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NJ Residents More Ethical Than Most, Says Poll

Contrary to popular opinion, the people of New Jersey are more ethical than you might think at least when compared to people in most of the countries in Europe. In the latest survey Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, New Jerseyans were asked the same series of questions used by the European Social Survey (ESS) to measure ethics, and the Garden State scored better than all but two of the 26 countries polled.

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Dan Cassino, PublicMind’s Director for Experimental Research says, “This just goes to show that New Jersey’s reputation is probably exaggerated. “Mass media hasn’t always been kind to Jersey, but the Sopranos and Jersey Shore aren’t exactly documentaries.”

The European and Jersey studies produce an index of ethics based on three questions. People are asked about the acceptability of making an exaggerated or false insurance claim, about buying something that might have been stolen, and about committing minor traffic offenses. The answers are combined to make a single score, which can range from a low of three to a high of twelve.

“The average score in New Jersey was 10.4,” explains Cassino.

The score for New Jersey is significantly better than the 10.1 recorded in the United Kingdom, the 9.2 in Germany, the 9.1 in France, and the 8.8 in Russia. However, the Garden State scored lower than people in Cyprus and Greece; in both countries, the average score was 10.7. New Jersey also tied with four countries: Israel, Sweden, Portugal and Denmark.

“Many studies have shown that people who say that these certain things are more acceptable are actually much more likely to do them,” says Cassino. “These questions have been pretty well validated in the past, and while people might be lying, there’s no reason to believe that people in New Jersey are lying more than people anywhere else.”

New Jersey’s high ranking is driven by the small number who think that making false insurance claims is acceptable: four of five New Jerseyans (79%) say that making false claims is “seriously wrong;” only 23% of Germans and 34% of French agree.

Garden Staters are more accepting of traffic offenses than they are of other behaviors: 42% say that committing a traffic offense, like running a red light or speeding, is “seriously wrong,” while 16% say that traffic infractions are “not at all wrong,” or “a little wrong.” Still, even this compares favorably to some Europeans: only 17% of Germans and 28% of Brits say that traffic offenses are seriously wrong.

“Even though people in New Jersey may not like who makes the laws, they generally feel the system is fair,” explains Cassino. “When people think the process is fair, they’re more likely to go along with the laws that emerge, whether they like them or not. If you’re in Russia, though, and you don’t trust the system, you also don’t care so much for the laws, and you feel you can or should do whatever you want to do, regardless of the law.”

There aren’t many differences between groups of New Jerseyans. Women were slightly, but not significantly, more ethical than men in the study, and married people were slightly, but not significantly, more ethical than singles. Public employees were also slightly, but not significantly, more ethical than workers in the private sector. However, people who said that they (or someone in their household) had been to a casino or slots parlor in the last month were less ethical than those who hadn’t. People who described themselves as liberal politically (10.0) also scored significantly lower than those who described themselves as moderates (10.4) or conservatives (10.6).

The poll of 903 adults aged 18 and older was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from April 30th through May 6th 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points.

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