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Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Murphy needs to tie himself to policies, pundits say

By Nikita Biryukov, February 12 2019 5:29 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s heightened disapproval rating in a Monmouth University poll released Tuesday doesn’t spell his doom, but pundits agree that Murphy needs to start taking pains to tie himself to his policies.

The poll found Murphy had a 43%-40% approval rating. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they’re not as glowing as the 44%-28% approval rating he received in a Monmouth poll conducted last April.

Still, while the governor’s trending down slightly, the same can’t be said of all of his policies, particularly about the recently-passed $15 minimum wage law, which voters favored, 66%-29%.

“I think this is a good warning shot,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute. “I think it can serve as a good opportunity for Gov. Murphy to refocus himself on making sure that his policies are perceived as benefiting the middle class and as acting to do something about New Jersey’s high cost of living.”

The disconnect between Murphy’s approval rating and that of the minimum wage hike could come down to his team’s communication strategy.

Though a vast majority of Democrats, 66%-9%, approved of the governor, 25% said they had no opinion of Murphy, who has already finished a quarter of his first term in office.

“After more than a year of campaigning and a year in office as governor, it’s surprising that so many people have no opinion and know very little about the governor,” Rowan University political science professor Ben Dworkin said. “They clearly know about some of his big issues, like the $15 minimum wage, but support for that issue has not translated into support for him, which is why he’s not at 66%.”

Dworkin and Rasmussen were split there.

Rasmussen said Murphy’s problem may lie with the electorate rather than his communication strategy.

New Jersey, despite being blue, is not a liberal haven, he said, so Murphy’s agenda might not resonate to the degree that the governor would like in a state where taxes are often at the top of voters’ minds.

“When you have one in four democrats who are not prepared to say that they support the governor, clearly people aren’t paying a whole lot of attention. [Monmouth pollster Patrick] Murray and others want to say you’ve got a progressive agenda and it’s not resonating with them,” Rasmussen said. “That’s really what it boils down to. Those may be democrats who are not as concerned about a progressive agenda as they are about a middle-class agenda.”

The fix to that problem, Rasmussen said, lies in difficult solutions to difficult problems, though he admitted that Murphy would benefit from making sure his policies are perceived as benefiting the state’s middle class.

Dworkin was more focused on how unknown Murphy was to voters this far into his tenure as governor. There’s still time to solve that issue, and because of that, the results of this poll don’t spell doom for Murphy.

“We should understand that this is a snapshot in a period of time. We’re not measuring the public a week before the election,” Dworkin said. “The election’s three years away, so there’s a lot of time for things to happen.”

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