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Pandemic, Taxes, Economy Are Top Voter Issues in Race for Governor

New Jersey

Incumbent holds lead; few voters familiar with challenger

West Long Branch, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy holds a double-digit lead over challenger Jack Ciattarelli as the New Jersey gubernatorial election gets underway. The Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll shows the Democratic incumbent with a sizable lead in Central Jersey – a region that has been a key to Republican electoral success in the past. Murphy has a decided edge on the campaign’s top issue – the pandemic – and also holds his own on other key concerns, including taxes and the economy. Few voters have formed an opinion of Ciattarelli, a former three-term state legislator, and still fewer have even heard of either candidate’s running mate for lieutenant governor.

Just over half (52%) of registered voters currently support Murphy while 36% back Ciattarelli. Both candidates claim formidable leads among voters who identify with their respective parties, but Murphy holds a narrow edge (44% to 38%) among voters who do not see themselves as aligned with either party. Regionally, Murphy leads in both the northern (60% to 29%) and central (52% to 38%) parts of the state, while South Jersey is tilted slightly toward Ciattarelli (45%, to 40% for Murphy).

“These results illustrate the challenge any Republican running in New Jersey would face this year. One place to start is Central Jersey. Chris Christie won this region by 15 points when he narrowly ousted a Democratic incumbent in 2009, but it appears to be Murphy territory this time around,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Murray added, “The key to GOP victory in the past has been winning over upper-income moderate Republicans in Somerset County and working-class swing voters in Middlesex. Both these groups have swung decidedly toward the Democratic party during the Trump era, and it doesn’t look like they are about to swing back any time soon – even for someone like Ciattarelli, who is one of their own.”

The poll also finds Murphy has a significant advantage among voters of color – 85% to 5% among Black voters and 69% to 19% among Latinos, Asians, and multiracial voters. Ciattarelli holds a 49% to 40% lead among white voters, but there is a split based on education. His lead with this group is largely due to white voters without a bachelor’s degree (55% to 34%). White college graduates narrowly prefer Murphy (48% to 41% for Ciattarelli).

A range of potential electorate models* do not alter the current character of this race, with Murphy’s lead ranging from 11 points to 19 points depending on the scenario. Interestingly, past voting frequency does not have much of an impact on the race margin. For example, Murphy holds similar leads among voters who have cast ballots in every general election since 2016 (53% to 38%) as he does with those who voted in only 2 or 3 elections during that time (51% to 35%). When the potential electorate is limited only to voters who cast ballots in the 2017 gubernatorial election, Murphy holds a 54% to 37% margin. The only group Ciattarelli makes a real dent with are voters who describe themselves as being more enthusiastic about this year’s race versus past elections for governor. The challenger narrowly edges the incumbent by 51% to 44% among this group, but they make up only 27% of all voters.

“There is not a lot here to suggest that a focus on turning out different types of voters will lead to a significant shift in the current state of the race. It will require something more fundamental in the issues driving the race to do that,” said Murray.

Governor vote
model A
model B
      Source:  Monmouth University Poll, Aug. 11-16, 2021

According to New Jersey voters, the most important issues facing the state right now are the Covid pandemic (41%), taxes – especially property taxes (32%), along with income (9%), sales (7%), and other (4%) taxes – and the economy and cost of living (15%) along with jobs (7%). When asked whom they trust more to handle these top concerns, voters give Murphy a clear advantage on the pandemic (46% to 21% for Ciattarelli) and a narrower edge on jobs and the economy (35% to 27%). The electorate is evenly divided on trusting either Ciattarelli (30%) or Murphy (29%) more when it comes to taxes.

“On the issues part of the campaign, you either win on the thing voters care about the most or you get them to focus on a different concern where you have the edge. Either way, the issue picture right now is very favorable for Murphy,” said Murray.

In terms of overall impressions of the two major party nominees, nearly half (48%) of the state’s voters have a favorable view of Murphy while 33% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 19% have no opinion. This is in line with voter opinion of the incumbent in May. When he first ran for office, Murphy garnered a 29% favorable and 12% unfavorable opinion, with 59% having no opinion (July 2017).

Ciattarelli registers a net positive opinion (26% favorable and 12% unfavorable), but 61% have no opinion of the former state legislator. This is nominally better than the ratings were for the last GOP nominee (18% favorable, 21% unfavorable, and 61% no opinion for Kim Guadagno in July 2017).

About a third (32%) of Garden State voters say Murphy’s political views are in line with most New Jerseyans while 22% say he is out of step. Another 46% say they are not sure about how the incumbent’s views align with the state. Fewer voters, though, have an opinion of Ciattarelli’s views – 13% say his views are in line with the state, 15% say they are out of step, and 73% are not sure.

“Welcome to New Jersey elections, where a large chunk of the electorate does not tune in until mid-October. That means Ciattarelli still has to be introduced to most voters. The question is whether the candidate or his opponent gets to make the introduction. A good bet is the Murphy team will pour resources into ads casting the largely unknown challenger as too extreme for the state,” said Murray.

The two party’s nominees for lieutenant governor are even less familiar to New Jersey voters. In fact, 80% say they have not even heard of Diane Allen, the GOP candidate and former state senator and news anchor. Similarly, 66% have not heard of Sheila Oliver, the current Democratic lieutenant governor.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from August 11 to 16, 2021 with 810 New Jersey registered voters. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

  *   Monmouth’s electorate models for the 2021 election are not forecasts. They are designed to present a range of reasonable outcomes based on voter intentions at this moment. Each registered voter is assigned a probabilistic weight between 0 and 1, based primarily on past voting history, with adjustments for self-reported likelihood to vote, motivation and other factors. Further adjustments are applied to the aggregate sample based on turnout propensities among different demographic groups (e.g. by race, gender, education).


