New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy starts off his tenure with a fairly positive job rating. He is in a markedly better position than his two predecessors at the same early point in their administrations. These findings come from the first Monmouth University Poll of Garden State residents since Murphy took office earlier this year. However, there is also some doubt about where Murphy’s priorities lie. New Jerseyans believe that poor residents will do better than middle class residents and property tax payers as a result of the new governor’s policies. And the public is divided on whether Murphy puts governing the state ahead of his own personal ambitions or vice versa.
Currently, 44% of New Jersey adults approve of the job Murphy is doing as governor compared to 28% who disapprove. Another 28% have no opinion of the governor’s performance twelve weeks into his term. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65%) approve and only 7% disapprove, while just 17% of Republicans approve and 59% disapprove. Among independents, 41% approve and 33% disapprove of the governor’s performance to date.
The fact that Murphy has a net positive job rating marks a departure from the prior two governors at the same point in their terms. Chris Christie held a slightly negative 41% approve to 44% disapprove rating in April 2010 and Jon Corzine received a slightly negative 34% approve to 37% disapprove rating in April 2006 according to Monmouth polling. More residents formed an opinion about Christie early in his governorship than did for either Murphy or Corzine.
A new governor generally reveals key policy priorities in the state budget proposal submitted shortly after taking office. Just 9% say they are satisfied with Murphy’s budget proposal, 29% say they are not particularly satisfied but can live with it, and 23% are dissatisfied. Nearly 4-in-10 (38%), though, have no opinion or have not heard about the plan.
More New Jerseyans say that they have no opinion or have not heard of Murphy’s spending plan (38%) than said the same about Christie’s (13%) or even Corzine’s (30%) first budgets. In fact, only 15% say they have heard a lot about Murphy’s plan, which is lower than those who heard a lot about the first budget submitted by Christie (45%) and even Corzine (25%). This lack of awareness also means that outright dissatisfaction with Murphy’s budget (23%) is lower than it was for the proposals offered by either Christie (39%) or Corzine (30%). On the other hand, satisfaction with the current governor’s spending plan (9%) is not substantially different than it was for Corzine’s (8%) and slightly less than for Christie’s (19%).
“Perhaps one reason why Murphy’s overall job rating is so positive is because fewer New Jerseyans are paying attention to this new governor than in the past,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “It’s worth noting that turnout in last year’s election was a record low and Monmouth’s polling found that most voters couldn’t say whether Murphy’s views were in line with the state. It’s not clear how much more they know now.”
Residents are evenly divided on whether Murphy is more concerned with governing the state of New Jersey (40%) or more concerned about his own political future (39%) after just three months on the job. Democrats are more likely to say he puts New Jersey (57%) before his own ambitions (22%) while Republicans believe the opposite (18% New Jersey more and 66% own future more). Independents are divided, with 36% saying he puts New Jersey first and 42% saying he puts his own political future first.
Public opinion may be split on where Murphy’s focus lies, but these results are still more positive than when the same question was asked about his immediate predecessor. Christie left office with nearly 8-in-10 New Jerseyans (79%) saying he put his own political ambitions ahead of the state he governed. The only time Christie was seen as putting New Jersey before his own future was in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, but opinion flipped back on this question after the Bridgegate scandal broke in early 2014.
“Speculation about Phil Murphy’s political ambition has circulated since he entered the public arena in New Jersey just over three years ago touting an unabashedly liberal agenda. Opinion on where his heart lies now splits along predictable party lines. But there is still a large number of independents who wonder whether he’s focused more on the state or on the national stage,” said Murray.
Murphy campaigned on a platform to build “a middle class for the 21st century,” but the poll finds that few New Jerseyans expect the middle class – and property tax payers in particular – will benefit from his time as governor. Just 26% say Murphy’s policies will ultimately help middle class residents in the state. More (41%) expect that his policies will hurt the middle class, while 17% say his policies will have no impact on that group. Expectations are even lower for how property tax payers will be affected; only 17% say Murphy’s policies will help this group while fully 51% say they will be hurt by his policies. Just 14% say property tax payers will feel no impact either way from Murphy’s policies.
On the other end of the spectrum, New Jerseyans are more likely to say that poor residents will be helped (38%) rather than hurt (29%) by Murphy’s policies, with another 14% saying they will feel no impact. Transit riders are also more likely to benefit according to public expectations – 28% say the new governor’s policies will help transit riders, 19% say they will be hurt, and 18% say there will be no impact, although a plurality of 34% are not sure how the Murphy administration’s actions will affect transit riders.
Garden State residents are divided on whether wealthy residents will be helped (24%), be hurt (29%), or feel no impact (30%) from Murphy’s policies. There is a similar divide on businesses in the state – 30% say businesses will be helped by Murphy’s policies and 33% say they will be hurt, with 15% saying state businesses will feel no impact either way.
In general, more Democrats say that these groups will be helped rather than hurt by Murphy – with one significant exception. Even the governor’s fellow Democrats are more likely to say that property tax payers will be hurt (41%) rather than helped (19%) by his policies. In other partisan results, Republicans and independents are divided on whether poor residents and transit riders will be helped or hurt. But they feel the other groups mentioned in the survey are more likely to be hurt by Murphy’s policies, with Republicans significantly more likely than independents to feel this way.
“Governor Murphy is definitely enjoying a honeymoon period, largely because his budget proposal seems to be flying under the radar right now. But many New Jerseyans are skeptical about his promises to strengthen the middle class. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months,” said Murray.
The poll also finds that the New Jersey legislature receives a 36% approve and 39% disapprove rating from state residents. This marks an improvement in public opinion for that body going back a number of years. The last time public disapproval of the state legislature dipped below 40% was January 2014.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from April 6 to 10 with 703 New Jersey adults. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent.
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