The public’s views of New Jersey’s quality of life and rating of the state as a good place to live are toward the higher end of their historical range. However, the number of residents who want to leave the state is at a high point, according to the Monmouth University Poll. The desire to exit New Jersey is showing a marked partisan gap, with more Republicans wanting to leave, that was not evident in prior years. Regardless, the state’s property tax burden remains the top reason people cite for their intention to get out of New Jersey, as it has been in the past.
Monmouth’s exclusive Garden State Quality of Life Index score now stands at +27, which is in line with last year’s +25 rating. The index number had jumped to +37 at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020. In the years prior it tended to range between +18 and +31, with an outlying low point of +13 registered in February 2019. The current reading is toward the higher end of index scores since Monmouth first started tracking this quality of life metric in 2010.
The quality of life index score has increased in most areas of the state over the past year, including the Central Hills (up 9 points to +42), Northern Shore (up 8 to +34), Delaware Valley (up 7 to +27), Garden Core (up 6 to +19), and Route 1 Corridor (up 5 to +28). It has dropped slightly in the Northeast (down 3 points to +28) and by a larger number in the Urban Core counties (down 7 to +16).
“It’s worth noting that the areas with the least positive views of New Jersey’s quality of life are the heavily Democratic urban areas and the heavily Republican rural counties,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The Garden State Quality of Life Index is based on five separate poll questions: overall opinion of the state as a place to live – which contributes half the index score – and ratings of one’s hometown, the performance of local schools, the quality of the local environment, and feelings of safety in one’s own neighborhood. The index can potentially range from –100 to +100.
A little under 2 in 3 New Jerseyans say the state is either an excellent (19%) or good (45%) place to live, while 22% say it is only fair and 13% rate the state as poor. The current positive rating of 64% is between last year’s 59% result and 68% in 2020. The all-time high mark for the state rating was 84% positive in February 1987. The record low was 50% in February 2019, but it improved to 61% by September of that year.
While the overall state rating has improved, a larger than ever number of New Jerseyans (59%) say they would like to move out of the state at some point. Prior polls that asked this question between 2007 and 2014 found from 49% to 53% who wanted to leave. In all those instances, overall positive ratings of the state were similar to where they are today (between 61% and 63%) while the Garden State Quality of Life Index was significantly lower in 2014 (+18) than it is today (+27).
“It’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Positive ratings of New Jersey as a place to live have ticked up a bit. But so has the sense that people want to get out of here someday. One possible explanation is that residents appreciate the benefits that New Jersey has to offer, but the cost of living does not make it sustainable in the long run,” said Murray.
Regardless of whether they want to leave, 36% of current state residents say it is very likely they will move out of the state at some point in their lives. This is a jump from 26% who said the same in 2014 and 28% in 2007. Demographically, there has been a much bigger jump in this sentiment among younger adults under age 35 (up 17 points from 2014 to 42%) than among those age 35 to 54 (up 10 points to 43%) or 55 and older (up 8 points to 26%).
Six in ten of those who say they are at least somewhat likely to leave New Jersey cite financial concerns, with property taxes (26%) leading the list. Another 7% cite other taxes, 7% point to high housing costs, and 19% refer to the high cost of living in general. These are the same reasons people gave for wanting to leave in 2014, but there are more of them now.
Republicans (69%) and independents (64%) are much more likely than Democrats (47%) to say they want to leave the state. In 2014, however, similar number of Republicans (48%) and Democrats (46%) said they wanted to leave the state. The partisan results were also similar in 2007 (49% Republicans and 44% Democrats). In both years, independents were actually a little more likely than either partisan group to say they wanted to move out of New Jersey (55% in 2014 and 54% in 2007).
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from March 31 to April 4 with 802 New Jersey adults. The question results in this have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
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