(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

1.If the election for Governor was today, would you vote for Jack Ciattarelli the Republican, Phil Murphy the Democrat, or some other candidate? [NAMES WERE ROTATED] [If UNDECIDED: If you had to vote for one of the following candidates at this moment, who do you lean toward – Jack Ciattarelli or Phil Murphy?]

REGISTERED VOTERS (with leaners)Aug.
Jack Ciattarelli36%
Phil Murphy52%
Other candidate2%
(VOL) No one1%
(VOL) Undecided9%


2.Is your general impression of Jack Ciattarelli very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?

Very favorable8%
Somewhat favorable18%
Somewhat unfavorable5%
Very unfavorable7%
No opinion61%

3.Is your general impression of Phil Murphy very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?

Very favorable18%Favorable48%50%41%29%
Somewhat favorable30%
Somewhat unfavorable10%Unfavorable33%36%28%12%
Very unfavorable23%
No opinion19%No opinion19%14%31%59%
(n)(810)     (n)(810)(661)(632)(758)


Each candidate has chosen a running mate for lieutenant governor.

4.The Republican running mate is Diane Allen. Have you heard of her or not? [If HEARD: Is your general impression of Diane Allen favorable or unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?]

No opinion10%
Not heard of80%

5.The Democratic running mate is Sheila Oliver. Have you heard of her or not? [If HEARD: Is your general impression of Sheila Oliver favorable or unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?]

No opinion17%
Not heard of66%

6.In your opinion, what are the most important one or two issues facing the state of New Jersey right now? [LIST WAS NOT READ. IF “TAXES” MENTIONED, INTERVIEWER ASKED FOR SPECIFIC TYPE.] [Note: Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted.]

TREND: REGISTERED VOTERSAug. 2021Feb. 2019April 2018July 2017Dec. 2013Dec. 2012Feb. 2012July 2009*
Property taxes32%47%47%50%27%32%44%45%
Income tax9%9%10%9%8%6%8%7%
Sales tax7%6%8%7%2%3%3%4%
Other tax4%9%9%5%14%6%3%5%
Economy, cost of living15%15%15%9%10%21%20%27%
Govt spending, budget7%6%8%9%5%6%9%18%
Education, public schools10%8%17%15%22%11%19%12%
Higher education1%1%3%2%2%2%3%n/a
Transport, infrastructure7%10%14%10%2%3%1%1%
Health care, insurance6%9%6%11%10%8%4%18%
Crime, guns, drugs6%8%12%9%5%3%5%2%
Public pensions, benefits1%1%3%6%2%2%2%n/a
Housing, housing costs4%7%4%6%3%2%1%n/a
Illegal immigration4%8%8%3%1%1%1%2%
Auto insurance0%0%2%3%0%1%1%n/a
Marijuana legalization1%7%5%2%n/an/an/an/a
Opioid crisis0%3%4%1%n/an/an/an/a
Race, equity, police reform2%n/an/an/an/an/an/an/a
Nothing/no answer7%3%3%3%3%4%3%3%

*July 2009 question wording was “In your opinion, what are the most important one or two issues that the candidates for governor should talk about?”  

+ “Other” includes Superstorm Sandy recovery.


7.Who do you trust more on handling the Covid pandemic – Jack Ciattarelli or Phil Murphy, or both equally? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Jack Ciattarelli21%
Phil Murphy46%
Both equally17%
(VOL) Neither6%
(VOL) Don’t know9%

8.Who do you trust more on jobs and the economy – Jack Ciattarelli or Phil Murphy, or both equally? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Jack Ciattarelli27%
Phil Murphy35%
Both equally22%
(VOL) Neither6%
(VOL) Don’t know10%

9.Who do you trust more on taxes – Jack Ciattarelli or Phil Murphy, or both equally? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Jack Ciattarelli30%
Phil Murphy29%
Both equally22%
(VOL) Neither8%
(VOL) Don’t know12%


10.Are Jack Ciattarelli’s political views in line or out of step with most New Jerseyans, or are you not sure?

In line13%
Out of step15%
Not sure73%

11.Are Phil Murphy’s political views in line or out of step with most New Jerseyans, or are you not sure?

In line32%
Out of step22%
Not sure46%

12.How will you vote this year – in person on Election Day, in person at an early voting location, or by mail ballot?

In person on Election Day54%
In person at an early voting location5%
By mail ballot36%
(VOL) Won’t vote at all0%
(VOL) Don’t know5%

13.How motivated are you to vote in the election for governor – very motivated, somewhat motivated, or not that motivated?

Very motivated65%
Somewhat motivated26%
Not that motivated9%
(VOL) Don’t know0%

14.Compared to past elections for governor, are you more enthusiastic than usual, less enthusiastic, or about the same as past elections?

More enthusiastic27%
Less enthusiastic9%
About the same63%
(VOL) Don’t know1%

[Q15-34 held for future release.]


The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from August 11 to 16, 2021 with a statewide random sample of 810 New Jersey voters drawn from a list of registered voters. This includes 227 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 583 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone, in English. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. The full sample is weighted for party registration, age, gender, race, education, and region based on state voter registration list information and U.S. Census information (CPS 2018 supplement). Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Aristotle (voter sample). For results based on the full voter sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

Party Registration
24% Republican
40% Democrat
36% Other/none
Self-Reported Party ID
21% Republican
43% Independent
36% Democrat
49% Male
51% Female
23% 18-34
23% 35-49
30% 50-64
25% 65+
64% White, non-Hispanic
13% Black
14% Hispanic
  8% Asian/Other
56% No degree
44% 4 year degree

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and crosstabs by key demographic groups.