Profile: His Polls Takes the Pulse of NJ’s Politics and its People

Director of Monmouth University’s survey says much of its success stems from listening to the talk on the streets – and to conversations in Jersey diners

Patrick Murray
Who he is: Patrick Murray

Where he lives: Lives in Somerset County with his wife and two children

Age: 49

What he does: He’s founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute

Why he is famous in New Jersey political circles and beyond: Murray’s polling usually comes close in predicting the margin of victory in New Jersey races.

He’s got a good record with his personal predictions, as well, with the results of the Republican U.S. Senate primary last June representing a notable exception — Murray called the Senate race for Brian Goldberg without having done any polling, and Jeff Bell won.

PolitickerNJ, the daily must-read for those in – or just interested in — New Jersey politics, carries Murray’s blog, “Real Numbers and Other Musings.”

How he became a pollster: “I was always interested in math,” Murray said. “I was drawn to the research base of polling data: Why people thought the way they did, why they behaved the way they did.”

Polling combines two of Murray’s loves — politics and math. Murray, who graduated from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in government and law, got a master’s degree in political science from Rutgers University in 1993.

While a graduate student, Murray started working on the Eagleton Poll, which for at the time was essentially the only survey taking the public’s pulse in New Jersey. He worked with its founding director, Cliff Zukin, and became its associate director.

Why he didn’t he become a politician: “People who knew me as a kid always ask me why I haven’t run for office; that’s something they expected would happen,” Murray said. “I tell them I got too smart. I’ve always found out it’s more fun being on the outside looking in.”

And yes, he says his job is fun.

All NJ polls are not alike: Four New Jersey colleges do polling today, and Quinnipiac University of Connecticut also does polls on New Jersey races.

Not surprisingly, there is some “friendly competition” among the pollsters, according to Murray. So he was eager to see where Monmouth ranked in the Pollster Ratings listed on data guru Nate Silver’s “538” blog.

Monmouth got an A- to tie with Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind Poll. Only eight polls nationally got an A+ or A, and none of them were university-based.

How he builds a better poll: Murray said that while polling is a science and is dependent on sampling and weighting, it’s not all academic.

Murray said he gets a lot of his ideas “just eavesdropping on conversations in diners in New Jersey,” where he can hear what real people are talking about.

“My first job in college was in polling,” he said. “I went to work for a pollster, just to earn some money. I was calling and asking questions. Having that experience negotiating with the individual to get answers to the questions, I learned a lot.”

“You don’t understand New Jersey politics unless you get out there and talk to people in the field,” Murray said.

And so that’s what he does.

“I spend a lot of time going around the state, going to Trenton, reviewing how people are reacting,” he said. “We also do analysis on a lot of other public policy issues. One informs the other. We want to know what the people in power in Trenton are up to. And is it trickling down to the folks?”

That’s how Murray could tell Bridgegate was not the reason for the recent decline in Gov. Chris Christie’s approval ratings. Instead, he said, it was because the governor’s been spending so much time out of state; people are wondering about his presidential aspirations and the impact of that on his commitment to New Jersey.

Walking a fine line: “When you’ve been struck off Chris Christie’s and Ray Lesniak’s Christmas lists, you know you’re doing something right.”

As with any other political-related job, Murray sometimes finds himself accused of favoring the Democrats — or favoring the Republicans. Two years ago, within days of one another, each party had claimed he had hurt its U.S. Senate candidate.

What you might not know about him: Murray is president of the board of trustees of the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.

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