We’re always interested in other polls, but we don’t talk much about them here, since we’re normally pretty busy just trying to make sense of our own data! But the new release by the Monmouth University Poll gives us pause. The poll, run by Patrick Murray, a graduate school colleague here at Rutgers back in the 1990’s, and former key staffer with the Eagleton Poll, reported an ambitious project to understand “quality of life” issues in our state.
Quality of life is definitely worth looking at, and it’s something Eagleton has done regularly over the years. In fact, we did this in a December 2010 release which was headlined “Garden Staters Like Their Communities Better than Their State”. This release showed both new (December) data and reviewed the past 30 years of Eagleton Polls on the question. This followed up on our release from April 2010 which also asked some quality of life questions. Both polls showed that New Jersey residents like their neighborhoods, and as we reported at the time, the December one showed we like our local communities better than our state.
So we were a bit surprised to see the following in the Star-Ledger’s reporting of the Monmouth Poll:
“Overall, 73 percent had a positive opinion of their home towns. But significantly fewer, 63 percent, thought the state was a good place to live. While still a majority, it was the lowest positive reading in 30 years of polling on the question and the first time residents gave the state lower grades than the towns in which they reside.” [Italics added]
We went back and checked – this comes from the Monmouth Poll press release.
Two things are wrong here. First, Monmouth’s numbers are NOT the lowest in 30 years of polling, as the first italicized part suggests. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll release of December 16, 2010 showed 53% rated the state as an excellent (14%) or good (39%) place to live, 10 points lower than Monmouth’s numbers. And since Monmouth used the same question and historical Rutgers-Eagleton Polls for their trend data, we would have thought they would notice this. While the data are not yet in our archive, the December press release and all details are on our website. Moreover, we know Patrick saw the earlier March/April 2010 poll (where 52% said NJ was an excellent or good place to live) since he took us to task for our analysis of that poll in his blog. Those data are in our archive. The issue here is not about trends, it's about the point estimates on this particular question.
The second claim is also incorrect, since our December poll also explicitly noted – in its title! – that NJ residents like their communities better than their state.
In any case, we are really glad to see that Patrick’s data both tracks with our own AND makes extensive (albeit uncredited in their press release) use of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll archive, available to anyone who wishes to use it. We would, however have appreciated a shout out in the release. (The full report does note the use of the archive, in a general acknowledgments, but it is not explicit about which Eagleton data was used for showing historical trends for each question.)
Having multiple survey research organizations interested in the same issues is valuable. It keeps us all on the top of our game, and gives the public multiple perspectives on the politics and issues that permeate our state. So cheers to Patrick for the extensive quality of life study, but next time it would be good to be a little more careful about the claims made for the press.