According to new poll numbers released today by the Monmouth University Polling Institute, 62% of voters think Gov. Phil Murphy has done a good job dealing with the pandemic – and yet a majority also think his actions hurt small businesses and at least partially blame him for Covid-related deaths in nursing homes.
Taken together, the seemingly contradictory numbers paint a nuanced picture of how voters view the Murphy administration after more than a year and a half of living under a pandemic.
Asked whether they think the government’s actions to mitigate Covid were warranted, 51% of respondents said the actions taken have been appropriate, and 17% said they haven’t gone far enough; only 28% said they’ve gone too far.
Even among Republicans, 33% said the state government’s response has been appropriate or hasn’t gone far enough, a not-insignificant percentage given the era’s highly polarized political environment.
The poll also found sizable support for reinstating masking and distancing mandates, with 49% saying they strongly supported such actions and another 12% saying they somewhat supported them.
Notably, the poll was taken before Murphy announced a new masking policy in child care centers on Monday, a policy which Republicans have excoriated. But given that Murphy’s previous mandates in schools proved relatively popular, there’s no guarantee it’s a winning message for Republicans.
“On the big ticket items that affect a broad cross-section of the New Jersey population, they feel that [Murphy] got it right – that he basically kept New Jerseyans safe,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, of the state’s electorate. “They give him credit for handling it the best he could in a situation where there were a lot of unknowns.”
On the other side of the ledger, a colossal 82% of respondents, including 70% of Democrats, said the state’s lockdowns hurt small businesses a lot, and a further 13% said they hurt a little.
24% of voters thought it was “definitely possible” to mitigate Covid without harming small businesses, and another 29% thought it was “probably possible,” for a narrow majority of 53%. In other words, the state is united in believing that the state’s actions hurt small businesses, but more divided on whether such an outcome could have been avoided.
Finally, a combined 53% of respondents said that the Murphy administration held a “great deal” or “some” responsibility for the tragic deaths of nursing home residents early in the pandemic. 21% said Murphy bears “not much” responsibility, and 16% said “not at all.”
The consensus, if any is to be found, seems to be that voters are able to both criticize and sympathize with the Murphy administration. As Murray said in an analogy, “if you have a five-course meal, and three of the courses are great, one’s so-so, and one’s bad, you basically feel that you had a good meal.”
After a long and grueling pandemic with no clear end on the horizon, voters overall remain supportive of the governor – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll forget his mistakes.
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%.
This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. with quotes from Monmouth director Patrick Murray.