Poll: Most residents approve of Murphy, state’s social distancing measures

By Emily Bader
New Jersey | Apr 21, 2020 at 11:26 am

The way Gov. Phil Murphy has handled the coronavirus outbreak so far in New Jersey has skyrocketed his ratings and has earned him widespread praise among New Jersey residents, according to a new Monmouth University poll.

The poll found Murphy’s overall job rating was 71% approve, 21% disapprove and 8% having no opinion. His overall approval rating has increased dramatically since September (41% approve, 38% disapprove, 21% no opinion) and is up 21 points among Democrats (from 71% in September to 92% now), up 41 points among independents (from 28% to 69%) and up 29 points among Republicans (from 16% to 45%). The state legislature is also garnering positive support, the poll said, with a 54% approve and 27% disapprove rating, up from a negative 33% approve and 42% disapprove rating in September. This is the first time in six years the legislature earned a positive net rating, the poll said.

“Not only are Murphy’s approval numbers up, but more New Jerseyans are taking notice than during the first two years of his term. Leadership becomes much more relevant in a crisis and Murphy is getting solid reviews for his response,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

The poll found New Jersey residents have a higher opinion of how the state and Murphy responded to the pandemic compared with the way the federal government and the president did. Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) surveyed said Murphy has done a good job dealing with COVID-19, compared with 10% saying he’s done a bad job. Only 4 in 10 (41%) of those polled say Trump has done a good job dealing with the outbreak, while 52% say he’s done a bad one. More than half (64%) said steps taken by the state government to slow the virus have been appropriate, with 11% saying it’s gone too far and 23% saying it’s not far enough. In contrast, 42% of state residents say the federal governments measures are appropriate while more than half (51%) say they have not gone far enough.

“The nation has seen sporadic protests against these restrictions, including one in Trenton on Friday. The poll shows, though, that these protestors represent an incredibly small sliver of all state residents. The vast majority are united in their support for social distancing measures to protect the health of their fellow New Jerseyans,” Murray said.

Since early March, Murphy has issued a number of executive orders in New Jersey. Most residents approve of the state’s social distancing edicts, including large numbers who support controversial measures, such as state park closures. Just under 9 in 10 of all state residents approve of the following restrictions:

  • Requiring people to maintain six feet of distance (97% approve, 95% aware);
  • Wear a face covering in public (95% approve, 95% aware);
  • Banning all gatherings and parties (88% approve, 85% aware);
  • Limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery only (94% approve, 96% aware);
  • Closure of gyms (94% approve, 94% aware);
  • Closure of libraries (89% approve, 84% aware);
  • Closure of child care centers (88% approve, 74% aware);
  • Closure of nonessential retail stores (86% approve, 92% aware);
  • Moving the state primary date back a month (89% approve, 52% aware).

Restrictions that received lower (but still widespread) approval:

  • Limiting supermarket hours (80% approve, 77% aware);
  • Stopping nonessential construction projects (74% approve, 66% aware);
  • Closure of state and county parks (70% approve, 90% aware);
  • Publicly naming people cited for outbreak violations (64% approve, 35% aware).

“Shutting down state and county parks has probably sparked the biggest public pushback against the governor. The outcry is largely partisan, perhaps because it is the one area where GOP politicians feel they can criticize the governor without looking uncooperative,” Murray said.

When it comes to publicly outing those who have been cited by police for violating the restrictions, 75% of Democrats, 59% of independents and 60% of Republicans approve. However, this is one of the actions most New Jerseyans are unaware of. Just 35% of residents know the state is doing this, 30% say it is not and 35% say they do not know whether it is or not. Of those aware, 76% approve and 22% disapprove.

“This is one measure that has escaped the public’s attention. If the question we asked had mentioned the fact that many of those cited also coughed or spat on police officers and grocery store workers, approval of this action would probably be even higher in the poll,” Murray said.

Another hot topic in the state is when schools will reopen. The poll found most residents agree (87%) with Murphy that schools will remain closed until at least May 15, but are divided on when information should be known. About half (51%) feel its better to announce now that schools will be closed for the rest of the year while 46% say it’s better to make decisions every month or so.

In the more than a dozen issues covered by the poll, the only area where New Jersey fell short is the rate of COVID-19 testing. However, only 3 in 10 say the gap is the state governments fault.

The poll was conducted by phone from April 16 to 19 with 204 New Jersey adults. The margin of error is +/- 3.7 percentage points.

Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus:

Emily Bader | ebader@roi-nj.com | @emilybader