(CNN)There’s a gubernatorial race this upcoming Tuesday in the state with the 11th largest population in the nation. No, it’s not in Virginia (which has the 12th largest population). It’s in New Jersey.
You may not have heard much about the election in the Garden State between incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican Jack Ciattarelli.One big reason why: In an era in which many non-presidential elections, like Virginia’s, have clear national implications, the race in New Jersey looks like it’ll prove that some politics is still local. Another reason for a lack of coverage: the race doesn’t look to be all that close. Murphy holds a clear advantage over Ciattarelli in the final days of the campaign. He leads by 8 points in an average of recent polls, including 9-point and 11-point advantages in recently published Stockton University and Monmouth University surveys respectively. New Jersey is not known for being a place particularly hard for pollsters to survey. No gubernatorial election this century in New Jersey has seen a polling miss bigger than Murphy’s lead in the polls. Read MoreStill, Murphy’s edge is not foolproof. A look back at more than 240 gubernatorial elections since 1998 reveals that the polling average was off 8 points or more nearly 20% of the time. Taking into account the fact that a polling error could increase Murphy’s margin, this means that we should expect that about 10% of the time, there will be a polling error large enough for Ciattarelli to win. If Murphy does hold on, he’ll do so even as President Joe Biden’s popularity has tanked in the state. Biden sported just a 43% approval rating in the aforementioned Monmouth poll, which was lower than his disapproval rating of 49%. While other polls don’t have Biden nearly as unpopular, all agree his popularity has fallen greatly since he won New Jersey by 16 points a year ago. His net approval (approve – disapprove) rating is currently less than Murphy’s edge over Ciattarelli.This disparity should not be surprising. I went back and looked at the gubernatorial elections in the year before and year of every midterm since 2010. The past presidential vote in each state was not statistically significantly correlated with the governor’s result, once you controlled for incumbency. In other words, it didn’t really matter on average what the tilt of a state was on the presidential level, when voters had a record to judge the incumbent governor on. There’s a reason why Republican governors in the deeply blue states of Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont were re-elected in 2018, even as former President Donald Trump was deeply unpopular in their states. This is good news for Murphy. His approval rating stood at 52% to a disapproval rating of 39% in the Monmouth poll, and 52% approval to 44% disapproval in the Stockton poll. These 13- and 8-point spreads between his approval and disapproval nearly equaled his 11- and 9-point leads in these polls. Murphy’s popularity was far more telling than Biden’s popularity as to the state of the race. Compare this to gubernatorial races without an incumbent running, like in Virginia where state law prohibits governors from serving two consecutive terms. How these states vote on the presidential level has historically been far more predictive of the results in these elections. As a whole, these races have been much more correlated with congressional results in midterms, too. Additionally, you can see how much local issues are driving New Jersey voter opinion. The top issue for voters is not the economy or the Covid pandemic. It’s actually taxes at 27% in the Monmouth poll. The Stockton poll showed basically the same thing with 28% listing taxes. New Jersey is the state with the highest property taxes in the country, and the issue is often a big one for voters in local and state elections. Property taxes were the second most important issue for voters in the last three New Jersey gubernatorial elections. The No. 1 issue listed on Ciattarelli’s website is lowering taxes.A look at any national poll reveals that the issue of taxes does not top the list of concerns of most Americans.Instead, the No. 1 problem for Americans is the economy more broadly. The economy and jobs also is a top issue on which Virginia voters say they’re basing their votes on. I would point out, though, that just because New Jersey may not tell us less about what will happen in the 2022 congressional elections, it doesn’t make the race any less important for what it tells us about American politics in general. If the polls are right, New Jersey will be the latest gubernatorial example of the fact that not all politics is nationalized just yet.