Just over a year in office, Gov. Phil Murphy appears to be settling in to “meh” territory when it comes to New Jersey’s view of him overall. While the latest Monmouth University Poll found strong support for one of Murphy’s big issues, the recently enacted minimum-wage hike (66 percent approve, 29 percent oppose), it gauged public opinion as more negative than positive on whether his agenda has done much for property-tax payers and the middle class, and agnostic on the governor’s pledge to create a “fair economy” for poorer residents.
The results show that Murphy isn’t exactly lighting it up in New Jerseyans’ performance assessments. The poll found that 43 percent of New Jersey adults approve of the job Murphy is doing as governor, a figure that has hardly budged from his April 2018 rating (44 percent). More worrying for the governor and his team may be that his disapproval rating has spiked from last year’s 28 percent to 40 percent. At the same point in their terms, his two immediate predecessors, Chris Christie and Jim McGreevey, had better approve-disapprove ratings.
“Murphy started his term with greater public goodwill than his recent predecessors, but he has now fallen behind them,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “The most troubling result may be the large number of his fellow Democrats who continue to take a wait-and-see attitude. It seems he has yet to score a defining win with his base despite spending a significant amount of energy pushing a progressive agenda.”
One of the major issues for the Murphy administration has been the hiring of someone who was accused of rape while working on the governor’s 2017 campaign. It led to the formation of a select legislative committee whose enquiries are ongoing. Could that controversy have affected the governor’s poll numbers? “The legislature’s focus on this situation certainly hasn’t helped the governor’s standing, but I’m not convinced this is the primary reason for Murphy’s rising negatives. The public seems to be a little hazy on his core aims and he has yet to sew up base support among his fellow Democrats,” said Murray.
The poll found that only four in ten New Jerseyans (41 percent) have heard anything about the legislative hearings. And Republicans (61 percent) are more likely than Democrats (37 percent) or independents (37 percent) to be paying attention to them. Of those who have been paying attention, 68 percent believe the administration mishandled the hiring versus 12 percent who believe the hiring was handled properly based on what was known at the time. The big unknown in the case remains exactly who authorized the hiring; on that point, 51 percent think that the Murphy administration is trying to cover something up, while 34 percent think the administration is really unsure about how the hiring occurred.
It’s true that Democrats are largely positive about how Murphy is governing (66 percent approve; 9 percent disapprove) but, as Murray noted, a sizable cohort of them (25 percent) say they still have no opinion of how he’s doing after his first year.
Among Republicans, the jury is in, with somewhat predictable results: 11 percent approve, 85 percent disapprove. He did better with GOP supporters last year (17 percent approved, 59 percent disapproved).
And the governor is losing ground among independents, holding a net negative rating (39 percent approve, and 43 percent disapprove). That’s a switch from last April (41 percent approved, and 33 percent disapproved).
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from February 8 to 10, 2019 with 604 New Jersey adults. The results have a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points.