A statewide poll released Monday provided insights into how South Jersey views itself and the Garden State.
The survey by Monmouth University, based on interviews with at least 100 people in each of New Jersey's 21 counties, revealed stark differences between North and South and from one county to another.
"New Jersey has always been a tale of two or three states," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "Residents of counties where the local quality of life is particularly high also tend to view the entire state as a good place to live.
"In most cases, though, residents make a distinction between their own backyards and the state as a whole."
Residents of South Jersey counties tend to view the state's quality of life more negatively than do residents of other parts of the state. A "quality of life" index measured the overall perception of residents - how they rated the state, their town or city, the environment, local schools, and feeling of safety at night.
"There's a general South Jersey issue: 'We don't get our fair share in New Jersey,' " said Murray, whose poll of nearly 2,900 residents was conducted from Dec. 1 to 15 last year.
Residents in the south "don't feel they are on equal footing," he said. "It's a matter of funding and respect. There's a disparity."
In Camden County, "there's a lot of dissatisfaction in people's lives," Murray said. "People tend to be more negative about where they are in their own lives," financially and personally.
Traffic problems and poor road conditions were also among the major complaints. Camden County gave the state a quality of life score of 13, out of a maximum score of 100.
The highest score - 42 - was given by Morris County in North Jersey, part of the "wealth belt" that includes Hunterdon and Somerset Counties. Morris residents have positive views of their hometowns, cultural activities, local schools, quality of drinking water, amount of open space, crime, and job prospects.
Giving the state the lowest index score - 5 - was Cumberland County. People in that southern county provided significantly more negative assessments in nearly all categories.
In Burlington County, 59 percent of the residents interviewed said they want to eventually leave the state. The county scored a 16 on the quality of life index.
"The rest of New Jersey is encroaching on them," Murray said. "There's an influx of people from up north. They come down for the less expensive housing and commute to North Jersey or New York.
"They're filtering into northern Burlington County, and the character of the area has changed," he said. "South Jersey residents consider themselves more neighborly than North Jersey residents."
Though unhappy with the change, Burlington County residents - 60 percent of those polled - are satisfied with the amount of open space that has been preserved.
In Gloucester County, people were generally unhappy with their quality of life; surveyors found a score of 13.
Seventy-two percent of those polled viewed their hometowns positively, but only 47 percent had the same opinion of the state.
"It's one of the lowest ratings for the state," Murray said. "It's politically interesting. People there have turned against the Democratic Party and supported [Republican Gov.] Chris Christie. You see the divide in the towns and the state as a whole."
Monmouth University's poll is the first in-depth poll of its kind, Murray said, though other surveys over the last 30 years have asked residents whether they viewed New Jersey positively.
The scores for the state - on that question alone - have been dropping from a high in 1987 of 84 percent to the current low of 63 percent.
Why conduct such polls?
"It's important to understand where the strengths and weaknesses of our state are if you're going to address them, especially when you see a sizable number of people wanting to leave the state," Murray said. "Lawmakers should see where things are working well and try to apply them elsewhere in the state."
Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.