A new Monmouth University poll finds New Jersey’s governor’s race is a bit closer than previous surveys had suggested.

The Monmouth Poll of 452 likely voters finds 51 percent support Democratic nominee Phil Murphy and 37 percent support Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Two percent backed another candidate.

“This number might be smaller than what some expected, but it’s still a big number for Murphy," said poll director Patrick Murray. "Particularly he’s over 51 percent. There are only 9 percent undecided. It doesn’t give Guadagno a lot of room to maneuver.”

Earlier polls showed Murphy with an average lead of 21 points. Murray says one difference is that the polls surveys likely voters, not all registered voters, but notes the difference in the numbers was bigger than what’s typically seen when the voter model changes.

"So there's something else going on," Murray said.

Both candidates have similar favorability ratings, with Murphy in narrowly better position. He is seen favorably by 33 percent of voters, compared with 31 percent for Guadagno. Twenty-three percent have an unfavorable impression of Murphy, compared with 25 percent who view her unfavorably.

But Murray says Guadagno is hurt by voters’ dislike for Republicans such as Chris Christie and Donald Trump.

“Certainly we’re finding in the poll that it’s not the death knell for her. But it is one of the things that just tacks on top of reasons why New Jerseyans are inclined to vote for the Democrat this time around," Murray said.

Murray said candidates' low name recognition among voters is common in New Jersey though is especially low this year. Around 45 percent of voters have no opinion of the two candidates. He believes the amount of attention being paid to Trump and matters in Washington is drowning out interest in state politics.

"This race is getting lost in the weeds," Murray said. "It’s just the noise coming out of there is just too much for these candidates to break through."

Murray said only 12 percent of voters have heard about Guadagno's main campaign promise: to reduce property taxes by capping a homeowner's school taxes at 5 percent of household income.

“And on top of that, even if they heard about the plan, 70 percent say they tend to distrust any candidate who puts out a property tax promise because they just see it as a campaign ploy and not something that seriously that they’re going to do," Murray said.

“So it’s not clear that even if Guadagno can get her plan out there that it will actually get her some traction," he said. "That’s what makes it very difficult to start changing people’s minds at this point.”

The 452 likely voters surveyed were contacted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1. Polls with that number of respondents have a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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