TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy receives generally high marks for his handling of the pandemic, even though more than half of voters say his administration bears responsibility for virus-driven nursing home deaths and small business suffering, according to results of the Monmouth University Poll.

The poll also finds a majority of New Jersey voters, including those who are undecided about who to back for governor, support reinstating stricter COVID safety protocols.

“The majority of New Jerseyans actually think just to play it safe it might be a good idea to bring back some of these rules that we had earlier,” said Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray. “So that kind of lets you know the leeway that Phil Murphy has with what he does over the stretch here with the pandemic.”

“He might get dinged for a couple of issues that happened along the way, but when New Jerseyans kind of total up his score, they say he was basically on the right track with this,” he said.

Murphy maintains positive job performance ratings from a majority of voters, though the numbers have been declining. Fifty-two percent approve of how he’s handling his job and 38% disapprove, a 14-point margin that follows margins of 18 points last month and 21 points in May.

(Townsquare Media NJ)

Reviews of Murphy’s handling of the pandemic specifically have remained consistent, with 62% saying he has done a good job and 27% saying he has done a bad job, compared with 61%/28% in August and 65%/28% in May.

“That comes even though some of the attacks that have been launched against him by Jack Ciattarelli on the pain that small businesses have felt and the deaths in nursing homes,” Murray said.

“People in New Jersey, the vast majority of voters, say yeah, that happened, and the Murphy administration was responsible for it or at least in part responsible for it,” he said. “But still, on the big issues like masking, social distancing, all those kinds of things, he’s been right. And that’s why he gets a good grade, because that’s what people are really looking – how it affects them in their day-to-day life.”

Asked how much the Murphy administration is responsible for nursing home deaths, 23% said a great deal, 30% said some, 21% not much and 16% said not at all.

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Eighty-two percent of voters said the strict restrictions and lockdowns imposed by the state government hurt small businesses a lot. Asked if it was possible to have managed the pandemic in a way those small businesses did not get hurt, 24% said definitely, 29% said probably, 28% said probably not and 12% said definitely not.

Still, just over half say measures taken by the state to respond to COVID-19 have been appropriate, though 28% say they have gone too far. Six in 10 voters support reinstating general masking and social-distancing guidelines.

“There are 2 million voters out there in New Jersey who are very vocal – anti-vax, anti-mask, don’t tell us what to do. But they’re outnumbered by almost 2-to-1 against voters who say, ‘Hey, that was a good thing, maybe we should do it again,” Murray said. “That’s why this puts Murphy in the driver’s seat in terms of COVID policy and how that’s going to impact this election.”

About one in four registered voters haven’t settled on a candidate for governor. Among them, 57% say Murphy has done a good job handling the pandemic and 61% support reinstating COVID masking and social distancing rules.

“Basically, on the big issues for these undecided voters, he’s on the right side of the equation,” Murray said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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