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Five Decades Later, Rutgers-Eagleton Poll Still Finds Taxes to Be Most Important Problem Facing New Jersey

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The latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll is reminiscent of its first poll conducted 50 years ago.

Not much has changed in 50 years when it comes to New Jersey’s most important problem, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Then and now, New Jerseyans rate taxes – including property taxes – as their number one concern.

In the most recent poll, 39 percent of residents mention taxes when asked about the top issues facing the state, followed by 14 percent who say the economy, and 10 percent who cite state government.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same – at least when it comes to how residents view taxes,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Six percent of New Jerseyans mention the pandemic as an issue; problems with the state’s response to the pandemic, climate change and the environment, infrastructure, education, crime and drugs, and housing are considered to be major problems by under 5 percent of those polled.

In 1971, when the poll was founded, taxes also took the top spot at 26 percent, followed closely by crime and drug addiction at 24 percent, poverty, welfare, and unemployment each at 24 percent, the environment at 23 percent, education at 22 percent, and transportation at 11 percent.

“The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll–the first university-based statewide survey research center in the nation – has been taking the pulse of New Jerseyans for five decades now and has perennially found taxes to be their biggest concern,” said Koning. “As we revisit some of the first questions the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll asked in celebration of its 50th anniversary, it is clear that New Jerseyans’ frustration with taxes has not only withstood the test of time but also intensified.”

Taxes are the number one concern across the board – particularly among Republicans (49 percent), men (44 percent), and white residents (42 percent). Taxes are also a concern among older residents, upper income residents, and those living in exurban areas (52 percent).

New Jerseyans, moreover, do not believe that the state government is making much progress toward solving the state’s most important problem.

Only 7 percent say the state is doing a great deal about it, 18 percent say a fair amount, 34 percent say very little, and 36 percent say nothing at all. Those who specifically mention taxes as their biggest concern are especially negative: 48 percent say the state has made no progress at all on this issue, and another 37 percent say it has made very little progress.

Republicans are the most negative about the state – no matter the issue, 59 percent believe the government has made no progress – while Democrats are the most positive with 43 percent saying the state has made a great deal or fair amount of progress.

Meanwhile, the poll found that New Jerseyans are split on the direction of the state: 40 percent believe it is going in the right direction, while 45 percent say it is on the wrong track and another 15 percent are unsure.

There are stark demographic divides on residents’ outlook for the state. Democrats are more optimistic with 68 percent saying the state is in the right direction, compared to 51 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans who say the state is on the wrong track. White respondents have a negative view (53 percent wrong track), while Black residents and Hispanic residents have positive ones (49 percent and 63 percent right direction, respectively). Young adults and urban residents are more positive than their counterparts. Those in the highest income bracket are more negative than those in less affluent households.

The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, part of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, was established in 1971. With the publication of over 200 polls, the center’s mission is to provide scientifically sound, nonpartisan information about public opinion, as well as design opportunities for students to learn how to read, analyze, design and administer polls. Visit the poll website to view over 50 years of questionnaires, data, press releases and reports.     

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,008 adults contacted by live interviewers on landlines and cell phones from Oct. 21–27. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points. The full release with tables can be viewed on the website.