A month before he takes the oath of office, a new Rutgers Eagleton poll finds Jersey residents are cautiously optimistic about Governor-elect Phil Murphy.

“Also, New Jerseyans are slightly more positive than they have been for the past two years about whether the state is going in the right direction or off on the wrong track,” said Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

She said for the past few years, the percentage of Jersey residents who think the state is on the right track has been in the teens, but now “30 percent say the state is headed in the right direction, a double digit increase since August.”

“A plurality thinks that things will also get better under an upcoming Murphy administration — 46 percent say things will get better, 20 percent say worse and 23 percent say they’ll remain the same."

She said for a long time “the direction of the state has been pretty negative, following in lock-step with Gov. Christie’s ratings. So now post election, we actually see the direction of the state bouncing back somewhat.”

Nevertheless, the poll finds 60 percent of New Jerseyans still believe the state is heading down the wrong track.

Koning noted the poll also finds “New Jerseyans are pretty enthusiastic about Murphy actually — 23 percent say they’re very enthusiastic, and another 35 percent are somewhat enthusiastic.”

On the flip side, the poll finds 13 percent of Jersey residents say they’re “not very” enthusiastic about the governor-elect, and 24 percent say they’re “not at all enthusiastic.”

The poll also finds overall, New Jerseyans agree with Phil Murphy on some of his biggest proposals made during the campaign.

About 4 out of 5 respondents favor providing employees with a minimum number of paid sick days; 75 percent support restoring funding for family planning services; and 68 percent back fully funding the public-employee pension system.

The poll also finds 68 percent support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, 59 percent support strengthening state gun laws and 53 percent like the idea of making the sale and use of recreational marijuana legal.

Meanwhile, 61 percent of New Jerseyans oppose casino expansion, while 55 percent are against the idea of betting on college sports.

But the biggest issue remains a familiar one, said Koning.

“New Jerseyans are still concerned about taxes, first and foremost. They think this is the top issue Murphy should address once he’s in office. This has been a perennial problem for New Jerseyans for decades now.”

The poll finds Murphy’s recognition overall has grown since the November election, but 35 percent of state residents still don’t have an opinion of him and 3 percent don’t know who he is.

A few months ago, two thirds of New Jerseyan either did not recognize Murphy, or said they could not form an opinion of him.

The poll also finds 60 percent of respondents do not have an opinion of Lt. Gov.-elect Sheila Oliver: 19 percent give her a thumbs up and 14 percent have an unfavorable opinion of her.

According to an Eagleton press release “enthusiasm for Murphy is also highest among his base: 41 percent of Democrats are “very” enthusiastic, compared to 13 percent of independents and 7 percent of Republicans.

“Partisans also take opposing sides on a number of Murphy’s campaign promises. Large majorities of Democrats support Murphy’s biggest proposals, including marijuana legalization (67 percent) and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour (89 percent). Two-thirds of Republicans, on the other hand, oppose each of these. Yet a majority of Republicans back paid sick days (67 percent) and funding family planning services (57 percent); just over half support fully funding the pension system (52 percent) and expanding casino gambling to other parts of New Jersey (52 percent).”

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com