Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy continues to lead Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, as a poll of likely New Jersey voters released Tuesday gave the former U.S. ambassador a 51 percent to 37 percent edge.
The Monmouth University Poll found that Guadagno’s emphasis on fixing the Garden State’s notoriously high property taxes was not finding traction with the likely voters surveyed. Although her 14-point deficit was narrower than several other recent polls, those measured registered voters, not just those considered likely to go to the polls and vote.
“This is not the 20-something point lead that some polls have been showing, but it is still formidable,” Patrick Murray, director of the West Long Branch-based Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a prepared statement. “While Guadagno may have an opportunity to break through, the fact that Murphy’s support is over 50 percent makes that task very difficult.”
Monmouth said 9 percent of the voters surveyed remain undecided, with a mere 2 percent supporting third-party candidates. However, nearly half of voters have no particular opinion of either candidate, with Murphy registering 33 percent favorable opinions, 23 percent unfavorable and 44 percent no opinion, and Guadagno getting an almost equal 31 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable and 45 percent no opinion.
“Low name recognition of New Jersey gubernatorial candidates this late in the game is not unprecedented, because the state lacks its own media market,” Murray said. “However, it is unusually low this year. The campaigns simply can’t break through with the political noise coming out of Washington.”
Guadagno was also hurt by her association with Gov. Chris Christie, the poll found, despite efforts to distance herself from the unpopular Republican governor.
Christie registered a 75 percent disapproval rating from the likely voters, against only a 22 percent approval rating — still better than his overall 15 percent approval. President Donald Trump, also a Republican, received a 33 percent approval rating against a 59 percent disapproval mark.
While more than half of those polled, 51 percent, recognize Guadagno’s service as lieutenant governor over the past seven-plus years, 21 percent didn’t know that she holds the office. And 29 percent said knowing she is a sitting member of the Christie administration makes them less likely to vote for her, while only 16 percent said it would make them more likely to support her.
“The double-whammy of Trump and Christie has not helped the Republican brand in New Jersey,” Murray said. “While Guadagno’s current position as Christie’s No. 2 is not a death blow to her chances, it certainly isn’t helping.”
Meanwhile, Murphy’s history as a Goldman Sachs executive does not seem to have much of a negative effect, the poll found, despite his opponent’s emphasis on it. Only 28 percent associate Murphy with the job at all — compared with 34 percent who didn’t know he worked there — and while just 4 percent viewed the job as an asset to the candidate, only 25 percent said they would be less likely to vote for him because of it, while 70 percent said it made no difference.
The Guadagno campaign’s drumbeat on taxes is also not finding an audience, the poll found. While a July poll found property taxes are voters’ top priority, only 12 percent of voters in this poll said they are knowledgeable about the lieutenant governor’s plan. Worse, 70 percent of the voters said they would view any tax proposal as a campaign ploy, rather than a genuine effort to solve the problem. On the upside for Guadagno, 45 percent think middle-class homeowners would see taxes rise under Murphy, compared with only 31 percent who think it would happen under her.
“Property taxes is truly the meme for everything that New Jerseyans dislike about their state,” Murray said. “I just think voters have heard too many promises for too long, and simply tune out all candidate rhetoric on the issue at this point.”
The poll surveyed more than 450 of New Jersey’s likely voters, between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percent.