New Jersey Governor Rankings

Tom Kean continues his reign as New Jersey’s most beloved governor according to the latest Monmouth University Poll of state residents. New Jerseyans were asked their views of the ten people alive this year who have served as the state’s chief executive since 1974. Kean is on top of the heap – as he was in surveys taken in 2010 and 2006 – with the late Brendan Byrne coming in at number two. The state’s newest former governor, Chris Christie, finds himself alone in the cellar.

Tom Kean (R; 1982-90) is viewed favorably by 45% of the New Jersey public and unfavorably by 12%, with 43% having no opinion. This is comparable to his 46% favorable and 9% unfavorable rating eight years ago. His +33 point net positive rating keeps Kean clearly at the top of the Garden State gubernatorial leader board. Kean’s predecessor, Brendan Byrne (D; 1974-82), edges into second place among the field of ten with a +18 net positive rating – 28% favorable and 10% unfavorable, with 62% who have no opinion.

Among New Jerseyans age 55 and older – i.e. those who were of voting age when Byrne was still governor – Byrne earns an even more positive +33 rating (46% favorable and 13% unfavorable). This earns him the clear number two slot among this age group, behind only Kean at +51 (64% favorable and 13% unfavorable). Importantly, Kean and Byrne are the only two governors who earn net positive ratings from Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike.

“Nearly 30 years after he left office, Tom Kean and New Jersey are still perfect together,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. Murray added: “Sadly, we lost Brendan Byrne early this year, but he is remembered like his successor, as someone admired by New Jerseyans across the entire political spectrum.”

Two other governors also earn net positive ratings – the incumbent, Phil Murphy (D; 2018-?) at 42% favorable and 26% unfavorable with 32% undecided, and Dick Codey (D; 2004-06) at 25% favorable and 13% unfavorable with 63% undecided. Codey, who served fourteen months after Jim McGreevey’s resignation, finds his net rating basically unchanged, but the number of state residents who have no opinion of him has risen 17 points from 46% in 2010.

NJ Gubernatorial Leader Board Net Favorability Among those

age 55+

Apr. ’18 Feb. ’10 Sep. ’06
Tom Kean (R) +33 +37 +44 +51
Brendan Byrne (D) +18 +13 +18 +33
Phil Murphy (D) +16 n/a n/a +8
Dick Codey (D) +12 +14 +34 +15
Christie Whitman (R) 0 -3 -2 -3
Jim Florio (D) -3 +2 -8 +1
Donald DiFrancesco (R) -4 -8 +1 -3
Jim McGreevey (D) -5 -28 -22 -13
Jon Corzine (D) -9 -24 +16 -19
Chris Christie (R) -49 +14 n/a -35


Way down at the bottom of the leader board is Chris Christie (R; 2010-18) with a sizable net negative -49 rating of 22% favorable and 71% unfavorable with 7% having no opinion. He earns net negative ratings from Democrats (9% favorable and 86% unfavorable), independents (21% favorable and 70% unfavorable), and even Republicans (43% favorable and 48% unfavorable). Early in his term in 2010, Christie enjoyed a rosier +14 rating (31% favorable and 17% unfavorable).

“Christie is more solidly installed in last place than Kean is in first place. This marks a colossal fall from Christie’s third place showing when he premiered on this list eight years ago. It also offers a sobering warning to Phil Murphy who is sitting in the same spot right now,” said Murray, adding, “Another interesting point is that Christie is – by far – the governor who most New Jerseyans are ready to express an opinion on. This is probably fitting considering how readily he went off on his own constituents when he was in office.”

The remaining five governors on the list earn a split decision to slightly negative reviews after their time in office, but the results are actually an improvement for two of them – Jim McGreevey (D; 2002-04) and Jon Corzine (D; 2006-10). McGreevey currently has a net negative -5 rating – 29% favorable and 34% unfavorable with 37% having no opinion. In 2010, he was sitting at the bottom of the list with a -28 rating (24% favorable, 52% unfavorable, 24% no opinion). Similarly, Corzine currently has a net negative -9 rating – 32% favorable and 41% unfavorable with 27% having no opinion. His 2010 rating was slightly better than McGreevey’s at -24 (31% favorable, 55% unfavorable, 14% no opinion). The number of New Jerseyans who have no opinion of each of these two governors has risen by 13 percentage points in the past eight years as their unfavorable ratings have fallen.

Other governors have seen no significant changes in their ratings since 2010, including Christie Whitman at an even net rating (R; 1994-2001: 35% favorable, 35% unfavorable, 29% no opinion), Jim Florio at -3 (D; 1990-94: 26% favorable, 29% unfavorable, 46% no opinion), and Donald DiFrancesco at -4 (R; 2001-02: 9% favorable, 13% unfavorable, 78% no opinion). DiFrancesco, who served the final months of Whitman’s term after she became EPA Administrator, shares a distinction with Chris Christie by earning a net negative rating from residents in all three political party groups. But that is offset by the fact that he is the least remembered ex-governor, with nearly 8-in-10 having no opinion of him.

Among Garden State residents age 55 and older, Dick Codey earns the number three slot, after Kean and Byrne, with a +15 rating (29% favorable, 14% unfavorable, 57% no opinion), followed by Murphy at +8 (37% favorable, 29% unfavorable, 33% no opinion). Grouped together in the next three positions among this age cohort are Florio at +1 (37% favorable, 36% unfavorable, 27% no opinion), Whitman at -3 (40% favorable, 43% unfavorable, 18% no opinion), and DiFrancesco at -3 (10% favorable, 13% unfavorable, 77% no opinion). Places 8 and 9 on the list are taken by McGreevey at -13 (31% favorable, 44% unfavorable, 25% no opinion) and Corzine at -19 (31% favorable, 50% unfavorable, 19% no opinion). Bringing up the rear in the gubernatorial ratings among New Jerseyans age 55 and older is Christie at -35 (30% favorable, 65% unfavorable, 6% no opinion). [Note: Despite never having been elected to the office, both DiFrancesco and Codey are statutorily permitted to use the title “Governor.”]

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from April 6 to 10, 2018 with 703 New Jersey adults. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points for the full sample. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

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