Democrat Phil Murphy is outpacing Republican Kim Guadagno in the New Jersey gubernatorial race, with 44 percent supporting or leaning toward former ambassador and financier Murphy and 25 percent favoring Lt. Gov. Guadagno, according to a Suffolk University/USA TODAY Network poll of likely voters.

Independent Gina Genovese and Libertarian Peter Rohrman stood at 2 percent each, with 1 percent or less favoring independent Vincent Ross, Seth Kaper-Dale of the Green Party, and Matthew Riccardi of the Constitution Party. Nearly 24 percent are undecided about the top spot on the ticket with six weeks to go before the New Jersey general election and seven candidates for governor certified on the New Jersey ballot.

And as U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, defends himself against fraud and bribery charges in federal court, 84 percent of likely voters—including 77 percent of registered Democrats—said that he should resign from the Senate if convicted.

Christie effect

Gov. Chris Christie’s low popularity and job performance appear to be hurting Guadagno, who has served with him as lieutenant governor since 2010. When voters were asked the first word or phrase that comes to mind when they hear the name Kim Guadagno, the top response was “Chris Christie,” whose unfavorable rating, at 76 percent, is higher than that of Congress (63 percent). And 74 percent of voters disapprove of Christie’s job performance, compared to 16 percent who approve.

“Governor Chris Christie’s abysmal numbers are dragging down any chance for Kim Guadagno to become governor,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “This is one of the few states where a sitting Republican governor is far less popular than President Trump.”

Views on Democrat

Murphy is looked on favorably by 33 percent of likely voters, with 23 percent giving him an unfavorable rating. In an open-ended question the descriptions “Democrat,” “generally positive/like him,” and “Goldman Sachs/Wall Street” came in at 6 percent each; and though positive and neutral descriptions far outweighed negatives, nearly 10 percent calling the former Goldman Sachs executive “liar/crook/untrustworthy.”

Booker’s prospects

New Jersey Democrats are open to the idea of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s tossing his hat into the 2020 presidential ring, with 44 percent in favor and 27 percent opposed. By contrast 44 percent of Virginia Democrats said that Gov. Terry McAuliffe should not run for president in 2020, while 34 percent were in favor, according to a Suffolk University poll.

Turnout

A majority of New Jersey adults did not vote in the 2014 midterm election either because they were not registered to vote or they were registered but didn’t go to the polls. When likely voters were asked why the turnout was so low, 16 percent cited “poor candidate choices,” 16 percent said the nonvoters probably feel like their vote doesn’t count, and 15 percent blamed apathy.

Of the nearly 6 million New Jersey adults eligible to vote in the 2014 midterm election, fewer than 2 million voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project. The previous year, 2.1 million New Jersey voters cast ballots in the statewide election. In August 2012, Suffolk University/USA TODAY released a national poll of unregistered/unlikely voters examining the issues and preferences of the growing number of people who don’t vote every year. It was the only poll of its kind taken during that election year. The Suffolk University Political Research Center is again exploring the issue of voter turnout in its state and national polling.

Methodology

The field of 500 likely New Jersey voters was conducted Sept. 19 through Sept. 23 using live telephone interviews of households where respondents indicated they were very or somewhat likely to vote in the November 2017 general election for governor. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu