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Revisiting Garden State Quality of Life in the 200th Rutgers-Eagleton Poll

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.


One-third think state will be a better place to live in next decade, but most say N.J. still on wrong track, taxes top concern

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Almost six in 10 New Jersey residents call their state a good or excellent place to live, but those who call the Garden State home clearly recognize its strengths and weaknesses, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

While 58 percent believe New Jersey is a good or excellent place to raise a family and about 70 percent rate it good or excellent for education and recreation, 63 percent say job prospects are fair or poor, 55 percent say the same about running a business, and 79 percent rate it fair or poor when it comes to retirement.

Overall, New Jerseyans believe that the state has either become a worse place to live (41 percent) or has not changed at all (37 percent) in the last five or ten years. Only 17 percent say it has gotten better during this period. This pattern was first seen in December 2010, departing from rosier views in previous decades.

Yet residents remain somewhat optimistic about the future, just as they have in previous decades. Thirty-two percent say New Jersey will become a better place to live in the next five or 10 years, while another 38 percent say it will stay the same. Twenty percent say life here will become worse.

Although finding both good and bad in their state, New Jerseyans remain mostly negative about the state’s current direction: 33 percent now say New Jersey is headed in the right direction, while 58 percent say the state is off on the wrong track.

“For our 200th poll, we revisited some of the most important questions we have asked over the past four decades, questions that helped us trace the trajectory of the Garden State,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “Residents nowadays have very mixed feelings about their home – socially and culturally, New Jerseyans give the state solid ratings, but they take a much dimmer view of the state on employment, the economy and finances.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 843 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Rating New Jersey’s past, present, and future

In four decades of asking this question, a majority has consistently rated New Jersey as a good or excellent place to live. The 1980s were the most positive period; 84 percent rated the state as an excellent or good place to live in February 1987. Higher ratings held mostly constant until the current decade, during which a comparatively less positive trend emerged beginning in March 2010.

While majorities across the board are positive today, differences in magnitude emerge among certain demographics. Republicans, Gov. Christie supporters, white residents, exurbanites, and married residents are more likely to give better ratings than their counterparts. Residents relatively new to the state are more positive than those who have lived here longer: 70 percent rate New Jersey as good or excellent, compared to 56 percent of residents who have lived here their entire lives.

Views on New Jersey’s past and future are strongly linked to views on its present. Residents more positive about the last several years and more optimistic about the next several are more likely to rate New Jersey as an excellent or good place to live now. Likewise, those currently more positive about the state have correspondingly positive takes on the state’s past and future. Right direction-wrong track views relate to these ratings as might be expected.

Reflecting on New Jersey’s past, Republicans, less educated residents, exurbanites, urbanites, and Christie supporters are all more likely to say the state has gotten better. Residents who have lived in New Jersey their entire lives are slightly more likely to say the state has improved as a place to live (19 percent), but almost half of this group also say it has become worse. Residents who have lived in the state about a decade or less are the least negative and much more likely to say there has been no change or to say they are unsure.

Certain groups are more likely to believe in New Jersey’s future than others. The optimists include Democrats, non-white residents, millennials, urbanites, those who say the state is going in the right direction, and those who have lived in New Jersey for about a decade or less.

The good and the bad of living in New Jersey

When it comes to education, family life, and entertainment, New Jerseyans like the Garden State. New Jerseyans across the board recognize the state’s superiority in educational offerings. Twenty-two percent say the state is an excellent place for education, and another 47 percent say good – little changed since the question was first asked in October 1984. The state’s oldest residents, as well as youngest residents, are most likely to rate New Jersey highly on education, as are the most educated residents.

Although more than half still believes New Jersey is a good (43 percent) or excellent (15 percent) place to raise a family, this number has experienced a double-digit drop since 1984, when over three-quarters felt the same. Nevertheless, family life in New Jersey is still rated highly across all groups – especially among younger residents, those in more affluent households, those living in exurban and suburban areas, married residents, and residents who are newer to the state.

As for entertainment and recreation, little has changed here over the last few decades as well. Residents continue to rate their state highly in this area (22 percent excellent, 48 percent good). Ratings are particularly high among residents who are older, white, living in exurban or shore counties, married, and long-time or lifetime residents.

But the state does not fare so well when it comes to retirement. Almost half of New Jerseyans once gave positive ratings to the state on this score, but just 18 percent do today; negative ratings, on the other hand, have gone up almost 30 points since 1984. Nowadays, middle-aged residents and those approaching retirement are especially apt to rate the state low here.

As a place to find a job, ratings are now much more negative than positive – a far cry from the 65 percent good or excellent rating of 1984. Just 29 percent overall say job prospects in the state are good; only 5 percent say excellent. Middle-aged residents and men are particularly negative in their current ratings, while Republicans, residents in more affluent households, and residents newer to the state are slightly more positive.

Still moving in the wrong direction

Assessments of the state’s direction have been more negative than positive since March 2014, with the gap between right direction and wrong track widening within the last several months. This is a complete reversal from two years ago, with this kind of negativity not felt since October 2009.

“Residents give New Jersey positive ratings as a place to live and have some hope for the future, but they also continue to think the state is on the wrong track,” noted Koning. “While the two indicators are connected, one measures personal experience while the other reflects more economic and political concerns facing the state. Just because New Jerseyans enjoy aspects of the lifestyle here does not mean they think everything is great in the Garden State.”

Length of residency in New Jersey also has an effect. Relative newcomers to the state are more positive (half say right direction), but the longer one has lived in New Jersey, the less positive the rating.

Typical partisan patterns are evident: while a majority of Republicans (53 percent) believe New Jersey is headed in the right direction, most independents and especially Democrats feel the state is off on the wrong track (55 percent and 73 percent, respectively).

Taxes: the bane of New Jerseyans’ existence

As always, taxes remain the top concern in the state, at 23 percent. Disdain for taxes in New Jersey is clear: 80 percent of residents say they pay too much in state and local taxes for what they get in return, while just 14 percent feel they get their money’s worth. While “pay too much” is at a peak, a large majority of New Jerseyans has felt disgruntled about taxes in every survey since the question was first asked in February 1972.

New Jerseyans also believe they are at a disadvantage on taxes compared to other states: 67 percent think they get less for their money compared to taxpayers elsewhere, 23 percent say they get about the same, and just 5 percent say they get more. Views on this question have changed markedly since initially asked on our second-ever poll, when almost half thought we got about the same for our money as taxpayers did in other states.

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