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Rutgers Eagleton Poll: Life in the Garden State Not So Great

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ -  New Jerseyans are in a malaise these days when it comes to the Garden State: they are angry about the state’s economic climate, and even though they still rate the state positively as a place to live, they are mostly pessimistic about the direction the state is headed.

While the vast majority love the neighborhood they are living in, a sizeable number of residents – more than in the past – say they would like to move somewhere else. These are some of the main findings from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll late last year, as detailed in the newly released “2018 State of the Garden State” report.

Nothing upsets New Jerseyans more than the way their state government has handled taxes: 82 percent of residents say they are dissatisfied – 60 percent, alone, are “very” dissatisfied – with how the government has managed the issue. Three quarters say the same about cost of living and government spending.

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“In a state that ranks near the top when it comes to outbound migration and taxation, it’s no surprise that New Jerseyans are upset with how state government is handling important financial matters – most of all, taxes,” said Dr. Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “It will be a challenge for Governor Murphy to balance fulfilling those of his campaign promises that require new resources with citizens’ current dissatisfaction with taxes and the high cost of living in the state.”

Yet despite grave financial concerns, New Jerseyans clearly like living here. A majority of residents continue to rate the state as an “excellent” or “good” place to live – though these ratings are down from where they once were prior to 2004.

However, in homage to the long-standing tradition of home rule in the state, the closer one looks, the better home looks. Residents rate the neighborhoods they live in better than their towns or cities, and they rate their municipalities ahead of the state as a whole.

But when asked to compare New Jersey to most other states, residents are once again lukewarm: three in 10 say New Jersey is a “better” place to live, with about the same number each saying it is “worse” or the “same” as other states.

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,203 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 15-27, 2017. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.0 percentage points. Some questions reported in this release were asked of a sub-sample, resulting in approximately 600 respondents and a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish. The full report is available online

Life in the Garden State not so great?

Residents’ itch to move out of New Jersey has grown in the past decade – from 22 percent in March 2010 to now 30 percent. Forty-six percent want to stay exactly where they are and continue living in their current neighborhood, a double-digit drop from when the question was last asked almost eight years ago.

Six percent now say they want to move somewhere else in their current town, and 15 percent want to move elsewhere within the Garden State. Millennials are one of the biggest flight risks for New Jersey, with more than a third wanting to move out of the state entirely.

Yet despite an increase in those who want to leave the state, residents continue a longtime pattern of being more positive than negative about New Jersey as a place to live – 61 percent (“excellent”/”good”) to 39 percent (“only fair”/”poor”).

Yet this is a notable drop-off from how residents rated quality of life at the turn of the century and for decades before that, with ratings frequently surpassing the 70-percent mark for most of the poll’s history.

Residents are much more positive when it comes to their towns and especially their neighborhoods, however: 70 percent say the former is an “excellent” (26 percent) or “good” (44 percent) place to live, while 79 percent (38 percent “excellent,” 41 percent “good”) say the same about the latter. These patterns have remained steady throughout the past several decades.

But even though a majority of New Jerseyans like where they live, they don’t necessarily think the Garden State is the best around. Twenty-nine percent say New Jersey is a better place to live than any other state, 28 percent say it is worse, and 31 percent think it is the same as everywhere else.

Residents have been increasingly more likely to say New Jersey is worse than other states in the last decade and a half, with the number who say so today almost triple what it was back in 2001.

Widespread dissatisfaction with state on finances; residents most positive on environment, education

Dissatisfaction pervades other financial areas of government beyond taxes: three quarters are “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied with how the state has handled cost of living and affordability, as well as government spending and the state budget. Almost two thirds are dissatisfied with what the state government has done for New Jersey’s cities and urban areas.

Satisfaction with how the government is handling taxes does not pass 30 percent for any demographic, with most groups rating their satisfaction as somewhere in the teens or single digits.

Not a single demographic reaches the 50-percent mark on satisfaction with New Jersey’s cities and urban areas, cost of living and affordability, and government spending and the state budget.

In contrast, residents are most satisfied with how the government is dealing with air and water quality in the state, as well both higher education and K-12 public education: about six in 10 are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with each of these items.

Over half of residents are also at least “somewhat” satisfied about the job the state government is doing with public safety and crime, as well as business and employment opportunities.

Residents are more split, however, when it comes to transportation and infrastructure. They are also mixed when it comes to how the government is managing issues like senior citizen services, Superstorm Sandy recovery, programs for the poor, and mental health and addiction.

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