Emerson: Maybe Dems need to worry about New Jersey, too

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

With all of the attention focused on Virginia’s gubernatorial election, hardly anyone outside of the Garden State has paid attention to the contest in New Jersey. Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin have become star players in the commentariat, while incumbent Phil Murphy and his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli have practically had their faces plastered onto milk cartons. New Jersey has become so blue that nearly no one expects an outcome in single digits, let alone a truly competitive race.

Think again, says Emerson College, whose latest poll puts Ciattarelli in striking distance of Murphy:

A new Emerson College/PIX 11 poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race finds Governor Phil Murphy with a six-point lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, 50% to 44%, among likely voters.

Seven percent (7%) of voters are still undecided; among the undecided voters, 59% are leaning towards Ciattarelli and 41% are leaning towards Murphy. When these voters are allocated, the race tightens to four points, with Murphy at 52% and Ciattarelli at 48%.

A four-point split — in New Jersey? Joe Biden won the state last year by sixteen points, 57/41. Hillary Clinton won it in 2016 by fourteen points, 55/41. Heck, Phil Murphy himself won his 2017 election over Kim Guadagno by fourteen points and over 300,000 votes, 56/42. How can this race against Ciattarelli be this close?

Emerson gives some demos for explanation:

Murphy is leading among women, 57% to 40%, while Ciattarelli is leading among men, 50% to 41%. Murphy leads among those aged 18-29 (58% to 42%), those 30-49 (47% to 41%), and those 65 and older (53% to 42%). Among those 50-64, Ciattarelli leads 49% to 46%.

Among those who have already voted, Murphy leads 76% to 24%. Murphy also leads among those who are somewhat likely to vote, 45% to 40%. Among very likely voters, Ciattarelli leads 48% to 45%. Independents are also leaning towards Ciattarelli, 56% to 32%.

Here’s a demo that Emerson leaves out of its polling memo. They don’t directly ask about Joe Biden’s job approval or favorability, but they do ask respondents about their 2020 presidential vote. The sample has Biden +16, 56.5/40.5, which tells us that a significant number of Biden voters have grown disaffected already — and will vote for some change in New Jersey as a result.

When we get into the crosstabs (download link only at the Emerson site), we can see precise quantification of that trend. Murphy is only holding onto 81% of the Biden vote; 12% are voting for Ciattarelli. Only 8% of Trump voters are going to Murphy, while Ciattarelli holds onto 86.5% of them. Ciattarelli also gets 68% of voters who went third party in 2020, and 80% of votes who didn’t vote at all in the presidential election.

Those are shocking numbers for an incumbent who up to now seemed popular enough to consider this an easy ride to another term. After all, Murphy’s got an overall positive favorability rating in this survey, 49/47, while Ciattarelli’s is just 40/40. The difference here is clearly Biden. Democrats might be running against Trump in this cycle, but that looks like a bad strategy. It may be forcing voters to deal with the disastrous alternative they chose to Trump last year in ways that don’t benefit Democrats. At all.

This race has received so little attention that RealClearPolitics doesn’t have enough polling to generate an aggregate average. The most recent poll took place a month ago, but that one from Stockton also put the race in single digits, where all the previous polling had Murphy in easy double-digit coasting territory. Those came, however, before Biden’s disgraceful abandonment of Americans and allies Afghanistan touched off a confidence-crisis cascade. That may end up costing Democrats their gubernatorial seat in Virginia, and might even push Murphy out of office in deep-blue New Jersey.