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August 2nd 2001

Despite the oft-cited New Jersey inferiority complex, half the state's residents say it is a "better" place to live than other states and two-thirds of all New Jerseyans really don't care what others think about their state.

The findings, according to a recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind, indicate that Garden Staters like a lot of things about their state. While a majority of the state's residents say it is a "better" place to live than other states, only 13 percent think it is a "worse" place to live. Large majorities also think that the state's schools are the "same or better" than those in other states, that its politicians are no more "dishonest" than others, and that crime occurs at the same or lesser rates than elsewhere.

"All in all," noted FDU political science professor Bruce Larson," New Jerseyans seem to be pretty pleased with their state."

Still, there are three things that New Jerseyans find less pleasing -- pollution, auto insurance and, of course, taxes. Seventy-five percent of New Jerseyans think that they pay more taxes than do people in other states, and half think New Jersey has more pollution problems than other states.

Three in ten Garden State residents name high taxes as the most important state problem, citing it more than twice as often as do residents of other states. And while 10 percent of New Jerseyans see high auto insurance rates as the state's most important problem, only one percent of Americans overall view auto insurance rates as their state's most serious problem. Although New Jerseyans are concerned about the state's economy and educational systems, they are about a third less likely to mention them as major problems for their state than are citizens across the country.

What do citizens across the nation think about New Jersey? Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind survey shows that many Americans either don't know much about New Jersey or see it as similar to their own states in many respects.

When asked what kind of a place New Jersey is to live in compared with other states in the nation, almost a third of our national survey respondents said they didn't know. Of those with an opinion on the question, nearly half said it was the same or better as other states. Of those with opinions on specific issues, majorities of our national sample said that the Garden State's crime rate, the quality of its schools, and the honesty of its politicians were about the same as in other states.

At least some citizens across the nation share New Jerseyans' perceptions about taxes and pollution in the Garden State. About half of the national survey respondents claimed no knowledge of New Jersey's tax rates, and a third had no opinion about New Jersey's pollution problems. But among those who had opinions about these issues, more than 40 percent believed that New Jersey taxes were "higher" or the "same" as taxes in other states, while only 8 percent thought they were lower. Additionally, more than a third thought the state had "more" pollution problems than other states, whereas only 6 percent thought there was "less" of a pollution problem in New Jersey than elsewhere.

When we asked our national survey respondents what came to mind when they thought of New Jersey, about one in ten mentioned the Shore, its proximity to New York, and its being "a nice state to live in." New Jerseyans themselves mentioned proximity to the Empire State only half as often in response to the same question, but significantly more New Jerseyans than citizens across the nation cited the Shore and the state as a nice place to live. Another frequent response was "overpopulation" - mentioned by 14 percent of New Jerseyans and 6 percent of our national sample. Almost no one in our national survey mentioned high auto insurance rates as the first thing that came to mind when they thought of New Jersey, though this was the first thought for a tenth of New Jerseyans. Seven percent of our national survey respondents mentioned the state's casinos, a response given by only 2 percent of our New Jersey sample.

While New Jersey jokes are a staple for late night comics, few Americans, it seems, have much first-hand knowledge of the Garden State. Sixty percent of our national survey respondents say they have never been to New Jersey, and only 15 percent have visited the state at least once in the past ten years. Similarly, 62 percent say they haven't heard or read anything about New Jersey recently. On the other hand, a quarter of the sample say they have relatives or friends who live there, and they may be a more important source of information about the state than Jay Leno.

Whatever the case, most New Jerseyans don't seem to care much about outsiders' views of New Jersey. Indeed, two-thirds of all New Jerseyans say that they have little or no concern about what others think of their state. "This is an interesting finding about a state that is supposed to have an inferiority complex," noted Larson.

"The latest results from the PublicMind poll demonstrate the wisdom of Tip O'Neil's observation that 'all politics is local,' noted FDU Political Science Research Professor Stephen Salmore." The poll confirms that taxes continue to be a major sore spot for Garden State residents," added Salmore.

Fairleigh Dickinson Professor, Dr. Bruce Larson can be reached at (973) 443-8727

Copyright © 2001, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 010802]