Democrat Phil Murphy has more than twice as much support as Republican Kim Guadagno among New Jersey voters, leading 55 percent to 26 percent in the first poll taken after last week’s gubernatorial primaries.
But there’s a big caveat.
Nearly half of voters say they don’t really know either candidate, according to the Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.
Murphy, who has spent millions of dollars on TV ads for more than a year and won the Democratic primary, remains an unknown quantity to 47 percent of voters. Guadagno, the lieutenant governor for the last seven years under Gov. Chris Christie and the Republican nominee, is an enigma to 50 percent of voters, the poll found.
Regardless, the poll showed Murphy and Democrats with a formidable if not forbidding advantage heading into the November elections, when the governorship and all 120 seats in the Legislature will be on the ballot. Murphy leads among every class of voters except Republicans, the poll found.
Pollster Mickey Carroll said Guadagno is headed for a loss because of her association with Christie and a depleted media landscape in the state. “She’s out of it,” he said. “Murphy trounces Guadagno in the Quinnipiac numbers.”
“But you look at the numbers behind the numbers,” he added, and it becomes clear that voters don’t know much about the candidates or believe their key promises on taxes and spending. “Most of them don’t know,” Carroll said.
Voters see Guadagno’s service in the Christie administration as a bigger negative than Murphy’s 23 years at Goldman Sachs, the poll found. Among those who do know enough about the lieutenant governor, 28 percent don’t like what they see and 20 percent do. For Murphy, the numbers are net positive: 33 percent like him and 18 percent don’t.
“This poll taken five months before Election Day makes it clear that voters are not yet aware of Goldman Sachs millionaire Phil Murphy’s similarity to Jon Corzine or his plan to raise so many taxes if elected that he will be the only one who can afford to live here,” Guadagno spokesman Ricky Diaz said in a statement. “Kim Guadagno is the only candidate who will make our state more affordable for everyday New Jerseyans by lowering property taxes during her first term — or she won’t run for re-election.”
Meanwhile, Christie’s approval rating is in freefall this year, the poll found, reaching an unprecedented 15 percent, the lowest for any New Jersey governor since the dawn of polling. Christie has been below 20 percent all year. President Trump was at 28 percent in the new poll, also underwater in New Jersey. The state’s two Democratic senators, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, each had overall positive ratings.
In a sign of how friendly the landscape is for Democrats this year in New Jersey, Menendez’s numbers are on the rise despite an upcoming trial on corruption charges hanging over his head. He had a 44 percent approval rating to a 35 percent disapproval rating in the poll.
For Carroll, the lack of voter knowledge about the governor’s race is a symptom of deep cuts to New Jersey’s major media outlets over the last decade. Other analysts say Trump and the daily controversies in Washington since his election are demanding an uncommon amount of attention and subduing interest in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race.
Christie, Carroll said, was a media-savvy U.S. attorney who built his reputation and his first gubernatorial campaign in 2009 largely by ingratiating himself with the state’s major news outlets. But in the last decade, corporate bosses at Advance and Gannett have made deep cuts to the reporting ranks in New Jersey’s largest newspapers, and some national media such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have pulled their statehouse correspondents, he said, which means the public is less informed about state politics.
“There’s less journalism than there used to be, and it’s going down,” Carroll said, predicting that coverage will shift to “a lot of roundups, a lot of cheap exposes, s*** like that, but no news.”
“Suppose Guadagno came in here and gave a hell of a news conference,” he said. “So what? Would anyone pay attention?”
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,103 New Jersey voters from June 7 to June 12, with a margin of error of plus-minus 3.8 percentage points.
Update (2:15 p.m.): Comments from Guadagno’s spokesman have been added to this story.