Phil Murphy’s Challenge: Governing NJ When a Third of the State Doesn’t Know Who You Are

Insider NJ's Fred Snowflack discusses a recent FDU poll that shows 33 percent of New Jersey adults don't know that Phil Murphy is the governor.

Chris Christie  told a hunters’ group back in April that he recently met a guy at Newark Airport who said he was doing a great job as governor. The guy didn’t seem to know Phil Murphy had been elected in 2017. Christie’s punch line was that Murphy is so ineffective and under-the-radar people don’t know who he is.

My reaction upon hearing Christie’s story that night in Sussex County was that his airport buddy was an utter moron. How could he not know Murphy had been elected more than a year ago?

Well, apparently, this moron has company. An FDU poll released Monday says that about a third of those surveyed don’t know the name of the current governor.

And the poll gave some respondents the benefit of the doubt, accepting as “correct” answers, those who gave the governor’s name as William Murphy or Bill Murphy. But how about Phil Murray? Apparently not close enough.

It’s no surprise many people are totally clueless about their elected officials. (Just try asking random folks on the street who their representative in Congress is).

Yet, this is still a sobering and unfortunate finding. The masses need basic knowledge for a democracy to function properly.

It’s curious how this poll finding meshes with some of the issues of the day. State government may shut down at the end of the month over the governor’s (that would be Phil Murphy) proposal to raise income taxes on millionaires.Then, there’s the ongoing flap over EDA grants and the just-concluded investigation into the Katie Brennan-Al Alvarez case.

With all that going on, you might think  more people would at least know who the governor is.

Then again, take those issues out of the insular world of politics and the seeming apathy is a bit easier to decipher. Most New Jerseyans are not millionaires, so they probably don’t care at all if taxes are raised on the very wealthy.

The investigation into the EDA may show serious wrongdoing, but the feeling here is that after awhile, people become immune to misdeeds by the politically connected.

However, the Brennan-Alvarez case is a little different, as it involved an alleged sexual assault and the administration’s incompetence in handling it. Since this mirrors what has been a national issue, more people probably should be able to identify the governor from this case alone.

Going back decades, many in the state used to say New Jersey needed its own television station to keep residents abreast of state issues. That has changed.  Besides TV stations, New Jersey also has its own radio stations.

Newspapers, or lack thereof, have become a problem. For many reasons, chief among them the idiotic thinking of management, far fewer people read daily newspapers today than a generation or so ago. The hunch here is that 100 percent (O.K. maybe 99 percent) of people who read a daily newspaper know who the governor is.

Still, none of the above explanations fully leave people off the hook. Ignorance of public issues is a poor way to go through life in a democracy. It’s really not hard to know the name of the governor.

In contemplating the politics of all this, I am reminded of an old baseball story attributed to the legendary Casey Stengel, but any manager or coach would do. Using the 25-man roster of a baseball team, Stengel allegedly observed that 10 players like you, 10 don’t and five don’t have an opinion. So the secret is keeping the guys who hate you away from those who don’t care.

Ditto for politics.

That same FDU poll put Murphy’s approval rating at 43 percent; 36 percent disapproved. (That only counts those who identified him).

So the chore for the governor, who often makes baseball references, is to follow the Stengel method. Keep the 36 percent who don’t like him away from those who don’t know who the hell he is.

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