Posted at 12:01 am November 15, 2018, in Phil Murphy, Right Direction Wrong Track, Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, Taxes

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New Brunswick, N.J. (Nov. 15, 2018) – A sizeable number of New Jerseyans still have yet to form an opinion of Gov. Phil Murphy after his first year in office – but among those who have made a judgment, the governor garners more positive than negative ratings, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

A plurality of residents are still unsure what to think about Murphy when it comes to his likeability, but they continue to be positive about the overall job he is doing: 43 percent approve to 28 percent disapprove.

“New Jerseyans’ continued uncertainty toward Gov. Murphy one year into his tenure is somewhat of a new phenomenon compared to past New Jersey governors,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “This indecision on Murphy is an especially stark contrast to Chris Christie – a governor about which virtually everyone had an opinion. Residents are in fact more uncertain about Murphy’s job performance and likeability than they have ever been about almost any other governor besides Governors DiFrancesco and Florio.”

Residents are also more likely to approve than disapprove of Murphy’s job on several key issue areas:

  • The economy and jobs (44 percent approve to 35 disapprove)
  • Education and schools (44 percent approve, 31 percent disapprove)
  • Crime and drugs (40 percent approve, 29 percent disapprove)
  • Transportation and infrastructure (46 percent approve, 28 percent disapprove)
  • Health care (37 percent approve, 30 percent disapprove).

Murphy does not fare as well when it comes to financial matters in the state, however: just 26 percent approve of his handling of the state pension fund, 28 percent approve of his job so far on taxes, and 30 percent approve of how he is doing with the state budget.

Taxes continue to reign as the top issue in New Jersey: 28 percent cite taxes as the number one problem in the state, and another 9 percent specifically mention something about property taxes. Nevertheless, residents continue to have a more positive outlook on the state than they have in years past. Those who say New Jersey is headed in the right direction (46 percent) just surpass those who say it is on the wrong track (45 percent) for the first time in over four years.

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,006 adults contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from Oct. 12-19. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Murphy’s ratings depend on who you ask, what you ask about

Murphy’s ratings among all New Jerseyans have held pretty steady throughout the last year, as a significant number continue to remain undecided about him personally (42 percent) and about his performance as governor (29 percent). This pattern continues when residents are asked how Murphy is doing in specific issue areas: Murphy does not receive majority approval on any issue due to residents’ high uncertainty. Most New Jerseyans are already certain about their feelings toward Murphy when it comes to taxes, however – just over half (53 percent) disapprove of the job he is doing, while 28 percent approve and another 18 percent are unsure.

Views on Murphy are also deeply driven by partisanship. Sixty-four percent of Democrats approve of the job he is doing, and 52 percent have a favorable impression of him. Republicans, on the other hand, are just the opposite (22 percent approve, 15 percent favorable), while independents are more split (37 percent approve to 26 percent disapprove, 27 percent favorable to 25 percent unfavorable).

These divisions extend to individual issues, as well. A majority of Democrats approve of the job Murphy is doing on the economy and jobs (59 percent), transportation and infrastructure (59 percent), health care (57 percent), crime and drugs (55 percent), and education and schools (53 percent); a plurality also approve of the governor’s performance on taxes and the state budget (each at 46 percent) but are more uncertain than anything else about the stat pension fund (45 percent).

A plurality of independents approve of Murphy on many of these same issues, though to a much lesser extent. Murphy garners his lowest approval ratings from independents on taxes (24 percent), the state budget (24 percent), and the state pension fund (22 percent). As expected, more Republicans disapprove than approve of Murphy in each issue area, with an overwhelming number disapproving of Murphy on taxes, in particular (86 percent disapprove, 8 percent approve).

“These partisan divisions are no surprise given the hyper-partisanship that has taken hold of the country,” said Koning. “In this era, it is hard to find much on which partisans of all stripes agree, including their governor.”

Taxes still a problem, but residents continue positive state outlook

An enduring top concern throughout the years, residents once again overwhelmingly name taxes (37 percent), including property taxes (9 percent specifically mention this subcategory), as the state’s most important problem. New Jerseyans – though to a far lesser extent – also name jobs and employment issues (11 percent), crime and drugs (9 percent), transportation and infrastructure (8 percent), and education and schools (7 percent) as important issues. While taxes are the top problem for all partisans, Republicans are especially likely to name this as their foremost concern (51 percent).

Nevertheless, residents continue their streak of positivity about the direction in which the Garden State is headed: 46 percent think the state is going in the right direction, while 45 percent feel it is off on the wrong track. This positivity began right after Murphy’s reelection last November, with views of the state dramatically improving in his first six months alone. This better outlook in the past year has of course been driven by Democrats (69 percent say right direction, 24 percent say wrong track). Republicans feel the exact opposite (19 percent say right direction, 72 percent say wrong track), while independents are more split (41 percent right direction, 47 percent wrong track).

“Even before Murphy took office last January, New Jerseyans began to have a more positive outlook about the state at the end of 2017,” noted Koning. “Not only did Murphy’s election signal the end of Chris Christie but also a change in party leadership. Only time will tell if Murphy can continue to foster more positivity about the state now that he is well into his first term.”


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