Rutgers-Eagleton Poll: Murphy Ratings Soar Amid Pandemic

Murphy in the Oval Office.

The leadership of Gov. Phil Murphy during the coronavirus pandemic has catapulted him to one of the most liked governors in New Jersey history, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Echoing the highs reached by governors Thomas Kean, Christine Todd Whitman and Chris Christie, Murphy’s favorability rating is almost touching the 60% mark (59% favorable to 20% unfavorable). This represents a 16-point increase for Murphy since this time last year. The governor also now beats Christie’s Sandy-fueled job approval high: 77% of New Jerseyans currently approve of the overall job Murphy is doing (a 25-point leap since last year), while 21% disapprove.

Murphy gets high marks from residents specifically on his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Almost three-quarters give Murphy an ‘A’ (39%) or ‘B’ (33%). Murphy is bested only slightly by his counterpart across the Hudson, Gov. Andrew Cuomo: 51% of Garden Staters give the New York governor an ‘A’ and 25% a ‘B.’ Local officials in New Jersey also receive solid grades from New Jerseyans, with two-thirds awarding their local policymakers an ‘A’ (30%) or ‘B’ (37%).

“Like a number of other governors during this pandemic, Governor Murphy is experiencing a rally ‘round the flag effect that we sometimes see emerge with leaders in times of crisis,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “After two years of middling ratings, Murphy’s visibility and leadership have propelled his overall numbers to something we have not seen the likes of since Governor Christie after Hurricane Sandy. What remains to be seen is how long this overwhelming support for Murphy will last as the economic impact of the outbreak becomes increasingly dire and as we approach summer.”

Among federal officials, Anthony Fauci garners the highest grades from New Jerseyans for his handling of the pandemic. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director gets an ‘A’ from 44% of New Jerseyans and a B from 31%. New Jerseyans’ grades for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are mostly concentrated in the ‘B’ to ‘C’ range. President Donald Trump receives the worst marks of all on his handling of the pandemic: 42% of New Jerseyans give him a failing grade, while the rest are somewhat evenly dispersed among the other letter grade options.

“President Trump has been one of the few politicians handling this crisis who hasn’t benefited from any type of rally ‘round the flag bump, which has really carved a path for more localized leaders – like governors – to shine,” Koning said.

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,502 adults contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from April 22 – May 2. The full sample has a margin of error of +/-2.9 percentage points; the subsamples of 747 and 755 adults each have a margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Bipartisan support fuels Murphy’s ratings

Much like the across-the-aisle support Chris Christie received in Sandy’s aftermath, Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike applaud Murphy both in general and for his handling of the pandemic.

Eight in ten Democrats, just over half of independents, and even a third of Republicans have a favorable impression of Murphy. Murphy receives even stronger bipartisan support when it comes to the overall job he is doing as governor: 92% of Democrats, 76% of independents, and 47% of Republicans approve of him. More than half of almost every demographic is positive about the governor, both in terms of favorability and approval.

On Murphy’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, almost nine in ten Democrats give him an ‘A’ (53%) or ‘B’ (35%), as do two-thirds of independents (33% ‘A,’ 35% ‘B’), and almost half of Republicans (22% ‘A,’ 27% ‘B’).

“Crises such as the current pandemic require governors to assure citizens that they have the situation under control and console those who are suffering,” said Kristoffer Shields, assistant research professor and historian at the Eagleton Center on the American Governor. “Governor Murphy has taken a number of bold steps during the coronavirus response, a show of leadership that has thus far garnered widespread support, including from some groups that are typically not in his corner.”

Local officials in New Jersey, the CDC, and Fauci all receive solid grades on both sides of the political aisle in terms of their handling of the pandemic. As for Trump, however, his grades are divided among familiar partisan lines. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats give Trump an ‘F’; independents are more spread out, with a plurality giving him a failing grade (36%) and another four in ten a ‘C’ (22%) or ‘D’ (15%). Republicans in the Garden State, on the other hand, are mostly supportive of Trump: three-quarters give the president an ‘A’ (47%) or ‘B’ (31%).

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