Murphy, Ciatarelli Photo

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GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, buoyed by support for his Covid policies, leads Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by nine percentage points, according to a Stockton University poll released Sept. 29.

According to a release from the university, Murphy, however, reaches only the 50% mark, leading Ciattarelli 50%-41%, including voters who lean toward one candidate or the other. Nine percent are undecided or not liking either candidate in the statewide New Jersey poll of 552 likely voters. The poll was conducted for the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, at Stockton University, the week before the first gubernatorial debate Sept. 28. 

Murphy received positive job ratings from 54%, with 41% disapproving of his performance. He is viewed favorably by 50% and unfavorably by 43%, with only 5% unfamiliar with the governor.

The pandemic was named the top issue by the largest percentage (25%), and respondents said Murphy would better manage the pandemic over Ciattarelli, at 50%-34%. They voiced even stronger support for policies aimed at controlling the virus.

· 58% support mask mandates in schools, to 37% opposed.

· 56% support a mandate that employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or be tested weekly for the virus to 44% opposed.

· 63 % support a vaccine requirement for health care workers to 34% opposed.

However, half of those polled oppose requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, public events, or entertainment venues, 50% to 46% in support.

After the pandemic, the election’s next top issues are identified as taxes in general (12%), property taxes (10%) and the economy (6%).

The Stockton Poll includes some positives for the Republican challenger. Forty-six percent see Ciattarelli as better at handling New Jersey tax policy – with taxes being a major line of his attack against Murphy – compared to 38% for Murphy on that issue. 

Results showed a tie for who would better manage the state economy (43% for Ciattarelli to 42% for Murphy). Also, those who think New Jersey is heading in the wrong direction (45.5%) just topped those who think the state is going in the right direction (44.3%). 

“Even though this result is a statistical tie, an incumbent wants more people feeling good about how things are going in the state,” stated John Froonjian, director of the Hughes Center. 

In a spring 2021 Stockton poll of registered (but not necessarily likely) voters, 49% said New Jersey was headed in the right direction, and 40% said it was going in the wrong direction. One challenge for Ciattarelli: Despite running TV and online ads for the past month, nearly half were not familiar with him (45%) or not sure how they feel about him (3%), including 33% of Republicans. Among those who recognized him, he was viewed favorably by 32% and unfavorably by 21%. 

“As a clean slate to many, Ciattarelli has the chance to tell his story and introduce himself to voters. The Murphy campaign will likely try to define him first in negative terms,” Froonjian stated. 

Another challenge is the state’s political makeup. The poll finds strong polarization between Democrats and Republicans, with strong Democratic support for the governor and his anti-Covid policies and equally strong GOP opposition, stated Alyssa Maurice, Hughes Center research associate. However, there are 1 million more registered Democrats in New Jersey than Republicans. 

Voters lean against gambling on NJ college sports

In a finding unrelated to the gubernatorial race, a plurality of voters (45%) opposed a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would allow gambling on college games held in the state or games in which New Jersey college teams participate, while 40% support the proposal and 14% are unsure. 

Full results are on the Stockton Polling Institute website.

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