Thursday, December 16, 2010

Quality of Life Followup: Garden Staters Like Their Communities Better than Their State

Last April we did a quality of life type survey of New Jerseyans where we asked a series of questions about living in the Garden State. At the time we probably were a bit too positive in our assessment of the results, at least at the state level. Half of NJ residents thought NJ a good or excellent place to live, which seemed pretty good given the current economic and political environment. But looking back much further, those numbers were really rather down over prior decades.

We decided to re-ask some of the questions and to ask some new ones in our most recent survey. The results are similar - in general Garden Staters really DO like their local communities and give lots of reasons for doing so. But they are more skeptical of the state itself, and most telling, a majority thinks things have gotten worse in the last 5-10 years. When we last asked that question, back in April 2001, only 26% thought things had gotten worse. So there is much more negativity about the direction of the state these days. Even so, in the glass half full department, 80% remain at least somewhat "proud" of living in New Jersey.

Following is the text of the release. You can find the full release with questions, tables, and trends here.

Garden Staters Like Their Communities Better than Their State

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – New Jersey residents continue to have mixed views about living in the Garden State, continuing a trend identified in April 2010, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While 78 percent of New Jerseyans feel positive about the communities in which they live, they are far more negative about the state itself, with a majority thinking New Jersey has become a worse place to live over the past five to ten years. Just over half feel positive about living in New Jersey, and half say they take a lot of pride in living in the state. Still, one in five says they take little or no pride in being part of the Garden State.

“New Jerseyans have a strong sense of liking their own communities even as they are less positive about the state as a whole,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Nine years ago when we asked about the state’s direction, only 26 percent said New Jersey had become a worse place to live. But today 52 percent believe things have gone downhill in recent years. Still, these negative feelings about the state do not translate into dislike for the local communities in which people live.”

The poll of 906 New Jersey adults was conducted December 2-6. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points.

Local communities rate highly

Asked to rate their own community as a place to live, 37 percent of New Jerseyans say their community is excellent and 41 percent rate it as good, while 16 percent say their community is only fair, and 6 percent call it a poor place to live.
Those living in exurban areas of the state are much more likely to believe their local communities are excellent places to live (55 percent) than those living in other areas of the state. Only 20 percent of urban residents think their local communities are excellent, while somewhat more than a third of those living in suburban, shore, and Philadelphia areas agree.

Exurban residents are least likely to say their communities are only fair or poor at 11 percent, while 19 percent of shore area, 21 percent of suburban, and 22 percent of Philadelphia area residents say the same. Urban residents are most likely to dislike their communities, with 39 percent calling their community a fair or poor place to live.

Asked why they rate their community as they do, respondents have a wide range of answers. Among those feeling positive (excellent or good) about their community, 27 percent say it is the people that make it a good place to live, while 22 percent cite the safety of their community. About 13 percent say the environment, open space, and local beauty makes them feel positive, and 9 percent say the accessibility of their locale is what matters. Education is named by 8 percent.
Among those who feel more negative (fair or poor) toward their local community, the top responses include the people living there (19 percent), followed by economic hard times and unemployment (15 percent), crime (15 percent), lack of public services and problems with government (14 percent) and taxes (12 percent).

“The good news is that most New Jerseyans do like their communities and have many good reasons for doing so,” said Redlawsk. “And while ‘people’ are named as a reason to dislike a community as well as to like it, other reasons for feeling unhappy about where they live represent the litany of problems many communities do face.”

New Jerseyans remain less positive about the state; distinctly negative about its direction

While attitudes towards local communities are quite positive, feelings about the state as a whole are no better than they were when the same question was asked nine months ago. Only 14 percent say New Jersey is an excellent place to live, while another 39 percent say it is good. But 32 percent say as a place to live New Jersey is only fair, and 14 percent say it is poor.

The 53 percent who rate the state as excellent or good is about the same as an April 2010 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, which found 52 percent giving a positive rating to the state. But this remains at the bottom of ratings over the past three decades. Archival data from the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll show that the next lowest rating was in 1990, with 59% of New Jerseyans rating the state as an excellent or good place to live while polls in the 1980s, mid and late 1990s, and 2000s reveal that more than 6 in 10 gave positive ratings to the state.

Ironically, while rating their own communities lower, those living in urban northeastern New Jersey view the state itself more favorably than in all other regions of the state. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of urban residents say New Jersey is an excellent or good place to live, compared to 60 percent of suburbanites, 51 percent of exurban residents, 49 percent living in the Philadelphia area and 46 percent of those in shore counties. Those living in counties comprising the shore and in the Philadelphia suburbs are more likely to view New Jersey as a poor place to live, at 21 percent and 17 percent respectively.

Asked about the progress of the state over the last 5 to 10 years, only 15 percent think New Jersey has become a better place to live. A majority (52 percent) says the Garden State has become a worse place to reside, while another 29 percent say there has been no appreciable change. The last time this question was asked, in an April 2001 Star-Ledger-Eagleton Poll, only 26 percent thought the state had become a worse place to live over the preceding five to ten years, while 29 percent thought it had become better, and 39 percent reported no change.

When asked about pride in their state, 50 percent say they take a lot of pride in living in New Jersey, while 30 percent take some pride. But 13 percent say they take little and 6 take no pride in living in the state. Even so, despite more negative views towards the state as a place to live, voters are relatively positive in terms of pride in their state. The 80 percent who take at least some pride in living in New Jersey is little changed from April 2001, when 81 percent took pride in the state, though it is a decline from the 86 percent who felt that way in 1994.

“Garden Staters have a complicated relationship with their state,” said Redlawsk. “It almost seems a point of pride to complain about it. And clearly people feel things have gotten worse in the past decade. The positives are that New Jerseyans like their communities and retain significant pride in living in the state, and it is still the case that a slim majority feels positive about the state as a whole. Perhaps things will look better if and when the economy picks up.”

Race and income related to beliefs about local community; not attitudes toward state

Whites and upper income residents are far more positive about their local communities than are lower income and African Americans in New Jersey. While 84 percent of whites say their community is a good or excellent place to live, only 54 percent of African Americans agree. Likewise while 70 percent of those with household incomes under $50,000 feel positive about their local community, 91 percent of upper income respondents like where they live. On the other hand, there are no significant differences by race or income in attitudes toward the state of New Jersey itself.

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