NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – With the Murphy administration well underway, New Jerseyans are now split over the direction of the state, as more feel better than they have in recent years about where New Jersey is headed.
Gov. Phil Murphy remains an unknown to a sizeable segment of the public, but initial impressions of the job he is doing are positive: 46 percent approve of his job as governor thus far, 29 percent disapprove, and the remaining quarter offer no assessment. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker continues to shine as the most popular public official in the state, while U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez’s ratings remain lackluster. These are some of the main findings from the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.
For the first time since March 2014, residents are divided over the direction in which the Garden State is headed: 45 percent think the state is going in the right direction, while 48 percent feel it is off on the wrong track. This division is a dramatic improvement after an increasingly pessimistic outlook during Gov. Chris Christie’s last two years in office, which resulted in an all-time low for the state’s direction right before the end of his tenure. Positivity about the state has increased by double digits since November alone, when those saying the state was off on the wrong track outnumbered those saying it was headed in the right direction by a two-to-one margin – 60 to 30 percent.
“Resident’s views on the state are certainly more positive than they have been in recent years, but the degree to which they have improved varies across partisan lines,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “With a Democratic governor in the State House, two thirds of Democrats now have a positive outlook on New Jersey, up 26 points since last November. Independents are much more skeptical, but positivity has grown by double digits among them as well. Three-quarters of Republicans feel just the opposite, though even among this group, positivity has ticked up 5 points since Murphy’s November victory.”
Booker remains the most popular political figure statewide. More approve than disapprove of the job he is doing as a U.S. Senator by a margin of 52 to 27 percent. Around the same number (46 percent) hold a positive impression of him, while 25 percent are negative and the rest say they do not have enough information to offer an assessment or are ambivalent.
New Jerseyans remain uninspired by their other Democratic U.S. Senator, Robert Menendez, whose federal corruption trial last year ended in a hung jury. Slightly more disapprove than approve of the job Menendez is doing by a margin of 37 to 33 percent, with a large number either undecided or not having an opinion. Just 22 percent say they have a positive impression of him; far more are negative (35 percent) or say they are not sure (42 percent).
“Menendez’s ratings have never reached the height of Booker’s, and a large number continue to be almost as ambivalent toward the senior senator as when he first took office in 2006,” said Koning. “Time will tell how these lackluster ratings play out for Menendez in his reelection year, where he may face a well-financed challenger in pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin.”
Statewide, favorable impressions of Murphy outnumber negative ones by a margin of 36 to 24 percent, with 28 percent not having formed an opinion and another 12 percent saying they had not heard of their new governor who took office in January. At this point, opinions of Murphy are heavily conditioned by partisanship: Democrats are largely favorable (54 percent to 5 percent), while Republicans are mostly unfavorable (52 percent to 17 percent), and Independents are split.
“Gov. Murphy starts out in office with favorability ratings akin to Gov. Christine Whitman’s, yet lower than governors Jim McGreevey, Jon Corzine, and Christie at the starts of their first terms,” said Koning. “Much like Whitman, and especially given the low visibility of this year’s race and low voter turnout, a large number of New Jerseyans are still undecided on Murphy, giving his ratings plenty of room to move up or down as he takes action on the budget and other policies.”
Seven in 10 have no opinion of Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney, who has often been at odds with the governor on some policy initiatives and appointments. Formed opinion is split – 14 percent favorable to 17 percent unfavorable. Interestingly, more Republicans (21 percent) currently have a favorable opinion of Sweeney than Democrats (14 percent).
Results are from a statewide poll of 704 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from April 26 to May 4, 2018. The sample has a margin of error of +/-4.3 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.