A new Monmouth University poll shows New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy holds a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli.
Out of 810 registered voters reached last week, just over half of them (52%) support the incumbent Democrat over Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman who scored 36%, with 9% of people polled remaining undecided.
When asked of their general impression of Ciattarelli, 61% of respondents said they have no opinion of him, while 48% had a favorable opinion of Murphy. That’s slightly down from 50% in May.
Regionally, South Jersey voters are leaning towards Ciattarelli, despite 80% of people polled saying they’ve not heard of his running mate — longtime state Sen. and former Philadelphia TV anchor Diane Allen. But Murphy leads in North and Central Jersey, where Ciattarelli is from.
Voters in Central Jersey have been key to Republicans in gubernatorial races, according to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. When Chris Christie won his first term for governor in 2009, he won the region by 15 points.
“Generally, that part of the state you can appeal to both the old-fashioned Republicans who voted for Tom Kean and Christie Whitman, plus those working-class voters who have swung from Democratic to Republican depending on the election,” he said. “He’s just not able to do that right now.”
Murray said both of those groups decidedly swung toward the Democratic Party during the Trump era “and it doesn’t look like they are about to swing back any time soon.”
Ciattarelli is a three-term assemblyman from Somerset County. Prior to that, he was a county freeholder and served on the Raritan Borough Council.
He has made cutting taxes one of his top issues in the campaign, but the Monmouth poll shows the pandemic is the number one issue on the minds of voters, followed by taxes — especially property taxes. Voters are evenly divided on trusting either candidate when it comes to taxes.
But when it comes to managing the state through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more voters said they trusted Murphy over Ciattarelli, 46% to 21%.
Murray said there is not a lot Ciattarelli can do to change the dynamics of the race at the moment, given that he has less name recognition than the sitting governor.
“He needs the governor to make a big mistake,” Murray said, “or he needs the context to change around COVID so that he can start talking about other issues and have voters pay attention to him.”
Get daily updates from WHYY News!