Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy holds an 11-point lead over Republican Jack Ciattarelli in the final stretch of New Jersey’s gubernatorial campaign, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday, even as the coronavirus pandemic that last year increased Murphy’s popularity has slipped on voters’ priority lists.
The highly anticipated poll with less than a week to go before Election Day comes after two other recent surveys showed a single-digit race. The Monmouth results, however, should be a relief for Democrats worried about their performance in a deep-blue state.
Monmouth, whose final polls in New Jersey’s last two gubernatorial races have been close to the final result, is New Jersey’s most prominent polling outfit.
The poll among likely voters released Wednesday shows Murphy leading Ciattarelli, 51 percent to 40 percent. Among registered voters, the lead is 50 percent to 39 percent.
Murphy’s lead has narrowed somewhat as the race has progressed, but only slightly from a September Monmouth poll, when he led Ciattarelli by 13 points among likely voters, 53 percent to 40 percent. In an August Monmouth poll, Murphy led by 17 points, 54 percent to 37 percent.
According to the latest poll, Murphy continues to hold a large lead among Black voters (83 percent to 6 percent) as well as among Latinos, Asians and other voters of color (63 percent to 22 percent). He also has a small lead among white college graduates (49 percent to 43 percent), but trails Ciattarelli among white voters without a bachelor’s degree (35 percent to 55 percent).
However, the Democrat‘s lead among those 65 and older has shrunk from 53 percent to 37 percent in September to 48 percent to 43 percent in the new poll.
“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 release that accompanied the results.
Monmouth considers likely voters those who said they voted in at least two of the last four general elections and reported being either “certain” or “likely” to vote. Murphy’s lead ranges from 8 points to 14 points depending on which electorate model is used.
Though Murphy has a comfortable lead, the poll has a troubling sign for Democrats. President Joe Biden’s approval rating is negative in New Jersey, 43 percent approve to 49 percent disapprove. In an August Monmouth poll, Biden, who defeated then-President Donald Trump by 16 points last year, had a positive 51 percent to 41 percent approval rating in the state.
Biden was in New Jersey on Monday with Murphy for an official visit to promote infrastructure projects.
“The president’s visit on Monday may have done more to boost Biden rather than Murphy when you look at their approval ratings,” Murray said.
Overall, the Monmouth poll found 45 percent of voters questioned have a favorable view of Murphy while 37 percent have an unfavorable one. Eighteen percent give no answer. Ciattarelli is viewed favorably by 37 percent and unfavorably by 25 percent, but 39 percent offered no opinion. The number of people who don’t know enough about Ciattarelli to have an opinion is in line with past non-incumbent candidates for governor, and is down from 50 percent last month and 61 percent in August.
In August, the pandemic was voters’ top priority, with 41 percent saying it was their most important issue. Now, New Jersey voters have reverted back to a traditional priority — taxes, with 27 percent listing it as their top concern. New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country.
On that issue, Ciattarelli — a former member of the state Legislature who has repeatedly reminded voters in ads and on the stump that Murphy once said “if you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is your issue, we’re probably not your state” — is more trusted, 39 percent to 29 percent.
After taxes, voters chose as their top issues jobs and the economy (20 percent), schools and education (16 percent), and the pandemic (15 percent). Voters are split on who is best suited to handle jobs and the economy, but Murphy has double-digit leads on handling education — which has increased as a priority since September — and the pandemic, an issue on which the governor has repeatedly painted Ciattarelli as extreme by highlighting the Republican’s opposition to mask and vaccine mandates.
“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,” Murray said. “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.”
Crime, abortion and transportation infrastructure round out the list of voters’ top concerns at 7 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. Ciattarelli has highlighted rising gun violence and accused Murphy of stripping police of tools to deal with it. Murphy has promoted a proposed law to expand abortion rights and highlighted Ciattarelli’s support for banning abortions after 20 weeks.
According to the poll, voters who consider themselves “independent” are split almost evenly between the candidates, with 41 percent choosing Murphy and 40 percent favoring Ciattarelli. Unaffiliated voters, who aren’t registered with a political party but many of whom tend to lean toward one, back Murphy, 46 percent to 40 percent.
“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,” Murray said. “That outcome would require a pretty sizable collapse of Democratic turnout.“
While Democrats in New Jersey hold a voter registration edge of more than 1 million over Republicans, GOP voters are more enthusiastic about this election. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans say they’re more enthusiastic than usual to vote in this election compared to 24 percent of Democrats. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans say they’re “very motivated” to vote in this election compared to 72 percent of Democrats.
“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,” Murray said. “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.“
The Monmouth poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted from Oct. 21-25 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states with gubernatorial races this year. Polls in Virginia have shown a much tighter race, with Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin are running neck-and-neck.
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