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Ol’ Blue Eyes vs. the Boss

New Jersey

Garden State weighs on the real grudge match

New Jersey has produced major figures in every sphere of life.  Our state is the birthplace of movie stars, world renowned scientists, and presidents (well, OK … only one was actually born here, but Grover Cleveland sort of counts as two presidents).  Undoubtedly – and with apologies to such home-grown stars as Jon Bon Jovi and Queen Latifah – two of the Garden State’s most prominent prodigies would have to be Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra.  The Monmouth University Polling Institute set for itself the unenviable task of determining who reigns supreme in the Garden State, the Boss or the Chairman of the Board. 

And when the dust settled the winner is … a tie!   That’s right.  Equal numbers of New Jerseyans include the music of Bruce (36%) or Frank (36%) among their personal record collections.  Even when the most devoted admirers of these two icons are identified, there is little to differentiate their popularity – 17 percent of New Jersey adults claim to be “big fans” of the troubadour of Asbury Park compared to a nearly identical 16 percent who feel the same about Hoboken’s own crooner.

While the statewide popularity contest is a dead heat, there are certainly some interesting differences within various demographic groups.  Among New Jersey men, the rugged earthiness of Springsteen nudges Sinatra’s silky style by a margin of 40-36%.  On the other hand, Springsteen’s tight jeans are no match for Ol’ Blue Eyes among women.  The female vote goes to Sinatra in a 35-32% squeaker.

An even more interesting finding turned up by pollsters is that Springsteen, who many proclaim as the voice of the blue collar worker, actually loses to Sinatra, known for cavorting with the rich and powerful, among the working-class.  You are more likely to find music by the late singer who passed away in 1998 in the homes of those with only a high school education (35-30%).  Springsteen, on the other hand, takes a sound lead among those who went on to college – 35-30% among those who have some college experience and 47-42% among those with a four year college degree.

Frankie also bests Bruce with lower income residents.  Those who make less than $50,000 a year prefer the Chairman of the Board by a margin of 31-25%.  On the other hand, if you’re looking to borrow money, you should probably seek out a Springsteen fan.  Garden Staters who make over $100,000 decidedly favor Springsteen by 56-48%.  Those with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 are somewhat more likely to be in Bruce’s camp, 38-34%.

There are also some important popularity differences by age.  Among New Jersey’s oldest residents – some of whom can remember when Sinatra still called the state home – it is no contest.  Sinatra thumps Springsteen by a lopsided 45-12% margin among the 70 and older crowd.  However, his lead is cut as the population gets closer to Bruce’s own age cohort.  Among those age 50-69, Sinatra holds a slim 39-36% lead in popularity.  But if you’re buying music for the crowd who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, then the Boss may be the way to go.  Springsteen takes the 30-49 year old market by 51-38%.  Among younger adults, it’s an underwhelming tie – similarly low numbers of 18 to 29 year olds have either a Springsteen (21%) or Sinatra (21%) CD on their shelves.

Pollsters trying to understand this finding among younger residents speculated that there seems to be some disparity between the staying power of Sinatra and the contemporary popularity of the man who still calls New Jersey home.  At any rate, both men rule in their home regions.  Springsteen is the favored musician in central New Jersey as well as in the Philadelphia suburbs.  Sinatra is tops in the urban northeast corner of the state and also gets the nod in rural areas.

Politically, these two singers are poles apart.  While Sinatra started off as a Kennedy Democrat, in the end he was a staunch Republican and friend of the Reagan’s.  Among Republican music listeners, Sinatra is favored by 39-34%.

Springsteen, who in an ironic twist saw his anti-Vietnam song “Born in the USA” used as a campaign theme by Ronald Reagan twenty years ago, actively supported John Kerry’s recent bid for the White House.  But that does not necessarily give him the advantage among Democrats.  In fact, Sinatra ekes out a 1 point win over Springsteen among this group, 35-34%.  However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Bruce is Boss with the independent crowd, soundly besting the Chairman of the Board by 44-32% with independent voters.

In the end, the appeal of these two native sons is strong in their home state.  If you have a craving for either Springsteen or Sinatra and don’t happen to have them in your music collection, your next door neighbor probably does.  Over half of all New Jerseyans (53%) have a record or CD by at least one of these men in their homes.  And in fact, nearly 1-in-5 (18%) have records or CDs by both of these entertainment giants.

This recent Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 800 New Jersey adults from September 21 to 26, 2005.  This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.5 percent.