By Jim Ellis
Oct. 26, 2021 — The most recent Emerson College poll for the New Jersey governor’s race (Oct. 15-18; 600 likely New Jersey voters; combination live interview, text, and interactive voice response system) suggests that Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman and ex-county official, has an outside chance of scoring an upset victory over Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in next week’s statewide election.
While the odds still favor a Murphy win, the new survey certainly shows areas of weakness for the Democratic incumbent and a path to victory for the Republican challenger. According to Emerson, Gov. Murphy leads 50-44 percent, and when leaners are added to the mix, the margin tightens to an even closer 52-48 percent.
Among those who classify themselves as “very likely” voters, the Murphy lead shrinks well within the polling margin of error at 48-45 percent. The biggest Ciattarelli positive sectors are among undecided voters, who are breaking his way on a 59-41 percent clip, the Independent segment, 56-32 percent, men, 50-41 percent, and those in the 50-64 age range, 49-46 percent.
Gov. Murphy obviously can highlight positive sectors of his own. The most favorable sign pointing to a Murphy victory next Tuesday is among the people who say they have already voted. Of those, 76 percent indicated they supported Gov. Murphy as opposed to just 24 percent who cast their ballot for Ciattarelli.
The Emerson poll finds the governor leading among women, 57-40 percent, those aged 18-29, at 58-42 percent, the 30-49 aged sector, 47-41 percent, and the oldest and most reliable voting segment, the people aged 65 and older, 53-42 percent.
Neither candidate has a particular advantage on the favorability index. Gov. Murphy records a 49:47 percent favorable to unfavorable rating, while Ciattarelli posts an even 40:40 percent ratio.
Emerson also tested issue preference, and those questions seem to play well for Ciattarelli. The Republican’s main push is the tax issue, since New Jersey is among the highest taxed states in the country. He even has a video, featured prominently in his ads, of the governor answering a question about taxes saying, “if taxes are your issue, we’re probably not your state.” (See video at top of post.)
It appears that Ciattarelli is hitting home with his tax message. Among the poll respondents, 51 percent identified taxes as the issue that should be the next governor’s top priority. Jobs was second at 36 percent, healthcare next at 13 percent, while six percent cited the NJ Transit system, four percent crime, and nine responding with a smattering of other issues.
Interestingly, COVID-19 was not an isolated issue response, though it is clear that the virus is included in the healthcare response. Even that 13 percent figure is low, however, when compared with polls from other places, and particularly so for New Jersey since the state leads the nation in per capita COVID deaths.
Gov. Murphy was elected in 2017 with a strong 56-42 percent margin against then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadano in a race that was the Democratic nominee’s from the start. The issue tide was certainly flowing the Democrats’ way and Guadano, as the Republican nominee, was in a public battle with the man she was attempted to succeed, then-Gov. Chris Christie (R). The internal strife put her already underdog campaign in a hopeless position.
The 2021 race is much different. In the campaign’s final days, it appears that Gov. Murphy is still favored to win, but the numbers, political atmosphere, and national trend lines seems to be flowing against the governor, thus leading to what could be a close finish on Nov. 2. While still unlikely, it does appear a Ciattarelli upset is within the realm of possibility.