New Jersey

New Jersey Greets Governor-Elect Murphy with Cautious Optimism

New Jerseyans see a glimmer of hope for the Garden State following Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial victory in November, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. After an increasingly pessimistic outlook about the state for the past two years, residents have slightly reversed course: while 60 percent believe New Jersey is still going off on the wrong track, 30 percent now say the state is headed in the right direction – a double-digit increase since August. Moreover, a plurality (46 percent) thinks that things will get better under the upcoming Murphy administration; 20 percent, on the other hand, believe things will get worse, 23 percent say they will remain the same, and 10 percent are unsure.

A majority of New Jerseyans is enthusiastic at some level about Murphy becoming the state’s next governor: 23 percent are “very” enthusiastic, and 35 percent are “somewhat” enthusiastic. More than a third of residents, on the other hand, are not enthusiastic – 13 percent “not very” and 24 percent “not at all.” Just over half believes Murphy has a clear plan for what he wants to do in the state; the other half are evenly divided between feeling Murphy does not have a clear strategy and being unsure.

Six in 10 residents say they have at least some knowledge (17 percent “a lot,” 44 percent “some”) of what Murphy wants to do as governor, and New Jerseyans show sizeable support for a number of promises Murphy made during the campaign. Large majorities favor providing employees with a minimum number of paid sick days (80 percent), restoring funding for family planning services (75 percent), fully funding the public-employee pension system (68 percent), raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour (68 percent), strengthening state gun laws (59 percent), and legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana (53 percent). New Jerseyans continue to oppose casino expansion (61 percent) and legalized betting on college sports (55 percent).

When asked what issue Murphy should tackle first upon taking office, a quarter mentions something about taxes: 20 percent say taxes, in general, and another 7 percent specifically mention property taxes. Fourteen percent believe education should be his top concern. No other issue receives more than 6 percent.

“Post-election, New Jerseyans are eager about a new administration and what it may bring,” said Dr. Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “But even as optimism grows, the state is in dire financial straits and taxes still reign as a top concern, which may limit what Gov. Murphy is able to do.”

Murphy’s recognition has grown post-election. New Jerseyans are now more favorable than unfavorable toward the governor-elect, 37 percent to 25 percent; 35 percent still have no opinion of him and 3 percent do not know who he is. This is a marked difference from just a few months ago, when two-thirds of residents either did not recognize Murphy or could not form an opinion of him either way.

Most residents have yet to form an impression of the state’s incoming lieutenant governor: 60 percent have no opinion of Sheila Oliver, while another 19 percent are favorable, and 14 percent are unfavorable.

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,203 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 15-27, 2017. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.0 percentage points. Some questions reported in this release were asked of a sub-sample, resulting in approximately 600 respondents and a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Partisanship drives a wedge on views about the state, Murphy, and policy

Not everyone shares a positive outlook on the state and new administration. Republicans (20 percent) and Independents (24 percent) are about half as likely as Democrats to say New Jersey is going in the right direction (41 percent). Republicans are especially negative, with 72 percent saying the state has gone off on the wrong track.

Partisan divides persist when residents are asked about their feelings toward Murphy himself. Six in 10 Democrats have a favorable impression toward the governor-elect, while the same number of Republicans has an unfavorable one. Independents are split (25 percent favorable to 28 percent unfavorable), with a plurality (42 percent) not giving an opinion either way.

Enthusiasm for Murphy is also highest among his base: 41 percent of Democrats are “very” enthusiastic, compared to 13 percent of independents and 7 percent of Republicans. Democrats are also more likely than their counterparts to believe Murphy has a clear plan – 66 percent, versus 42 percent among independents and 44 percent among Republicans.

Partisans also take opposing sides on a number of Murphy’s campaign promises. Large majorities of Democrats support Murphy’s biggest proposals, including marijuana legalization (67 percent) and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour (89 percent). Two-thirds of Republicans, on the other hand, oppose each of these. Yet a majority of Republicans back paid sick days (67 percent) and funding family planning services (57 percent); just over half support fully funding the pension system (52 percent) and expanding casino gambling to other parts of New Jersey (52 percent).

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