Bad news for Murphy in poll

With just over a year under his belt, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy earns a split decision on his job performance so far.

Governor Phil Murphy

Public opinion tends to be more negative than positive about his agenda’s impact on property tax payers and the middle class, while views are divided on whether he has helped poorer residents of the state. 

The Monmouth University Poll finds widespread support for the recent changes in the minimum wage, which will gradually rise to $15 an hour for some workers over the next five years.

The public is largely unaware of other issues that have been the talk of Trenton – namely legislative hearings into the administration’s hiring practices and the governor’s relationship with legislative leaders.

Currently, 43% of New Jersey adults approve of the job Murphy is doing as governor, which is similar to the 44% rating he earned in April 2018.  That is seven points higher than Republican President Donald Trump’s national job approval rating.

However, his current 40% disapprove rating is higher than the 28% negative rating he received last year.  Another 17% have no opinion of the governor, down from 28%.  Murphy’s current rating is less positive than his two immediate predecessors at the same point in their terms. 

A February 2011 Monmouth poll gave then-Governor Chris Christie a 47% approve to 40% disapprove rating and a February 2007 Monmouth poll gave then-Governor Jon Corzine a 44% approve to 34% disapprove rating.

Murphy, is doing better than Jim McGreevey, though – a February 2003 Eagleton poll gave the then-governor a 34% approve to 45% disapprove rating.

Murphy’s rating among political independents has flipped since last year – he currently holds a net negative 39% approve and 43% disapprove rating with this group compared to a net positive 41% approve and 33% disapprove rating in April 2018. 

Republicans have become more negative – 11% approve and 85% disapprove now, compared with 17% – 59% last year.  Democrats, on the other hand, are largely positive, but a sizable percentage say they still have no opinion of Murphy’s job performance after one year on the job.

Currently, the governor earns a 66% approve and 9% disapprove rating from his fellow Democrats, which is nearly identical to his 65% approve and 7% disapprove rating in April 2018. 

Fully 1-in-4 Democrats (25%), though, do not have an opinion of the governor, which is similar to the number from last year (28%).

“Murphy started his term with greater public goodwill than his recent predecessors, but he has now fallen behind them.  The most troubling result may be the large number of his fellow Democrats who continue to take a wait-and-see attitude. 

It seems he has yet to score a defining win with his base despite spending a significant amount of energy pushing a progressive agenda,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

One signature achievement for the Murphy administration has been enacting a minimum wage hike. Two-in-three New Jerseyans (66%) approve of the move which will increase the minimum wage for most workers to $15 an hour by 2024. 

Just 29% oppose it.  However, other poll results suggest that the governor has yet to win voter sentiment on the benefits of his agenda overall.

Murphy has cast a particular focus on building a “fair economy” for those who have been left behind, but he currently gets mixed reviews for how his policies have affected poorer residents.

While 27% say his policies have helped the poor, a similar 28% say they have actually hurt this group and 27% say they have had no impact. 

Expectations were slightly higher last April when 38% of the public expected that Murphy’s policies would help poor residents of the state while 29% expected his policies would hurt this group. 

Transit riders are another constituency for whom the governor’s policies receive mixed reviews. Just 14% say Murphy has helped transit riders, 25% say his policies have hurt them, and 23% say there has been no impact. Last year, 28% expected his policies would help transit riders and 19% said they would hurt this group.

The poll also finds that few New Jerseyans feel the middle class – property tax payers in particular – have benefited from Murphy’s time as governor. Just 18% say Murphy’s policies have helped middle class residents in the state.

More than twice as many (39%) say his policies have hurt the middle class, while 27% say his policies have had no impact on this group. Ratings are even lower for property tax payers; only 6% say Murphy’s policies have helped this group while nearly half (48%) say they have been hurt by his policies. Another 29% say property tax payers have felt no impact either way from Murphy’s policies. 

These results are in line with New Jerseyans’ expectations for how his policies would affect these groups according to Monmouth’s April 2018 poll.

Garden State residents are divided on whether wealthy residents have been helped (22%), hurt (21%), or felt no impact (30%) from Murphy’s policies.

There is somewhat more negativity regarding the administration’s effect on businesses in the state – 20% say businesses have been helped by Murphy’s policies and 33% say they have been hurt, with 24% who say state businesses have felt no impact either way. 

The results for wealthy residents are in line with expectations last year although the current findings for Murphy’s impact on businesses are slightly less positive than expectations last April.

“New Jersey residents don’t seem to have a clear read on Phil Murphy. A key question is whether the public feels he is truly focused on his current job. It wasn’t too long ago that the state felt burned by his predecessor’s political ambitions. 

That’s worth keeping in mind as Murphy’s national profile with the Democratic Governors Association is on the rise,” said Murray.

Currently, more New Jerseyans feel that Murphy is more concerned with his own political future (46%) than he is with governing the state (33%).  Another 4% say he is concerned with both equally and 16% are unsure where his focus lies. 

This perception was evenly divided last April when 39% said Murphy was more concerned with his future and 40% said he was more concerned with the state.

Nearly half the public (45%) name property taxes when asked to identify the most important issues facing New Jersey, far surpassing any other issue on the top of residents’ minds. 

About 1-in-4 name other taxes, such as income (9%), sales (6%), or taxes in general (8%). Other issues mentioned include the economy and cost of living (16%), jobs (11%), transportation and infrastructure (10%), public education (9%), health care (9%), crime, drugs, and guns (8%), illegal immigration (7%), marijuana legalization (7%), housing (6%), government spending (6%), and the environment (4%).

These results are basically in line with polls taken over the past two years.  Independents (50%) and Republicans (49%) are more likely than Democrats (33%) to mention property taxes as one of the top issues facing New Jersey.  People of color (20%) are more likely than non-Hispanic white residents (6%) to mention jobs.

“Surprise! Property taxes continue to be the issue that irks the largest number of New Jerseyans. It seems the governor and legislative leaders are at odds in terms of what, if anything, should be done. The solution may not be clear, but it’s certainly not a good idea to be perceived as ignoring the problem entirely,” said Murray.

The governor’s uncertain relationship with legislative leadership has been the talk of Trenton insiders but hasn’t made much of an impression among the broader public.

Currently, 20% say Murphy has a good relationship with top Democrats in the legislature and 19% say he has a bad relationship, but most (54%) have not heard anything about this. 

The state legislature as a whole receives a 37% approve and 42% disapprove rating from New Jersey residents, which is in line with results from Monmouth’s poll last April.

The Murphy administration’s hiring of someone who was accused of rape while working on the governor’s 2017 campaign is another issue that has kept the State House abuzz but has barely made a dent in the public consciousness.  Just 4-in-10 New Jerseyans (41%) have heard anything about the legislative hearings into this situation.

Interestingly, Republicans (61%) are more likely than Democrats (37%) or independents (37%) to have tuned into this.  Among those who have heard something about the hearings – keeping in mind that this group is less than half of all state residents – 68% say that the administration mishandled the hiring, while just 12% feel the hiring was handled properly based on what was known at the time. 

On the point that we still do not know exactly who authorized the hiring, just over half of those aware of the hearings (51%) think that the Murphy administration is trying to cover something up, while 34% think the administration is really unsure about how the hiring occurred.

“The legislature’s focus on this situation certainly hasn’t helped the governor’s standing, but I’m not convinced this is the primary reason for Murphy’s rising negatives. The public seems to be a little hazy on his core aims and he has yet to sew up base support among his fellow Democrats,” said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from February 8 to 10, 2019 with 604 New Jersey adults.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

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