New Jersey residents’ outlook on the state depends a lot on which corner of it they occupy. In the fourth installment of a series on the Garden State’s Quality of Life, the Monmouth University Poll focuses on how the views of state residents vary from county to county.
The Monmouth University Poll’s Garden State Quality of Life Index shows a wide disparity at the county level compared to the statewide average of +21 (on a scale -100 to +100). This ranges from a high of +42 among Morris County residents to a low of +5 in Cumberland County.
The Garden State Quality of Life Index is not a rating of each county as a place to live, but rather an overall perception of New Jersey’s quality of life. The index is comprised of two major components – ratings of the state as a whole and ratings of one’s hometown and local area.
Joining Morris in the top tier of the Garden State Quality of Life Index are Hunterdon (37%), Bergen (+34), Somerset (+32), Cape May (+30), and Sussex (+29) counties. The second tier is composed of Union (+24), Monmouth (+23), Ocean (+23), and Middlesex (+22).
Counties that score slightly below the statewide average are Hudson (+20), Warren (+19), Mercer (+18), Atlantic (+16), Burlington (+16), and Salem (+16). Rounding out the list are the counties, other than Cumberland, where residents have the least positive views of New Jersey’s quality of life, including Camden (+13), Gloucester (+13), Essex (+12), and Passaic (+12).
Counties with the highest scores on the Garden State Quality of Life Index come from every part of the state – north, central, and south – and represent a range of affluence, although the “wealth belt” of Hunterdon, Morris, and Somerset is fully represented in the top tier. On the other hand, the lowest scoring counties are either from South Jersey or the urban north.
“New Jersey has always been a tale of two, or three, states. The index shows that how you feel about the state’s quality of life depends on where you live,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “It’s interesting to note that residents of counties where the local quality of life is particularly high also tend to view the entire state as a good place to live. In most cases, though, residents make a distinction between their own backyards and the state as a whole.”
When asked to rate their own hometown as a place to live, residents of Morris (89%), Hunterdon (87%), Somerset (86%), and Bergen (85%) are the most positive. In general, more New Jerseyans give high marks to their hometown than say the same about the state as a whole. This is especially true in Somerset (86%) and Gloucester (72%) counties, where town ratings are 25 points higher than the state rating. Only in the heavily urbanized counties of Hudson (64%), Essex (59%), and Passaic (57%) do residents to rate their own towns less positively than they do the state.
Counties with higher concentrations of urban communities tend to score below the state average on the Garden State Quality of Life Index, but this effect is not consistent. Mercer County excluding Trenton would score +29 on the index, which is an 11 point increase from the entire county’s score. Union County’s score would also jump if only its suburban communities were considered, from an already above average +24 to a top tier score of +32. Index scores would also increase in other urbanized counties if only suburban communities were included in the calculations, but by a much smaller margin. This includes Passaic at +19, Essex at +18, and Camden at +15. Since Hudson is an entirely urban county, there is no different score to report.
A more comprehensive description of the survey results with details for each county can be found in the full Monmouth University Polling Institute report, available at: https://www.monmouth.edu/polling/admin/polls/NJQualityofLife_County_August2011.pdf
Funding for the Garden State Quality of Life project was provided by the Plangere Foundation, New Jersey Resources, First Energy Corporation, and sanofi-aventis.
Survey Methodology: The Garden State Quality of Life survey was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from December 1 to 15, 2010 with a statewide random sample of 2,864 adult residents. Sampling and live telephone interviewing services were provided by Braun Research, Inc. Smaller counties were oversampled so that the final survey included at least 100 survey respondents from each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Racial and ethnic minorities were also oversampled by screening for appropriate respondents in areas of minority population concentration. The survey results were then weighted to accurately reflect the New Jersey adult population for gender, age, education, race, and county.
For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points. Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups, such as separate figures reported by gender or party identification, are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample. The sampling error for the county level data discussed in this report ranges from ± 6% (Bergen, Middlesex), to ± 7% (Essex, Hudson), ± 8% (Monmouth, Morris, Passaic), ± 9% (Burlington, Camden, Mercer, Ocean, Somerset, Union), and ± 10% (Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Salem, Sussex, Warren). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.