A new survey finds Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy continues to lead Republican Jack Ciattarelli by 9 percentage points in the race for governor, but voters are split on key issues in the campaign.

John Froonjian, the executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, said the poll finds Murphy gets high marks for his handling of the COVID pandemic.

“We see high support for mask mandates in school, 58%, for mandates for employers with more than 100 workers to be vaccinated or tested, 56%,” he said.

Froonjian said the poll also finds 63% of voters support mandatory vaccination for health care workers.

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“So there’s support for his COVID policies. He’s made that a major part of his campaign, and I think people are responding to his leadership on that issue," he said.

The pandemic was named the top issue in the campaign by the largest percentage of poll respondents, 25%, and voters said Murphy would better manage the pandemic compared to Ciattarelli, 50% to 34%.

The poll also found 50% of New Jerseyans opposed requiring proof of vaccination to get into a restaurant, entertainment venue or public event, while 46% would support such a requirement.

Besides the pandemic, the biggest issue in the campaign, said Froonjian, is taxes and the challenger gets a high rating, 46% to Murphy's 38%.

Ciattarelli and Murphy also received 43% and 42%, respectively, on the question of who would be better at managing the economy.

On whether the state is moving in the right or wrong direction, 45% said wrong while 44% said right.

Froonjian said Ciattarelli’s biggest challenge is he’s not very well known.

“Almost half of the respondents either say they don’t know who is he or they just don’t know enough about him to make an opinion, and that includes one-third of Republicans,” he said.

He said on the one hand this gives the Republican a clean slate to tell his story and make a good impression, “but he can’t do that in a vacuum.”

He said the biggest challenge for Murphy “is to get his Democratic base active and voting.”

Respondents in the poll give Murphy a 54% job approval rating, while 41% disapprove of his performance. About 5% of those questioned said they were unfamiliar with the governor.

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