Poll: Jerseyans feel good about Murphy, school districts — not so good about COVID vaccines

New Jersey residents reiterated their approval of the way Gov. Phil Murphy is handling the COVID-19 pandemic, with 72% giving him a positive rating, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Friday.

One in three residents said Murphy is doing a “very good job,” with 39% saying he is doing a “somewhat good” job. These numbers are up slightly from June, when 67% approved of his efforts.

These efforts appeared to raise the governor’s overall approval rating, as 60% said they approve of the job he is doing, and 31% said they disapprove. These numbers are up dramatically since February (pre-pandemic), when the governor’s approval rating was at 42%.

Krista Jenkins, director of the FDU Poll and a professor of politics and government at FDU, said the numbers indicate the governor currently is in a good position heading into the 2021 election.

“Despite what can only be described as an unprecedented health and economic crisis facing the state, his leadership is appreciated by large majorities across New Jersey. More than half still regard the state as heading in the right direction, despite the sizable obstacles that exist for the foreseeable future,” she said.

The poll also indicated that New Jerseyans approve of the way their local school districts are handling the situation.

Two-thirds (68%) rate their local schools as having done a good job, with 29% saying they have done a very good job. Only 18% give their local schools less than a passing grade.

New Jerseyans were not all positive.

President Donald Trump’s assurance that a coronavirus vaccine will be coming soon appears to have made residents less confident in its safety and less likely to get inoculated once it arrives.

The number of people who are now not at all confident that a vaccine will be adequately tested and safe to use has increased 7 percentage points since the same question was asked in June. This total lack of confidence in a vaccine is currently the view of more than a third (35%) of the population. Falling confidence is seen among both Democrats and independents, with 10 percentage points’ more Democrats and 17 percentage points’ more independents losing complete faith in a vaccine compared with four months ago. Those most skeptical are women (42%), non-whites (42%) and those with high school education or less (44%).

While a little more than a majority (55%) of New Jersey adults say they probably or definitely will get the vaccine once available, that number has dropped from 63% in June. Almost 4 in 10 (39%) surveyed now say they probably or definitely will not get vaccinated, adding 9 percentage points more to that column since early summer.

“Concerns over politics influencing the vaccine development process are unfortunately eroding confidence in its safety,” Jenkins said. “While many New Jersey adults still believe in the benefits of a vaccine, work will need to be done to convince skeptics that any vaccine made available to the public will be safe and effective.”

New Jerseyans agree on other thing: wearing face coverings.

Three-quarters (77%) believe mask-wearing in public places should be mandatory, a number that is unchanged from June. Only a fifth (21%) believe face coverings should be optional. And, despite the hardships that many are facing due to closures and restrictions, two-thirds say the restrictions need to stay in place until a vaccine or treatment becomes available. Again, these numbers are unchanged from June.

These beliefs vary little by party affiliation.

“It’s notable that, despite the partisan nature of attitudes toward face coverings and closures that is often noted in the press, both have a fair amount of bipartisan support in New Jersey,” Jenkins said.

The poll was based on a survey of 846 residents (18 and older) between Sept. 30-Oct. 5.