New Jersey: Murphy’s rating static; mixed reviews on job performance

The ticker has barely moved in New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s rating since Monmouth University Poll‘s last survey of the governor at the beginning of the year.

Opinions are split on his job performance and he’s seen as being more concerned with his own political future than running the state. Public opinion is holding him at a negative in terms of his agenda on property tax payers and the middle class. He’s also been receiving mixed reviews on the way he handled Newark’s water crisis.

The poll found 41% of New Jersey residents approve and 38% disapprove of the job Murphy is doing as governor, compared to the 43%/40% rating taken in February 2019.

Murphy’s rating continues to be below his last two predecessors at around the same point in their terms. An August 2011 poll gave former Gov. Chris Christie a 48%/42% rating and two months later in October 2011 gave him an even better 54%/38% rating. Christie’s predecessor, Gov. Jon Corzine, received a 46%/32% rating in September 2007. Murphy is currently standing around the same rating as former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who received a 38%/40% rating in a September 2003 Eagleton poll.

One in five New Jerseyans (21%) have no opinion of Murphy’s term over the past 20 months, similar to his last two Democratic predecessors (Corzine 22%/McGreevey 22%) but higher than Christie (9%). Murphy currently has a positive 71% approval and a 11% disapproval rating among Democrats, but gets a 28%/49% rating among independents and a 16%/67% rating among Republicans.

“Murphy’s approval rating has been stuck at a nearly even split this year.  Recent events, such as the Newark water crisis, have not helped cast him in the best light.  But the bigger issue seems to be that he is simply flying under the radar for most New Jerseyans,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

The way Murphy handled Newark’s drinking water crisis was received more negatively than positively, with just 10% approving and 28% disapproving. However, 41% had no opinion and 21% haven’t heard of the issue.

“The fact that this crisis happened in the part of New Jersey where Murphy’s strongest partisan base lives has not helped the governor’s overall standing,” Murray said.

Just one-in-10 residents (12%) believe Murphy has hit major milestones so far, with 42% saying he has achieved only minor accomplishments. Another 36% say he hasn’t made any and 10% have no opinion.

“At this point in his term, Christie had made a big splash with pension reform and his approval ratings were clearly on the rise. Murphy does not have anything similarly flashy that has made New Jerseyans sit up and take notice. However, Christie may be the exception rather than the rule for New Jersey governors,” Murray said.

Nearly half of New Jersey see Murphy as being more concerned with his own political future (49%) than he is with governing the state (33%). Another 4% say he is concerned about both equally and 15% are unsure. The results mirror public opinion from earlier this year.

The poll also found residents see the governor’s relationship with his own party’s legislative leadership as slightly more negative than earlier this year. Currently, 14% say Murphy has a positive relationship and 25% say he has a bad one with top Dems in the legislature, which is down from 20%/19% respectively in February.

“This Trenton battle continues to be mainly political insider stuff, but the impression of a toxic relationship between the state’s chief executive and its legislative leadership does appear to be slowly seeping into the public,” Murray said.

Murphy is still getting mixed reviews for how he helps New Jerseyans across the economic spectrum. One-fourth (25%) of residents say his policies have helped the poor, 21% say they have hurt the poor and 32% say there’s been no impact. The governor gets more positive reviews for his impact on the wealthy and middle class — 27% say the wealthy has been helped versus 14% who say it has been hurt, and 17% say he’s helped the middle class compared to 31% that believe he’s hindered it.

“These shifts are small and need to be taken with a grain of salt, but it seems that Republicans have become less worried about Murphy’s economic policies while Democrats feel that the wealthy are the group making gains. This runs counter to the ‘liberal lion’ image the governor is trying to foster. It could be problematic for his brand if this trend is confirmed in future polls,” Murray said.

Taxes drum up a negative for the governor, with only 10% saying they feel property tax payers have benefited from his term compared with 39% saying he’s hurt them.

The poll was conducted by phone from Sept. 12 to 16 with 713 New Jersey adults. The margin of error is +/- 3.7 percentage points.