2 in 5 Don’t Know Why It’s “The Garden State”

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Only 63% of New Jersey voters know why it is nicknamed “The Garden State,” according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll sponsored by the New Jersey Farm Bureau. But voters also strongly support farmland preservation, oppose eliminating the state’s Department of Agriculture and, by a narrower margin, support state government encouraging farmers to put pole-mounted solar panels on their land in order to sell electric power.

Awareness of the state’s nickname varies widely across demographic groups. Two-thirds (68%) of voters between the ages of 45 and 59, and a similar proportion (65%) of those over the age of 60 know about the moniker, compared to just 56% of voters under 30.  Most pronounced are regional differences: 73% of voters in the relatively rural southern portion of the state correctly associate the nickname with farming, compared to 50% of respondents in the urban core of the state. While the 63% figure is identical to last year’s, recognition of the sobriquet is down from a high of 71% in 2006.

“In the past, issues like eminent domain and salmonella outbreaks attributed to imported vegetables pushed farming into the public spotlight in New Jersey,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and an analyst for PublicMind. “When farming isn’t in the news as much, awareness fades.”

On related issues, three in four voters (76%) say it is “very important” to them to have farming and farmland preservation in New Jersey.  As would be expected, support is highest (81%) in the southern portion of the state, and lowest (71%) in the urban areas of the state. Younger voters – under the age of 30 – are the least likely to call farming “very important,” though a majority (57%) does, and nearly 9 in 10 of those young voters say that it is at least “somewhat” important.   “New Jersey voters like living in a state where farming is still a factor,” said Cassino. “But we know from previous studies that young people in the state are less likely to visit farms, and less likely to think of them as being important.”

Also at issue is Assembly Bill 2859, currently pending, which would allow farmland to be used for commercial solar-energy production: 53% say the state should encourage the harvesting of solar energy on farms for commercial sale while 23% say the state should not. Younger voters are slightly more likely to support the measure than their older counterparts: 58% of voters under the age of 45 support it, compared to 50% of those over 45.  Also, Obama voters (57%) are more likely to support the bill than McCain voters (51%).  “Given the prevalence of green energy as a campaign issue this year, it isn’t surprising that support for this bill would mirror support for Obama in the presidential election,” said Cassino.

Four of five voters (80%) disapprove of eliminating the New Jersey Department of Agriculture as a money-saving measure.  That disapproval is shared across party and regional lines: 79% of Obama voters say it is a “bad” idea, as do 84% of McCain voters. Similarly, 84% of voters in the southern portion of the state disapprove, as do 79% of voters in the most urban areas.

Richard Nieuwenhuis, president of New Jersey Farm Bureau, commented that “the survey reaffirms our belief in the importance of a state Department of Agriculture and that New Jersey residents value our farms.” Cassino added that “this year, the governor was able to avoid some of the most drastic of the proposed budget cuts. But with the economy and tax revenues expected to be even worse in the coming year, these issues may be back on the table.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll was sponsored by the New Jersey Farm Bureau and conducted by telephone from October 23 through October 28 using a randomly selected sample of 801 registered voters statewide aged 18 and over.  The sampling error for 801 adults is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.

Contacts: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239 Dan Cassino 973.896.7072

For more information, please call (973) 443-8661.

Copyright © 2008, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 081117]