While Donald Trump has loomed large in the New Jersey Governor’s race, a new Monmouth University Poll released on Wednesday shows that the former president won’t be the reason most voters pick between Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli.
Trump was prominently featured in one of two Murphy TV ads that went up on the air last week.
“The Murphy campaign has tried to cast their opponent as a Trump clone. Maybe they should be planting the idea that Ciattarelli is just paying the Trump wing lip service to dampen GOP enthusiasm for him,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “But in the end, Trump himself does not appear to be a driving factor for where this race stands right now.”
The poll puts Murphy ahead by 13 points, with Ciattarelli making a small gain over the governor’s 16-point lead in August.
“This is typical New Jersey voter inattentiveness,” Murray said. “Ciattarelli has not been able to introduce himself yet, but these results also mean the Murphy campaign’s attempts to paint their opponent as an extremist have not penetrated either.”
Most New Jerseyans (68%) aren’t sure if Ciattarelli’s political views are in line or out of step with the state since most New Jerseyans still don’t know who he is. Of those who do, 16% say he’s in line with the rest of New Jersey and 17% thing his positions are out of step.
While Murphy is better known, 41% of the state aren’t entirely sure where Murphy stands. More than one-third (35%) of voters view him as in line with New Jerseyans, while 24% think he’s out of step.
About two-in-ten voters (22%) of the state think that Ciattarelli agrees with the Trump wing of the Republican Party, but 26% believe Ciattarelli is just playing to Trump voters in order to get their support in his bid for governor. Voters are divided on whether that’s a good thing (30%) or a bad thing (34%).
More than four-in-ten New Jerseyans (44%) agreed that Murphy agrees with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, while 25% think he’s just “saying things” to keep their support and 17% believe he’s independent of the party’s progressive wing. Still, voters are split at 40% each on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“Being aligned with the polar end of the party’s base plays well within that party,” Murray said. “But that also means whoever has the bigger base wins because there is no appeal to voters in the middle, if such voters even exist anymore.”
Independent voters are statistically split on whether the two candidates are in line or out of step with New Jersey voters.
Nearly three-quarters of New Jersey voters (73%) “don’t really care” that Trump spends his summers living at his golf club in Bedminster. Just 9% of the state says they have a good feeling about Trump being in New Jersey and 16% say his presence gives them a bad feeling.”
Half of New Jersey (50%) said they knew where Trump spent his summers, and the other half where unaware that the Garden State is the former president’s summer residence.
The Monmouth University Polling Institute was in the field from September 16-20 with a sample size of 804 New Jersey voters and a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.