With under a week to go until Election Day, a new poll in New Jersey's closely watched gubernatorial showdown indicates the race is tightening, with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy still holding onto a slightly shrinking double-digit lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli.
Murphy, America's ambassador to Germany during President Obama's administration and former longtime top executive at the financial firm Goldman Sachs, stands at 50% support among registered voters in New Jersey questioned in a Monmouth University poll released on Wednesday. Ciattarelli, a certified public accountant who started a medical publishing company and a former state lawmaker who is making his second bid for governor, stands at 39%.
Murphy's 11-point margin over Ciattarell in the new survey, which was conducted Oct. 21-25, is down from a 13-point lead in a Monmouth poll from last month and a drop from a 16-point lead in an August survey.
"We've had a couple of debates and a slew of advertising since the last Monmouth poll. Ciattarelli has chipped away at Murphy's lead but hasn't delivered the knockout he needs," Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said.
While New Jersey's a blue state where Democrats enjoy a registration advantage of roughly 1 million more voters than Republicans, Murphy's trying to become the first Democratic governor in more than four decades to win reelection. And he’s aiming to break a trend dating back to 1989 that's seen the party that wins the White House go on to lose the Garden State’s election for governor in the ensuing year. New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states to hold a gubernatorial contest in the year after a presidential election, guaranteeing that they receive outsized national attention.
The Monmouth poll suggests that gains Ciattarelli's made with voters age 65 and over – Murphy's 16-point lead in September is down to 5 points now – contributed to the slight overall tightening of the race.
The survey also indicates that Ciattarelli has the edge among those who say they intend to vote on Election Day, while the governor enjoys a more than two-to-one margin of support among those who have already cast their ballot or intend to vote early.
Independent voters surveyed are evenly divided between Murphy and Ciattarelli, with 93% of self-identified Democrats backing the governor and 87% of self-described Republicans supporting the GOP nominee.
The poll suggests that taxes, at 27%, is the top issue on the mind of Garden State voters, followed by jobs and the economy at 20%, schools and education at 16%, and the coronavirus pandemic at 15%. Ciattarelli holds a 10-point edge on taxes, but Murphy enjoys a 15-point advantage on education and a 19-point lead on the pandemic, with both evenly matched on jobs and the economy.
"Ciattarelli’s attack on Murphy as being out of touch on taxes has resonated with some voters, but not enough to change the overall issue picture for this campaign," Murray noted. "Even though concerns about the pandemic have lessened, the shift toward education policy basically produces the same benefit for Murphy. He is viewed as the better candidate on both issues."
The poll's release comes two days after the governor joined President Biden at two policy events in New Jersey.
The survey indicates the president’s approval is now underwater in the heavily blue Garden State. Biden stands at 43% approval and 49% disapproval in the new poll, down from 51%-41% in August. Murphy's approval rating as governor remains mostly unchanged at 52% approval and 39% disapproval.
One thousand registered voters in New Jersey were questioned in the Monmouth poll, which has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.