TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy’s advantage in the gubernatorial election has narrowed slightly, according to Monmouth University Poll results released Wednesday that show him leading Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by 13 percentage points.

The poll finds Murphy favored by 51% of registered voters and Ciattarelli the choice of 38%. That is slightly smaller than a 16-point difference in Monmouth’s August survey, though the difference falls within the polls’ margins of error and isn’t statistically significant.

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The small shift comes mainly from an increase in self-identified Republicans backing their standard-bearer. Murphy maintains a small edge among independents, 44% to 39%, and has the support of 90% of self-identified Democrats in what has become a solidly Democratic state.

The No. 1 issue

“We’ve seen a small shift in the governor’s race since last month,” said Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray, who said the range of likely-voter models suggests Murphy is ahead by anywhere from 9 points to 14 points.

“The attacks that Ciattarelli has been launching against Phil Murphy and the Murphy attacks against Ciattarelli really haven’t moved the fundamentals of this race at all,” Murray said. “The No. 1 issue remains the pandemic, and on that issue, Phil Murphy has a 50% to 23% trust advantage.”

Highlighting property taxes

Murray said Ciattarelli has made inroads by emphasizing taxes and has a small trust advantage on that issue, 39% to 33%.

“It’s just not as important to voters right now as the pandemic is, and I think that’s really what’s driving this race,” Murray said.

Compared to Monmouth’s August poll, Murphy has gained a few points on handling the pandemic while Ciattarelli has gained a few points on jobs and taxes.

North vs. South

Murphy continues to lead Ciattarelli in North Jersey and Central Jersey, while the race is even in South Jersey.

Thirty-one percent of registered voters have favorable views of Ciattarelli and 19% view him unfavorably, with both numbers increasing by similar amounts in the past month. Half of the electorate still has no opinion of Ciattarelli – an improvement from August, when 61% didn’t have an opinion.

“That’s actually though par for the course here in New Jersey,” Murray said. “It’s very difficult if you don’t already have a statewide profile to get one here in New Jersey. Voters just don’t tune in to this race until October. We have seen that time and time again. That’s another thing that makes it very difficult for a challenger.”

Forty-eight percent of voters have a favorable view of Murphy and 37% have an unfavorable opinion, with 16% giving no answer. His unfavorable numbers have increased slightly since August.

Republicans have pointed to surveys from conservative pollsters that show Murphy with a narrower advantage that amounts to a statistical tie.

The Monmouth Poll was conducted from Sept. 16 to 20 with 804 New Jersey registered voters. The results have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

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