This column originally appeared as an Op-Ed in the Gannett New Jersey newspapers on April 25, including the Asbury Park Press, Courier News, Courier-Post, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune.
A little over 30 years ago, the nation was astounded to discover that most New Jerseyans actually liked living here.
This shockwave was set off by an Eagleton Poll report that 7-in-10 Garden State residents said their state was a good place to live. This finding was so extraordinary that the New York Times ran a banner headline. Apparently, it was difficult for people outside the state to imagine that anything in New Jersey could make it a desirable place to call home.
This national disbelief raises an important question: What do people living in other states think of us. A recent national survey conducted by the Public Mind Poll found that 47% of Americans have a favorable view of New Jersey, while only 18% have an unfavorable one. That doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not clear if they like us for the right reasons.
When ask what images New Jersey brings to mind, our beaches and coastline were the most commonly mentioned assets. So far, so good. But the second most frequent image evoked by our state is political corruption and organized crime. Umm, not so good.
The poll also found that people who had watched MTV’s “Jersey Shore” were even more likely to have a favorable view of our state than those who hadn’t seen the reality show about a group of self-styled “guidos” and “guidettes.”
Huh? One has to wonder whether other Americans have a “favorable” view of New Jersey simply because they enjoy the caricatures of our state.
Unfortunately, we New Jerseyans may be complicit in perpetuating that view. A 2002 Eagleton Poll found that 28 percent of Garden State residents actually found the HBO Mafia drama “The Sopranos” to be a source of pride for the state. This compared to 24 percent who were embarrassed by it.
Digging into the poll numbers further demonstrates the depth of our image problem. Back in 2003, the folks at Eagleton (which, at the time, included this writer) decided to take the same questions they asked about New Jersey and put them to a national sample.
Across most areas of the country, fully half of other Americans said their own state was an “excellent” place to live. Just 20 percent of New Jerseyans gave the same “excellent” rating to our state. (We can take some solace from the fact that the ratings for other Northeastern states were only slightly higher than our own. Outside the Northeast, though, the state ratings were much higher than for New Jersey.)
That 2003 poll also found that nearly 6-in-10 Americans took a lot of pride in being called a resident of their home state. Here in New Jersey, that number was somewhat lower at 5-in-10.
Overall, 72 percent of New Jerseyans rated their state as a decent place to call home, but when other Americans were asked to evaluate our state, only 38 percent felt that it would be a good place to live.
And so, we continue to endure the national bewilderment noted more than three decades ago. Why would anyone actually want to live in New Jersey?
Of course, the latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll shows that about half of us would, in fact, like to leave the state. But that has more to do with property taxes and the cost of living than any other aspect of Jersey life.
There’s a lot to be proud of in New Jersey. Food? The name “Garden State” was coined in the 19th century to reflect the wealth of our gastronomic offerings. And today, New Jersey offers the cuisine of nearly every world culture.
History? Forget Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington probably slept more nights in New Jersey than in any of the other 12 states.
The light bulb, motion pictures, the transistor? All invented in Jersey
Being able to access two of the greatest metropolitan areas in the world, and some of the best beaches in the country, along with pristine mountains and lakes – and all in the same day? Only in New Jersey.
Ben Franklin once referred to our state as a keg tapped at both ends. Well, old Ben knew that you only tap a keg if there’s something worthwhile inside.
Now, if we can only get other Americans to discover all the outstanding things New Jersey has to offer.
But then they might want to move here. And we couldn’t have that, could we.