More than half say crime in their neighborhood has stayed the same, while 3 in 10 say it is worse; 4 in 10 are at least somewhat worried they will be a victim of crime

While New Jerseyans as a whole rate the quality of life in their local area positively and feel safe where they live, perceptions vary widely based on who you ask and where they are located, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

According to the December poll, 7 in 10 residents say their town or city is an “excellent” (25 percent) or “good” (44 percent) place to live, while an even greater number say the same about their neighborhood (34 percent “excellent,” 43 percent “good”). Residents also feel safe in their neighborhood at night (49 percent “very,” 39 percent “somewhat”) and especially during the day (71 percent “very,” 25 percent “somewhat”).

But it’s a different story for some groups, who – while still positive about their community – are much less likely than their counterparts to feel favorably about where they reside. Black residents and Hispanic residents are about 20 points less likely than white residents to rate their towns or cities (52 percent and 58 percent, respectively, versus 74 percent) or their neighborhoods (63 percent and 64 percent, respectively, versus 83 percent) as “excellent” or “good.”

Black and Hispanic residents are less likely than white residents to say they feel “very safe” in their neighborhood either day or night by double digits. Sixty-one percent of Blacks say they feel “very safe” during the day, as do the same number of Hispanics, compared with 77 percent of whites; 48 percent of Blacks and 34 percent of Hispanics feel “very safe” at night, compared with 57 percent of whites.

“When we drill further down into the overall positive ratings of one’s local area and feelings of safety, it looks more like a tale of two New Jerseys,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “While a majority of every group has a positive view of their town and neighborhood, the striking disparities between some demographics in the degree to which they feel this way are indicative of the all-too-real gaps that exist across the state when it comes to issues like reside nts’ general welfare and well-being in their communities.”

Region and socioeconomic status echo racial and ethnic differences, too.

New Jerseyans in the lowest income bracket (54 percent town, 60 percent neighborhood) and those with a high school education or less (59 percent, 66 percent neighborhood) are less likely than their counterparts to view their municipalities and neighborhoods as “excellent” or “good” places to live – often by double digits.

Residents living in urban areas of the state are less likely to rate their neighborhoods as “excellent” or “good” (63 percent) compared with those in other regions. In addition, women are less likely than men to rate their town or city positively (66 percent to 72 percent), while Democrats (75 percent) are more positive than Republicans (68 percent) and Independents (64 percent). Positivity about where one lives rises as age increases.

Across the board, the majority of every demographic group feels at least “somewhat safe” in their neighborhood during the day, though there are differences in degree.

Urbanites (55 percent), those in the lowest income bracket (58 percent), and those with a high school education or less (63 percent) are less likely than their counterparts to say “very safe.” Women are slightly less likely to feel “very safe” than men during this time (67 percent versus 75 percent). Nevertheless, 9 in 10 within each of these groups feels at least “somewhat safe” in daylight.

While majorities across all groups feel safe to some degree at night, urbanites (32 percent), those in the lowest income bracket (37 percent), and those with a high school education or less (39 percent) are some of the least likely to say they feel their neighborhood is “very safe” during this time. Women are less likely to feel safe at night than men (43 percent “very” versus 56 percent “very”).

“Perceptions of safety are divided along similar lines as overall ratings of where one lives. Those who feel safer in their town, city, or neighborhood tend to view the area more positively than those who don’t feel as safe,” said Jessica Roman, a research associate at ECPIP. “We can infer that, unsurprisingly, feelings of safety play a role in how people feel about where they live.”

Views also differ widely as to how crime in one’s neighborhood compares with five years ago. Overall, 57 percent of New Jerseyans say crime has stayed the same, 10 percent say it has gotten better, and 30 percent say it has gotten worse.

Black residents are about half as likely as their counterparts to say crime has gotten worse (15 percent); white residents are the least likely of their counterparts, by double digits, to say it has gotten any better (6 percent). Urbanites (19 percent), those in lower income households, and younger residents are all more likely than their counterparts to say they have seen an improvement in crime in their area. Views are influenced by partisanship: Republicans are the most likely partisans to say crime has gotten worse (42 percent), while Democrats are most likely to say it has stayed the same (62 percent).

Seven percent are “very worried” and another 33 percent are “somewhat worried” that they will become a victim of a crime; 41 percent are “not very worried” and 19 percent are “not worried at all.”

Women are slightly more likely than men to feel worried that they will become a crime victim (44 percent), coinciding with their lower likelihood of feeing safe. Worry declines as education rises.

Republicans (52 percent) are more likely to say they are worried about being a victim of a crime than either independents (41 percent) or Democrats (32 percent).

“Much like everything else, perceptions of safety and crime have also become influenced by partisanship,” noted Koning. “Partisan differences are unsurprising given the emphasis the Republican Party has put on law and order issues in recent election cycles.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 1,657 adults contacted through multiple modes, including by live interviewer on landline and cell phone, MMS text invitation to web, and the probability-based Rutgers-Eagleton/SSRS Garden State Panel from Dec. 13 to Dec. 23. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. The registered voter subsample contains 1,451 registered voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points.