Murphy hammered in FDU approval poll: Plurality says he’s been unable to make change, can’t cite major accomplishment

Gov. Phil Murphy’s approval ratings remain in the low to mid-40s in the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll — but it’s the opinion of his work that appears to trend lower.

The poll released Monday morning finds a plurality said Murphy has been unable to move the needle on issues ranging from the economy to the state’s transportation infrastructure, to the overall quality of life for those who call New Jersey home. And opinion is decidedly mixed on whether respondents believe any major or minor accomplishments can be credited to the governor, or if no real accomplishments come to mind.

Respondents were asked whether Murphy has made things better, worse or if conditions remained the same across a host of issues. On all five (the state’s economy, transportation system, taxes and spending, reputation to outsiders, and the lives of people who live in New Jersey), a plurality say not much has changed since Gov. Chris Christie left and Murphy arrived.

Thirty-nine percent believe Murphy has achieved some success: 10% credit him with a major accomplishment, and 29% think he can claim credit for a minor achievement. But 33% say the governor has achieved no real accomplishments, and 16% remain uncertain about the governor’s accomplishments. Except for partisanship, virtually all demographic groups considered evaluating the governor’s accomplishments, or lack thereof, similarly.

Krista Jenkins, the poll’s director and a professor of politics and government at FDU, said Murphy has not won over the state.

“Although the governor is keen on pointing out the number of bills he has signed into law, the fact remains that many of his constituents cannot identify his accomplishments,” she said in a release. “New Jersey is a tough crowd. These numbers suggest more is needed in the messaging department.”

Those who said he has had a major accomplishment — or two or three — were asked to name them. The most frequently cited was the state’s minimum wage increase, which is in the midst of a five-year increase to $15 an hour. Other commonly cited accomplishments include the “almost” passage of legalized recreational marijuana and the belief that the governor has at least attempted to fix the state’s broken transportation infrastructure. Beyond these, a wide and diverse array of perceived accomplishments were mentioned, including restoring the state’s reputation after the Christie years, educational reforms, promoting increased gun control measures and a belief that he’s done something big, even if respondents are unable to identify what “it” is.

“Clearly, the minimum wage increase has resonated with the public, and making good on a campaign promise to get people more money is a big deal. However, based on these numbers, it looks like the message remains undelivered for many,” Jenkins said.

The governor’s accomplishment record is perceived similarly across a host of demographic groups. Where differences do exist, they are most apparent in regard to being able to discern whether and to what degree the governor has secured a victory. For example, those with no college experience, and nonwhite respondents, were more likely as compared with others to say they don’t know if Murphy has done anything notable.

Murphy has made the most gains with the economy, although only one-in-four adults credit him with doing some good in that area, and he does the worst with taxes and spending, as 44% believe his leadership has made things worse in a state that’s already known for its high taxes and cost of living.

In all of the areas, the governor is underwater in the number of those who said things have improved, as compared with those who believe conditions have worsened since he took office.

“For many, the jury is still out on the governor, even though he’s now well into the second half of his administration. But, for the remainder, the glass is half-empty rather than -full, as the state’s perennial issues are believed to have worsened under his watch,” said Jenkins. “And, even though Democrats are, on balance, more sanguine than independents and Republicans, even their numbers aren’t overwhelmingly flattering for the governor.”

Forty-two percent of New Jersey adults approve of the governor’s job performance, with 36% who say they disapprove. These numbers are statistically unchanged from October 2019, the last time the question was asked. At around this time in his administration, Murphy’s predecessor, Chris Christie, had a better approval ratio, with 54% approval to 34% disapproval. Jon Corzine’s numbers were closer to Murphy’s, although his disapproval was markedly higher than the governor’s today (44% to 45%).

Although most Democrats approve of the governor’s job performance, almost a third (30%) either disapprove or say they simply don’t know. And, while 68% of Republicans disapprove of Murphy, a fifth (22%) approve.

“His numbers among Democrats don’t invite a primary challenge, but they do suggest that the governor has work to do among his own party’s rank and file as he plans for reelection,” said Jenkins.

Right direction/wrong track numbers also appear to be stuck for Murphy. Opinion is equally divided between those who offer a positive appraisal for the direction the state is headed (42%) and those who believe quite the opposite (41%). In October 2019, right direction/wrong track numbers were similarly at 47%/42%. Democrats and Republicans are not united in their view of the state’s health. A majority of Democrats are pleased (58%) and a majority of Republicans are unhappy (66%), but a quarter of each group evaluates the state’s health differently.

“Apparently, there’s more to a state’s health than its economic indicators,” Jenkins said. “With record-low unemployment, it looks like other factors are weighing heavily on the minds of residents when they consider the overall health of the Garden State. Taxes no doubt continue to weigh heavily on the minds of residents.”

Murphy revealed Saturday that he has a tumor on his left kidney that almost certainly is cancerous, that he will have surgery to remove it in early March and that the prognosis is “very good.”

In a tweet sent out at approximately 7:25 p.m. Saturday night, Murphy wrote:

“Friends — I’ve got a tumor on my left kidney and will undergo a partial nephrectomy in early March to remove it. The prognosis is very good and I’m profoundly grateful to my doctors for detecting the tumor early.”

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