NJ Residents Expect Return to “Normal” to Take a While

Today we have some additional questions on Sandy recovery from our latest poll. We look at the recovery effort, and in particular, measures that should be taken in dealing with storm damaged areas. Most NJ residents expect recovery will take a while – few think we’ll be done in the next year.

Full test of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release with questions and tables.

Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds nearly all support changes to flood-prone areas

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Nearly three-quarters of New Jerseyans say life is not yet “back to normal” after Superstorm Sandy, and most of those think it will be years before that happens, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. While 15 percent of those who say normalcy has not returned are optimistic that it will return within one year, 64 percent see a one to five year horizon before the state returns to pre-Sandy conditions. Nearly 20 percent are more pessimistic: 11 percent think a return to normal will take five to 10 years, 2 percent see it taking more than a decade and 7 percent say the state will never get back to normal.

As New Jersey begins to address concerns about the future of coastal areas prone to storm-surge flooding, large majorities of residents support a range of preventative measures proposed to limit future damage.

Nearly 90 percent either strongly or somewhat favor the mandatory use of pilings to elevate buildings in flood-prone areas and requiring the building of sand dunes or seawalls. More than 80 percent want to encourage rebuilding of homes and businesses further from the waterfront. About 70 percent are at least somewhat supportive of converting formerly developed land into public beaches, parks or wetlands and nearly the same percentage supports using public funds to replenish sand and create wider beaches.

New Jerseyans are all but evenly split – 48 percent favoring, 47 percent opposing – on whether shorefront development should simply be repaired to its pre-Sandy state without significant changes. Just over half give some support to abandoning parts of waterfront towns if repairs are seen to cost “too much in government funds,” but others would rebuild regardless of cost.

“Most residents recognize Sandy recovery is a long-term process, and know it will be quite some time before we have recovered,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “In addition they support efforts to ensure damage of this magnitude is less likely in the future, even if it means implementing such costly measures as dune construction and elevated buildings.”

Results are from a poll of 923 New Jersey adults conducted statewide among both landline and cell phone households from April 3-7. The margin of error is +/-3.2 percentage points.

Impact of Sandy not going away soon

About half the state’s residents were personally affected by the storm and its aftermath: 10 percent seriously, 39 percent moderately and 51 percent a little. Sixty-three percent in northwest exurban counties and 59 percent in shore counties were personally affected. Only 22 percent of south Jersey/Philadelphia area residents say they were affected by Sandy. More than half of urban and suburban residents say they felt Sandy’s impact personally.

Seventy-four percent say the state is not back to normal post-Sandy, while 21 percent say it is, and 5 percent are unsure. Those personally affected by the storm are five points more likely to say life is not yet back to normal (76 percent to 71 percent). Not surprisingly, those in the hardest hit exurban (78 percent) and shore regions (83 percent) are most likely to think things are not back to normal compared to other areas of the state.

While more than 20 percent of residents believe New Jersey has returned to normalcy, the rest are not overly optimistic about how long it will take to recover, and see rebuilding taking from one to five years. Younger residents are more optimistic: those under age 30 are three times more likely to think things are already back to normal, compared to those 50 and over. Among younger residents who still think the state is not back to normal, nearly 20 percent think a return to normalcy will happen within the next year, compared to only 11 percent of senior citizens.

Lower- income residents are also more optimistic; nearly a quarter say recovery will take less than a year. But only 5 percent of those with the highest incomes agree.

“For the most part, New Jerseyans seem realistic about the challenges facing the state,” said Redlawsk. “While some see things as already back to normal, most recognize the recovery effort is a long-term event. While people hope it will all go well, they recognize it’s a long slog.”

Support for strong precautionary measures in flood zones

Given an assortment of proposals for rebuilding areas most prone to storm-surge flooding, most New Jerseyans support a range of precautionary actions, but fewer support abandoning the land or leaving it unchanged. Sixty-four percent strongly support building sand dunes or seawalls, and another 23 percent offer some support. Those personally affected by Sandy are about seven points more likely than others to strongly support requiring dunes and seawalls.

Seven in 10 residents with incomes under $50,000 strongly support this proposal, compared to 57 percent with incomes over $150,000. Even 61 percent of shore resident strongly support dunes and seawalls, though support is even greater in other parts of the state, except for exurban counties where it drops to 57 percent.

Similarly, across the state, 64 percent strongly and 23 percent somewhat support elevating buildings on pilings to lessen future flood damage. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to strongly support this preventive measure, 71 percent to 58 percent. Lower-income and younger residents also are stronger supporters than others on average.

Fewer residents, 57 percent, strongly support moving development further from the waterfront, while another 27 percent somewhat support it. Democrats are once again more likely to strongly support this option (61 percent), as are seniors (72 percent), those in the lowest income bracket (64 percent) and those living in suburban and exurban areas (both at 62 percent).

In contrast, plans that include either abandonment or takeover of property or weaker precautionary measures are not viewed as favorably. Only 36 percent strongly support converting formerly developed land into public open spaces, while 35 percent offer some support. Men are much more likely to offer strong support for this plan than women (43 percent to 29 percent). Residents of exurban counties (46 percent) are the strongest supporters in the state.

Thirty-seven percent strongly support, and 34 percent somewhat support, simply replenishing and widening beaches as a precautionary measure. Residents personally affected by Sandy (42 percent versus 22 percent not affected) and those who live in shore counties (47 percent) are more likely to strongly support this proposal.

Residents show the least support for proposals to abandon parts of a waterfront town if repairs cost too much government money, or to simply rebuild as things were. Thirty percent strongly support and 25 percent somewhat support abandoning damaged properties altogether if repair costs will be too high. Older residents are more likely to strongly support this approach (38 percent), as are men (39 percent). Only 20 percent of urban residents strongly favor this option, but 34 percent of shore and suburban residents are strong supporters.

Only 24 percent strongly support and another 24 percent somewhat support returning damaged areas to their pre-Sandy condition with no significant changes. Those not affected by Sandy are five points more likely than those who were affected to strongly support this proposal, but the proposal, nevertheless, gets limited support compared to other options.


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