Mediocre Murphy? Dissatisfaction with governor grows, poll finds, but maybe not for reasons you’d think

By Eric Strauss
West Long Branch | Feb 12, 2019 at 11:00 am

There is a growing dissatisfaction with Gov. Phil Murphy, although his approval rating remains positive, according to the latest Monmouth University Poll, released Tuesday.

A year into office, Murphy garnered a 43 percent approval rating, a tick lower than his 44 percent rating in April 2018. But his disapproval rating reached 40 percent, up from the 28 percent rating in the earlier poll. The difference was primarily found among those who had no opinion of the Democratic governor: While 28 percent had no opinion a few months after he took office, only 17 percent have no opinion now.

By comparison, at the same point in their respective terms, Gov. Chris Christie had a 47 percent approval and 40 percent disapproval rating, and Gov. Jon Corzine had a 44 percent approval and 34 percent disapproval rating. Gov. Jim McGreevey had a mere 34 percent approval rating in the February of his second year in office, compared with a 45 percent disapproval rating.

“Murphy started his term with greater public goodwill than his recent predecessors, but he has now fallen behind them,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a prepared statement.

Murphy remains popular with Democrats polled, with a 66 percent approval rating compared with only a 9 percent disapproval rating. However, a quarter of those Democrats polled still have no opinion on the governor, down only 3 points from his 28 percent “no opinion” rating last year.

“The most troubling result may be the large number of his fellow Democrats who continue to take a wait-and-see attitude,” Murray said. “It seems he has yet to score a defining win with his base, despite spending a significant amount of energy pushing a progressive agenda.”

Republicans’ disapproval of Murphy’s performance has grown, from a 59 percent disapproval and 17 percent approval rating in 2018, to 85 percent disapproval and only 11 percent approval in the latest poll.

Likewise, dissatisfaction among independents has grown. In 2018, 41 percent approved and 33 percent disapproved; in Tuesday’s results, only 39 percent approved, while 43 percent disapproved — swinging to a net negative rating.

Murphy’s economic policies drew decidedly mixed ratings.

On the upside, two-thirds of those polled approved of Murphy’s $15 minimum wage increase, while only 29 percent oppose it. However, Murphy’s efforts to build a “fairer economy” are drawing mixed reviews. His policies toward a variety of wealth groups got middling reviews in the polls. In terms of whether various groups have been helped or hurt by his policies, those polled said:

  • Wealthy residents: 22 percent helped, 21 percent hurt, 30 percent no impact;
  • Middle-class residents: 18 percent helped, 39 percent hurt, 27 percent no impact;
  • Poor residents: 27 percent helped, 28 percent hurt, 27 percent no impact.

“New Jersey residents don’t seem to have a clear read on Phil Murphy,” Murray said. “A key question is whether the public feels he is truly focused on his current job. It wasn’t too long ago that the state felt burned by his predecessor’s political ambitions. That’s worth keeping in mind as Murphy’s national profile with the Democratic Governors Association is on the rise.”

Indeed, some 46 percent of those polled said Murphy is more concerned with his own political future than with governing the state, while 33 percent said the opposite and 4 percent said the two are equal. About 16 percent said they were unsure.

Murphy’s other policies are falling flat, as well.

In terms of those residents paying property taxes, a measly 6 percent of those polled said Murphy’s policies are helping that group. On the other hand, 48 percent said his policies are hurting taxpayers, and 29 percent said they have had no impact. Further 45 percent of those polled said property taxes were the most important issue facing New Jersey, with another 23 percent naming other taxes.

“Surprise! Property taxes continue to be the issue that irks the largest number of New Jerseyans,” Murray said. “It seems the governor and legislative leaders are at odds in terms of what, if anything, should be done. The solution may not be clear, but it’s certainly not a good idea to be perceived as ignoring the problem entirely.”

Another area where Murphy has taken heat is with transit riders. Only 14 percent of those polled said Murphy’s policies have helped transit riders, compared with 25 percent who said his policies have hurt them and 23 percent who said there has been no impact.

Two hot-button issues in Trenton are not resonating with the public at large, however.

The governor’s up-and-down relationship with legislative leaders such as state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has made headlines, but a majority of those polled — 54 percent — indicated they have not heard about it.

Likewise, the administration’s hiring of a staffer who had been accused of a sexual assault has led to legislative hearings, but only 41 percent of residents polled knew about them.

“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,” Murray said. “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.”

The poll was conducted between Feb. 8-10 with 604 New Jersey adults. It has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

Eric Strauss | estrauss@roi-nj.com | acerimrat