Labor Day weekend marks not just the unofficial end of summer, but also the point where the campaign season starts to heat up.

Just nine weeks remain until Election Day. New Jersey will be electing a new governor – but the latest poll shows lots of voters don’t seem to care.

Only a little over one-third of voters even has an opinion on the major-party candidates running for governor, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Poll director Ashley Koning said the numbers are a little more positive for Democrat Phil Murphy (23 percent favorable, 13 percent unfavorable) than for Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (17 percent favorable, 18 percent unfavorable. A quarter have no opinion on either.

“Only about four in 10 actually hold any opinion at all on either candidate and about four in 10 don’t even know the person or at least claim to not even know who Murphy or Guadagno is,” Koning said. “So at this state in the race, with a little over two months to go, a lot of New Jersey voters are really unfamiliar with who’s running.”

Debates in mid-October and political ads, from the campaigns and outside groups, will help change that. But Koning said the race will compete for attention with a “really heavily political climate right now,” including President Donald Trump and the corruption trial for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.

In a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll at this time of year in 2005, the last time there was a gubernatorial race in New Jersey without an incumbent, voters knew much more about the candidates. Seventy percent had an opinion on then-Sen. Jon Corzine, while 56 percent had one on the GOP’s Doug Forrester.

They’re much less tuned in now.

“The fact that name recognition among both of the major candidates is not very high at this point is somewhat troublesome for a race that’s so close by and actually has a lot of ground play both in the state and nationwide, being one of the only statewide elections that will be occurring in 2017,” said Koning.

Guadagno and Murphy’s relative anonymity stand in stark contrast to two politicians with universal name recognition – though limited popularity.

Everybody polled had heard of Trump and Gov. Chris Christie. The president’s approval rating is 30 percent, while the governor’s is roughly half of that at 16 percent – “the lowest of any governor ever on record for the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll,” Koning said.

Guadagno has sought separation from the two Republicans, at times criticizing some of Christie’s policies after seven years of keeping any disagreements private.

But Koning said the effort “can really prove tricky for Guadagno” because around 75 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance and see him favorably. Even Republicans seem weary of Christie, with only 35 percent seeing him favorably and 50 percent unfavorably.

“What Donald Trump does have is he has the support of his party base, whereas Christie does not,” Koning said.

“So this is a real tricky balancing act for Kim Guadagno in terms of someone who is usually characterized as more moderate, usually not taking the same style approach or ideology or positions as Trump, for her to really win over her party base in her state, that really is behind that president’s corner right now, even when she has so often opposed him,” he said. “So it will be a fine dance that she needs to do in the next two months in terms of getting her own base to turn out and getting any support from the GOP nationally.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 714 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Aug. 24-28, 2017, including 660 registered voters. The sample has a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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