Voter's Low View of Trump Lifts Democratic Candidates in Governor's Races in both New Jersey and Virginia - The Wason Center - Christopher Newport University

October 18, 2017

Voter's Low View of Trump Lifts Democratic Candidates in Governor's Races in both New Jersey and Virginia

"Voters’ low view of Trump lifts Democratic candidates in governor’s races in both New Jersey and Virginia."

Summary of Key Findings

  1. In twin polls in New Jersey and Virginia, a significant segment of likely voters says President Trump is a factor in their choice for governor, and the ‘Trump Effect’ is a net negative for the Republican candidates in both states.
  2. In New Jersey, where Trump’s approval among likely voters stands at 31 percent, Democrat Phil Murphy’s decided edge over Republican Kim Guadagno is boosted slightly by those who consider Trump a factor in their decision. Many are sending a message of disapproval to the President and the Republican-controlled Congress.
  3. In Virginia, where Trump’s approval stands at 33%, Democrat Ralph Northam’s voters are unified in their disapproval, while Republican Ed Gillespie’s voters are divided. That imbalance in the ‘Trump Effect’ may underpin Northam’s slight edge over Gillespie in a close contest.


As voters in New Jersey and Virginia prepare to choose their next governors, the “Trump Effect” plays into the fortunes of candidates in both states, with Democrats benefitting from President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings.

New Jersey

Fairleigh Dickinson University’s most recent statewide survey of likely voters in the upcoming 2017 gubernatorial election finds Democrat Phil Murphy leading his Republican challenger, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. Murphy’s 15-point lead, among those who have made up their minds, is helped by the disaffection that many feel for the Trump administration.

The president receives just a 31 percent approval rating among likely voters. A quarter (25%) of voters say President Trump is a factor in their decision about whom to support in the gubernatorial election, with almost a fifth (18%) saying that the president is a major factor. Seven percent say his administration is a minor factor. A third of Democrats (34%) are considering Trump in their decision, with similar numbers of independents (13%) and Republicans (16%) saying the same.

“New Jersey’s off-year statewide elections were scheduled that way to stop voters from being influenced by national forces when they cast their votes. Clearly, a quarter of likely voters didn’t get the message,” said Krista Jenkins, director of the poll and a professor of political science at FDU.

Voters were also asked if their choice for governor was intended to send a message to President Trump and the Republicans who control Congress. Half said that it was not (55%) with the remainder split between those who said they are sending a message of support (10%) or disapproval (32%). More Democrats (53%) say they are using their vote to express disapproval than Republicans (26%) say they are using it to express approval.

As for how the “message” of support or disapproval is affecting gubernatorial choices, 87 percent of those who approve of what’s going on in our nation’s capital support Guadagno, with 78 percent of those who say their vote is a thumbs-down on Trump and Congressional Republicans supporting Murphy.

“In order to close the gap with Murphy, Guadagno has been doing things motivated by an appeal to Trump voters. Mobilizing more Republican voters would certainly help close the gap if turnout is as l0w as what many expect it to be,” said Jenkins. “These numbers suggest getting out the vote may be tough, since most Republicans aren’t thinking of Trump when they consider their vote.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone October 11-15, 2017, using a listed sample of registered voters with a known history of voting in past elections. Results for the poll of 658 likely voters featured in this release have a margin of sampling error of +/- 4.5 percentage points, including the design effect.


In Virginia, 32% of likely voters say President Donald Trump is a factor in their vote for governor, and 20% say he is a major factor, according to a Wason Center survey of 642 likely voters. Although most voters say their choice for governor is not affected by their view of the president, the “Trump Effect” in Virginia appears to be a net negative for Republican Ed Gillespie, as the GOP electorate is slightly divided on Trump, while Ralph Northam’s Democrats are unified in their disapproval.

Northam leads Gillespie, 48% to 44%, according to results from the first part of this survey, released October 17.

Trump’s approval rating in Virginia stands at 33% overall, but Northam voters are nearly unified, with 96% disapproving of the president’s performance. Gillespie voters are split, with 69% saying they approve and 22% saying they disapprove of how Trump is handling his job as president. Self-identified independents mirror the overall approval rating, with 31% approving and 62% disapproving Trump’s performance.

“Virginia voters have tended to choose a governor from the party not in the White House,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. “This year, it looks like Donald Trump’s unpopularity is nudging them in that direction again.”

Nearly half of the likely voters in Virginia (45%) say they see their vote for governor as a way to send a message to Trump and the Republicans who control Congress. Overall, 28% say their vote is a message of disapproval and 17% say it is a message of support. About 1 in 4 Gillespie voters (26%) say their vote is a message of support for Trump and the Republicans in Congress, while a strong majority of Gillespie voters (69%) say no message intended in their vote. A slim majority of Northam voters (51%) say their vote is a message of disapproval of Trump and the Republican majority in Congress, while 39% say no message is intended.

Overall in Virginia, although almost 1 in 3 voters cite Trump as a factor in their choice, a strong majority of Gillespie voters (75%) say the president is not a factor, and a majority (58%) of Northam voters also say he is not a factor. Nearly 3 out of 4 Independents (71%) say Trump is not a factor in their choice.

A majority of voters say things in Virginia are moving in the right direction (52% vs. 29%). Overall, 54% approve of the job Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe is doing.

“Northam may hope there’s a McAuliffe Effect to add to his advantage in the Trump Effect,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center.

The Virginia survey was conducted by landline and cell phone October 9-13, 2017. The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4.2% at the 95% level of confidence. Likely voters are registered voters with a history of voting in recent statewide elections, who also say they definitely or probably will vote in the November 7 election.

For further information at Fairleigh Dickinson University:

Dr. Krista Jenkins, Director
PublicMind Poll
O: (973) 443-8390

For further information contact:

Dr. Quentin Kidd, Director
Office: (757) 594-8499
Mobile: (757) 775-6932

Dr. Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, Research Lab Director
Office: (757) 594-9140

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