New Jerseyans Give State and Federal Government Low Ratings

Neither Trenton nor Washington is clicking on all cylinders, but the federal government scores slightly worse, according to the New Jersey public in a new Monmouth University Poll. Just under half of Garden State residents see politics as a “dirty business” – a view that has increased over the past 15 years. Still, a majority feel they can personally make a difference in solving problems in their local communities and half report having done so.

A little more than one-third (36%) of New Jerseyans rate the quality of their state government as either excellent or good while only 19% say the same about the federal government. When asked to compare the two levels directly, 29% say the government in Trenton is better run and 9% say Washington works better, while the majority (57%) say the two governments are run about the same.

Among New Jersey Democrats, 37% pick Trenton and 12% choose Washington as the better run government. Republicans are less likely to name either level (24% Trenton and 6% Washington), with the vast majority (68%) saying they are about the same. The views of independents are nearly identical to Republicans. However, it should also be noted that the New Jersey government rating, while low, is better than it was a decade ago (24% in 2010).

“A pox on both your houses say New Jerseyans. It may never be possible to get a majority of the public to view government in a positive light in this day and age. But it may be some comfort to Trenton officials that at least some New Jerseyans think they are doing a better job than the folks in Washington,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Democrats (63%) are a lot more likely than Republicans (14%) to rate the state government positively. They are also somewhat more likely to give positive reviews to the quality of the federal government, although both partisan groups’ opinion of Washington is largely negative – just 31% excellent or good ratings among Democrats and 7% among Republicans. Again, independents’ views on both levels of government are more in line with Republican than Democratic opinion.

Interestingly, past polls on the quality of state government showed less of a partisan divide than in the current results. In 2009, when Democrats controlled both the executive and legislative branches, Democrats (44% excellent/good) had a slightly better view of Trenton than Republicans (20%), and independents (17%). Republican opinion (38% positive) ticked up the following year when a GOP governor took office, while Democratic opinion (19%) slipped and independent (21%) opinion held steady. But these partisan gaps are nowhere near the nearly 50-point difference today.

“Partisanship fractures how we view government nowadays. You’ve got to stick with your team and boo the other guys no matter what. Which means independents tend to remain unhappy no matter who is in charge,” said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from January 5 to 9, 2023 with 809 New Jersey adults. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percentage points for the full sample. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

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