By Seulki Lee & Abigail Alcala

A democratic government only works when there is mutual trust between the people and those elected into positions of power to represent the citizen’s values and beliefs. Without that, the core tenets of democracy are diminished. In the book “Why People Don’t Trust The Government,” the political scientist Joseph Nye[1] discusses the relationship between public confidence and government stability in great detail. He argues that the public can support the work of government by paying their taxes, complying with the law, and choosing public service careers. However, when the public does not trust the government, they are less likely to provide crucial resources for the government to perform well. This can negatively impact government performance, destabilize government operations, and trigger a vicious cycle, thus eroding support towards democracy.

Democracy also counts on citizens to be well-informed and involved in electing representatives. But the world we live in is very different from that of many generations ago. Our constant access to technology and information can overwhelm anyone. Indeed, citizens today are subject to an overwhelming amount of information. Since anyone can post their experiences and feelings about the government, that information, irrespective of its veracity, can create a negative narrative and adversely impact how others consider those in positions of power.

New Jersey (NJ) is a fascinating state in the context of government trust. It is a small but diverse state with a significant immigrant population. Its location in the northeast corridor, nestled between such notable cities as New York and Philadelphia, also plays a prominent role in its demographics and government. The government leans strongly toward the Democratic party, which has controlled the state house since 2002. The state is diverse, with a 15% African-American population, 10% Asian population, and 21% Latino population.[2] Many minorities also live in densely populated urban areas that grapple with a range of socio-economic challenges.

A recent New Jersey State Policy Lab poll[3], conducted by The Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, included a critical question related to trust in government. The poll asked a representative sample of almost 2,000 residents from all backgrounds to answer the question, “How much trust do you have in the New Jersey government to improve the quality of life for its citizens?” Participants were given the following response options: “a great deal,” “some,” “not very much,” and “not at all.” The overall levels of trust in the New Jersey government among respondents were roughly split in half, with 49% responding positively (12% and 37% selecting “a great deal” or “some,” respectively) and 51% responding negatively (27% and 24% indicating “not very much” or “not at all,” respectively). Further, exploring patterns of trust according to other variables like race and political affiliation offered insight into stories about these specific groups of people and their experiences with the state government.

One of the variables accounted for was race. White residents were the most likely to respond negatively to the question by saying that they trust the government “not at all (27%)” or “not very much (27%).” Asians had the highest levels of trust in the government, with 21% of the respondents who identified as a member of that group responding to the question with “a great deal.” This finding is in line with the national trend observed by the Pew Research center, which also found that Asians reported higher trust in the government (29%) compared to other ethnic groups.[4] Hispanic NJ residents mostly responded with “not very much” (29%) and “some” (33%) trust, and Black respondents, responded primarily “some” (40%) and “not very much” (26%).

Political affiliation revealed another fascinating story about residents’ trust in the NJ government. A plurality of Republicans responded “not at all” (47%) when asked if they trusted the New Jersey government, while 33% rated their level of trust as “not very much.”  Those who identified as Independent and Other followed suit, with 61% of respondents choosing the option “not at all.” Democrats were the most likely to trust the government, with 52% of the respondents who identified as part of the party indicating that they trust the government “a great deal.”

From the data analysis, we find that trust in the New Jersey government is associated with a respondent’s race and political affiliation. First, NJ residents show a higher level of trust in their state government (49%), compared to the national public trust level (20%) surveyed by the Pew Research Center.[5] This mirrors the NJ government’s long-established efforts to improve public access and trust, evidenced by the Public Access in New Jersey: the Public Trust Doctrine and Practical Steps to Enhance Public Access.[6] Also, the data points to a positive sign of successfully connecting with the members of historically underrepresented communities, such as Black, Hispanic, and Asian individuals, with relatively high levels of trust in the government across all racial and ethnic groups. Second, it is inferred that the works of the NJ government have met the NJ voters’ expectations. NJ is a Democrat-run state, which means that the majority of its residents support the policy visions of the Democratic party. The positive levels of trust in the NJ government, expressed by 74% of the respondents identified as Democrats, suggest that the government has delivered for its people. This information is helpful as it provides a barometer for the government to evaluate how its policies are perceived by NJ residents.

Seulki Lee will be awarded her Ph.D. in the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers-Newark in May 2023. Abigail Alcala is a first-year graduate student in the Master of Public Policy program at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers-New Brunswick.



[1] Nye, J. S., Zelikow, P., & King, D. C. (1998). Why People Don’t Trust Government. Harvard University Press.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: New Jersey. US Census. (2021). Retrieved 2023, from

[3] This survey was conducted by phone and text-to-web in English and Spanish from June 14 to July 5, 2022 with a scientifically selected random sample of 1,976 New Jersey adults, 18 or older. Data were weighted to be representative of the residential adult population in New Jersey. The sampling margin of error is +/-2.8 percent. The full questionnaire can be accessed at

[4] Bell, P. (2022, June 6). Public Trust in Government: 1958-2022. Pew Research Center – U.S. Politics & Policy. Retrieved 2023, from

[5] Bell, P. (2022, June 6). Public Trust in Government: 1958-2022. Pew Research Center – U.S. Politics & Policy. Retrieved 2023, from

[6] State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. (2024, March 24). Public Access. Retrieved 2023, from