Gov. Phil Murphy is more popular at this point in his first term than any other New Jersey governor since pollsters began tracking public approval, but part of the credit for that might belong to former Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie left the governorship as the least popular governor New Jersey has had since the advent of opinion polling, and voters are likely pleased to see someone else in the state’s highest office, said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute, but that’s not the only reason for Murphy’s popularity.
“I think that people have general good feelings about the fresh face that we have leading the state, and I think that’s something that hasn’t changed since he took office. In fact, people are saying that what they see so far, they like,” Rasmussen said. “I think that that will continue absent some big event that he doesn’t do well, doesn’t lead well.”
Wednesday’s Quinnipiac University poll found that 54% of voters – including 25% of Republicans – approved of the governor.
While Murphy has feuded with the legislature’s Democratic leaders, little of that conflict has bled over into the eyes of the general public. Spats over the budget and a constitutional amendment over the governor’s power to unilaterally certify revenues that graced the statehouse this summer have largely remained confined there.
That’s good news for Murphy, since he is considered in political circles to have lost the budget fight to Senate President Steve Sweeney. The lack of visibility surrounding those losses leaves Murphy with the public in his corner, and that’ll give him a boost he hasn’t gotten from the legislature in internal squabbles.
“I think he’s in good stead,” Rasmussen said of Murphy. “And, I think that those who encounter him in the legislature or the opposing party have to keep that in mind that he is a force to be reckoned with.”
It’s a little unusual for the public’s good graces to last quite this long after an inauguration, but it’s not entirely unheard of. At 52%, former Gov. Christine Whitman held a similarly high approval seven months into her term. She too succeeded an unpopular governor.
Still, it’s not clear whether or not the public’s opinion of Murphy will be able to weather a controversy that grabs the public’s attention, as he’s largely been untested in such an arena.
Rasmussen said Murphy had surface power, implying that it was partly the result of him still being such an unknown to the state’s voters and could crumble should he face too tough a break.
“Right now, we don’t have another event for people to really base their feelings on. If the problems at NJ transit were to blow up in his face, or if something else were to take root in the public’s confidence, then in that sense, you would see the staying power start to wane,” Rasmussen said. “But, I wouldn’t call it fragile.”