So What About This…. What does Phil Murphy’s Public Schedule Tell us about his First 100(ish) Days?

Murphy, right, and Sweeney.

Very shortly, we will start hearing stories and comments about Phil Murphy’s first 100 days in Office.  This is a traditional reflection point in a new administration.  While historians often disagree how this marker became important, most point to the massive and far-reaching changes made by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his first 100 days.  Roosevelt declared and lifted a national banking holiday, signed government assistance legislation for farmers and created the first of his many federal jobs programs.  It is a dizzying record of accomplishment that most other politicians can’t ever hope to reach.  However, the 100 days as “a thing” still resonates with people and with reporters.   

Since you will be reading about Murphy’s first 100 days elsewhere, I decided to take a slightly different tack.  Instead of looking at Murphy’s outcomes, I decided to look at what he did, where he went, what he talked about and who he talked to.  To do this, I analyzed the public schedule press releases issued by the Murphy team from January 17th to April 17th.  I know, I know it isn’t exactly up to his 1st 100 days, but it is close enough.  Don’t judge me.  

So, in reality it is more like his first 100 events, not days.  Specifically, it is his first 114 “events” in total.  A couple of caveats before getting into the findings.   

First, these are obviously not the only events, meetings, ribbon cuttings, etc. that Phil Murphy did.  He is much busier.  Instead these are the events that appeared on the public schedule that his team sends out to reporters every (well almost every) morning.  I only looked at the events that they broadcast to the public in a formal way.  Second, I did not attend all or even most of these events.  So it is possible that a press conference listed as being about an education issue could have really been about … oh I don’t know…. suggesting another politician is a racist?  I am just reporting what the event was supposed to be about on paper.  Third, the Murphy team is not exactly expansive about what their events in these releases.  Many of the events, especially at the beginning, simply say “Executive order signing” or “personnel announcement”.  I believe the goal is to entice reporters to come to the event and find out the details.  In those cases, I tried to match up news stories about what the executive order was or who was being appointed. So… what did Murphy do all day? There are several ways to break that down. 

Where did Murphy Go? 

Sometimes it was nowhereOverall, about 25% of the public schedule releases indicated the Governor had “No Public Schedule.” Again, this does not mean he was partying in Jordan at a high-end hotel with U2 or going to a luxury box at Cowboy stadium.  It just means there were no publically scheduled events on one out of every four releases. So out of the 114 different public schedule press releases examined only 86 were actual events.  

Sometimes it was not New Jersey.  About 8% of the listings say that Governor Murphy was out of New Jersey.  Most of these were to Washington, DC or Virginia, some were to an undisclosed “out of state” location.  According to the releases, he was in DC about as much as he was in Newark.  The DC trips included the Chamber’s Walk to Washington and the National Governors Association.  

How did Murphy Interact? 

Politicians use many different types of events.  Governor Murphy is no exception.  His most common type of event was billed as a speech or an announcement (22%), followed by a “visit” to a facility (15%) and ribbon cutting/ceremony/parade marching which was also 15%.  Next came bill or executive order signings (14%) and then a press conference (12%).   

I also looked at the number of events listed on the schedules to see how many events Governor Murphy was doing when he did events.  About half the time (52%) only a single event was listed for the day.  Governor Murphy listed two events 32% of the time and three events about 14% of the time. 

What did Murphy Talk about? 

As I mentioned earlier, the public schedule notices are not exactly deep and detailed.  I tried to take exactly what it said in the release as the “issue”. This wasn’t always easy so I tried to cross- check the uncertain ones with news reports.  Even so about 20% of the releases were coded as being about a “general” issue meaning it wasn’t totally clear what he was going to be talking about.  Beyond that however, the results show that Governor Murphy talked about a lot of different issues.   

Over 30 different issues were mentioned in the 86 events contained in the study.  Many issues (law enforcement, health care, opioids and taxes for example) were only mentioned once.   

The most common issues were education, the environment and transportation, each were mentioned 6 times (7%).  Next were gun control, economy/jobs and events related to storms and bad weather.  Each of these issues were mentioned 5 times or about 6%.  

So overall, the public schedule reflects a broad range of topics without a truly dominant focus.  

To Press or not to Press? 

The last thing I looked at was whether or not the events were open to the press (the press can come and watch) and whether or not they listed a press availability (the press can ask questions, after the come and watch).   

Overall, the vast majority of events claimed to be “open” to the press.  Only about 10% were specifically described as “closed press.”  That means that 90% of the public events had some sort of opportunity for the press to attend.   

However, the Governor is far less likely to allow the press to actually ask him questions or interact with him in any substantive way.  To see this, we can look at how often an “availability” was listed on the public schedules.  Only 19.8% of all of the events specifically mentioned that the Governor would be available to speak to the press. Add to that about 12% of the events that took place at or with one specific media outlet (think “Ask the Governor,” segments and it means that only about 1 of every 3 events on the public schedule clearly allowed for some interaction with the media.    

Somewhat surprisingly, 44.2% of the events specifically said that there was “no availability.” The remaining 24% of the event listings were silent on whether or not an availability would happen. It is possible the press was able to ask some questions during these events, as they moved in around the Governor before he left.  However, it seems more likely that (at best) the press might shout questions from the back of the room or on his way to the car.  

So… what does the Governor’s public schedule say about the Governor 

A recent Monmouth University poll about the Governor showed two things.  First, the Governor is more popular than his two predecessors at this junction and second he is less well known and understood by the public than either Christie or Corzine.  In a nutshell, we think he is a decent guy, who might be on our side but we really don’t know what he stands for or is going to do.   

The results of this analysis suggests that how Murphy has been spending his public schedule actually contributes to this perception.  He has not spent a great deal of time talking about the tough issues like taxes and pensions, which if he did, might lead more people to dislike him.  Instead, he has focused on the safer issues like education and environment.   

The results also show that perhaps a reason he remains unknown is that he is spending a fair amount of his time out of state or without a public schedule. In addition, when he does in-state events he seems much more comfortable keeping the press at a bit of a distance.  Both of these findings help explain why Murphy remains somewhat unknown to the people of New Jersey.   

Ok so now you are ready for the onslaught on 100-day stories to come.  Should be fun.   

Matt Hale is am Associate Professor of Political Science at Seton Hall University.

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