates with some level of statistical uncertainty, and that they are meant more to explain than predict,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Republican Jack Ciattarelli, Green Party nominee Madelyn Hoffman, Libertarian candidate Gregg Mele, and Socialist Workers Party contender Joanne Kuniansky are hoping to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, who pollsters say has an insurmountable lead.

“But if we look at the several statewide polls conducted in the last week, the big picture points to a sizable margin for Murphy that – despite narrowing throughout the campaign – will be difficult for Ciattarelli to overcome in the final days, especially in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one in registration,” said Koning.

Many citizens say they are casting their vote not necessarily out of support for their candidate but in opposition to the opponent (24 percent) or because of their partisanship (18 percent).

When asked verbatim why they are voting for their chosen candidate, voters say things like their choice is“better than the other guy” or the “lesser of two evils.”

Fifteen percent say their choice is based on their satisfaction with the overall job Murphy has been doing as governor. Six percent say their candidate choice shares their views and values, and another 4 percent say they are looking for a change or something new. Two percent specifically mention former President Trump as their reason.

Substantive issues play a small role in candidate choice: 6 percent cite the pandemic as influential to their vote – one percent specifically mention something about vaccine and mask mandates – and six percent mention something about taxes or the economy.

“New Jersey typically gets some national attention as one of two gubernatorial elections always scheduled in the year after a presidential, but this year, the campaigns themselves have become nationalized,” said Koning. “The race has become more about referendums on the national parties, politicians and policies rather than on New Jersey-centric issues, and more about automatic partisan-based opposition than genuine support of either candidate or their positions.”

“Based on voters’ responses, Murphy’s strategy of tying Ciattarelli to Trump seems to be working with some voters, as all but one who mention Trump do so as a reason not to vote for Ciattarelli,” Koning also noted. “Voters cite Murphy’s handling of the pandemic as a reason to vote both for him and against him, with a few voters specifically mentioning nursing homes and mask mandates as reasons for their opposition.”

Half (50 percent) of New Jerseyans continue to have a favorable impression of the governor, while 35 percent have an unfavorable one; 11 have no opinion on him at all, and four percent claim they do not know who he is.

These latest numbers remain on par with a decline in the governor’s favorability ratings last spring after reaching record highs during the pandemic.

Ciattarelli’s name recognition among New Jerseyans has improved in the final months of the campaign.

Thirty-three percent of all New Jerseyans are now favorable toward the Republican nominee, almost triple what it was last spring (then at 12 percent). Yet unfavorable impressions of him have also tripled in this same time, now at 34 percent (from 11 percent).

Twenty-one percent continue to have no opinion of Ciattarelli (down a few points from 26 percent in May). Thirteen percent still do not know who Ciattarelli is, just a third of what it was in the spring.

Few voters hold any impression on the two lieutenant governor candidates. Two-thirds either have no opinion on Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver or do not know who she is; three-quarters say the same about Ciattarelli’s running mate, former state Senator Diane Allen.

Over half of voters feel the gubernatorial candidates lean toward the end of the ideological spectrum in their respective parties.

Thirty-seven percent perceive Murphy as very liberal and another 25 percent somewhat liberal; 21 percent think he is moderate, just seven percent feel he is on the more conservative end of the spectrum, and 10 percent are unsure.

Likewise, 26 percent believe Ciattarelli is very conservative, and another 29 percent say he is somewhat conservative;18 percent think he is moderate. Just seven percent believe Ciattarelli is either somewhat or very liberal, and 20 percent are unsure.

In contrast to how they perceive the ideologies of the two gubernatorial candidates, almost half of New Jersey voters identify themselves as moderate: 46 percent say they are ideologically in the middle, compared to 25 percent who say they are liberal and 24 who say they are conservative.

Democrats lead Republicans by wide margins in generic head-to-heads for both the state Senate and General Assembly. Most voters are unaware that elections for these offices are on the ballot, however.

While 79 percent are aware that a gubernatorial election is happening this year, 30 percent correctly identify the state Senate and 25 percent the General Assembly as being up for election; 13 percent say the state Legislature, in general.

Just one in five (22 percent) voters correctly say that all of the above are up for election tomorrow.

More than four in 10 have no impression of the New Jersey State Legislature: 30 percent have a favorable view, 26 percent an unfavorable one, 31 percent have no opinion, and 13 percent are unfamiliar with the legislative body.

Almost all registered voters say they will definitely or probably vote; almost nine in 10 similarly say they always or nearly always vote in elections. Thirty-three percent say they have been following the election very closely, and another 45 percent say somewhat closely.

Three-quarters are interested at least “a fair amount” in politics.

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,008 adults contacted by live interviewers on landlines and cell phones from Oct. 21–27. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

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