You may not have heard much about the Garden State election between incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican Jack Ciattarelli.
One of the big reasons why: at a time when many non-presidential elections, such as the Virginia election, have clear national implications, it looks like the New Jersey race will prove that some policy is still local.
Nevertheless, Murphy’s edge is not reliable. Looking back on more than 240 gubernatorial elections since 1998, it reveals that the average election was almost 20% lower by 8 points or more. Given the fact that a voting error could increase Murphy’s difference, this means that we can expect about 10% of the time there will be a voting error large enough for Ciattarelli to win.
If Murphy insists, he will do so, even though President Joe Biden’s popularity in the country has fallen. Biden had only a 43% approval rating in the aforementioned Monmouth survey, which was lower than his 49% disapproval rating.
While other polls suggest Biden isn’t even nearly as unpopular, everyone agrees that his popularity has plummeted since he won New Jersey by 16 points a year ago. His net approval rating (approves – disapproves) is currently less than Murphy’s advantage over Ciattarelli.
This discrepancy should not come as a surprise. I went back and looked at the gubernatorial elections in the year before and the year of each interim term since 2010. Past presidential votes in each country were not statistically significantly related to the governor’s result when you had control over the position.
In other words, on average, it didn’t matter what the state’s inclination was at the presidential level when voters had records by which they could judge the incumbent governor.
That’s good news for Murphy. His approval rating was 52% to 39% disapproval in the Monmouth survey and 52% approval to 44% disapproval in the Stockton survey. These 13- and 8-point gaps between his approval and disapproval were almost equated with his 11- and 9-point advantages in these polls. Murphy’s popularity was far more telling than Biden’s popularity in terms of race status.
In addition, you can see how much local issues affect the opinion of New Jersey voters. The main issue for voters is not the economy or the Covid pandemic. In fact, it is 27% of the taxes in the Monmouth survey. The Stockton poll showed essentially the same thing with 28% listing taxes.
A look at any national poll reveals that the issue of taxes is not at the top of the list of concerns of most Americans.
However, I would point out that just because New Jersey may not tell us less about what will happen in the 2022 congressional election, that doesn’t mean the race is any less important to what it tells us about U.S. politics in in general. If the polls are correct, New Jersey will be the last gubernatorial example of the fact that not all politics has yet been nationalized.