In 1971, with the urban riots and unrest of the late ’60s fresh in the minds of New Jerseyans, crime and drug addiction were the top concerns as reported by the first Rutgers-Eagleton poll.
Forty years later, matters of economy are far more pressing, with jobs, the economy and taxes topping this year’s poll, released Tuesday.
“Today, most people are worrying about their finances, their ability to get and keep jobs, and New Jersey’s continuing high taxes,” said poll director David Redlawsk, professor of political science at Rutgers University. “That doesn’t leave a lot of room for worrying about other things. In better economic times, other issues can come to the top, though the problem of taxes never seems to go away.”
As part of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll turning 40, surveyors revisited the questions asked in the early ’70s during that first statewide academic survey.
“The most important problem question was the very first one on the very first poll. It is fun and instructive to see how things have both changed and remained the same over all that time,” Redlawsk said.
Thomas Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the polls reflect people’s opinions at a particular point in time.
“Crime and drugs were emerging as issues back in the ’70s,” he said. “They have been around a long time now, at significant levels. It doesn’t mean people aren’t concerned, they are just used to dealing with them. But jobs, taxes and the economy are still very important issues to the business community.”
Other issues cited by few residents in 2011 are government spending, budget issues, transportation, cost of living, health care and corruption. And in a stark contrast to 1971, crime is barely mentioned. Back then, 10 percent of the people surveyed cited the environment as a top concern; today, that number is just 1 percent. Forty years ago, Garden State residents also were more concerned about civil rights, race relations and housing issues.
Bracken was surprised health care was not higher on the list of concerns. “The business community is very fearful of the rising cost of health care,” he said.
The latest results are from a random sampling of 903 New Jersey adults, conducted from landline and cellphone households earlier this month.