Nearly two-thirds of New Jersey residents feel it is important to be active in their communities and 4-in-10 express at least some interest in serving on a board or commission in their town. However, smaller percentages say that their participation can make a great deal of difference. The latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll also found that contrary to New Jersey's reputation for ethical lapses among its political leaders, most residents feel that getting involved in politics is an honorable thing to do.
Overall, most Garden State adults say they feel it is either very (28%) or somewhat (37%) important for them personally to be active in community organizations and neighborhood groups. Another 20% say it is just a little important and 14% not at all important. However, just under 1-in-4 (23%) report having worked to solve a problem in their community in the past year.
Fifteen percent of residents say they would be very interested in serving on a local board or commission, 26% have some interest, and 1% report currently serving on some type of appointed body in their town. Another 23% have just a little interest in this type of service and 33% have no interest at all.
A majority of residents (57%) believe that being a good citizen means having some special obligations, compared to just 36% who say simply being a good person is enough to make someone a good citizen. Furthermore, 55% see getting involved in politics and government as honorable, compared to 32% who feel it is a dirty business.
"Although New Jersey has developed a reputation for ethically-challenged government, most residents feel it doesn't have to be that way," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Murray added, "While many residents feel some obligation to take part in the political process, only about 1-in-7 express high levels of interest in participating in local governance. Still, if just 1-in-7 residents got involved at the local level, the impact would be noticeable."
Harry Pozycki, Chair of the Citizens' Campaign said, "These results show that there is a large number of New Jerseyans interested in constructively participating in their communities. Now, it is important to give them the knowledge about how to best accomplish this goal given their busy lives. That is exactly what we intend to do as we launch a New Jersey Call to Service."
Most residents believe that decisions made by town councils and schools boards have an impact on their own lives, including 37% who say local government actions affect them a great deal and 33% who say these actions affect them somewhat. Another 17% say local government actions affect them a little and 11% say there is no impact at all on their own lives.
About half of New Jersey residents feel they personally can make a difference in working to solve problems in their local communities. This includes 16% who feel they can make a great deal of difference and 32% who feel they can make some difference. Another 27% say they can only make a little difference and 21% feel they can make no difference at all.
The poll also found that 4-in-10 residents are familiar with the appointed boards and commission in their towns, including 13% who are very familiar and 27% who are somewhat familiar. The majority are either just a little (27%) or not at all (31%) familiar with their town's boards and commissions.
The Citizens' Campaign and Monmouth University will be holding a "Call to Service Conference" on the university campus on Tuesday, October 14. The conference will encourage New Jersey business leaders to become more involved in state and local governance and assist local government leaders in launching calls to service in their own towns.
The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll was conducted by telephone with 808 New Jersey adults from September 11 to 14, 2008. This sample has a margin of error of ± 3.5 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and originally published by the Gannett New Jersey newspaper group (Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Courier News, Daily Journal, Daily Record, and Home News Tribune).
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