Hurricane Sandy’s Third Anniversary: Some Progress, But Still More to Go

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey exactly three years ago today, so we wanted to revisit some questions about the Superstorm on our most recent poll – specifically some recovery ratings we have been polling at various points throughout the past three years.  Inspired by Gov. Chris Christie’s original comments about rating boardwalk conditions the very first Memorial Day weekend post-Sandy, we have been asking New Jerseyans to rate recovery within a few geographic and socioeconomic areas on a scale from 1 (not at all recovered) to10 (completely recovered).

We see some good news and some bad news in today’s results. On the one hand, a slight majority of voters still think the state is not yet back to normal. On the other hand, this number is down more than 10 points since last polled a year and a half ago. As for recovery progress, ratings are up across the board since last time. The downside? Those areas most desperately still in need – the NJ Shore region and homeowners who sustained Sandy damaged – are rated the lowest on average by New Jerseyans. Bottom line: while residents perceive the state as a whole, tourism, and businesses have all bounced back for the most part, they do not feel the same about those who were most affected. While ratings on Shore and homeowner recovery have increased, they still lag far behind ratings of the other recovery areas.

The full text of the release is below. Click here for a PDF of the release with text, questions, and tables.

THREE YEARS POST-SANDY, OVER HALF OF NEW JERSEYANS STILL THINK STATE NOT BACK TO NORMAL

 Recovery seen as progressing but still incomplete, especially for hardest hit

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New Jersey three years ago, but residents continue to feel its effects today and do not believe that the state has fully recovered, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Fifty-four percent of New Jerseyans say life still is not back to normal, while 37 percent say it is and another 9 percent are unsure. While a majority continues to be pessimistic, this is an improvement since the question was last asked 18 months ago, when 67 percent thought normalcy had not yet returned and only 26 percent had a more positive outlook.

The slight increase in residents’ perceptions of normalcy is accompanied by a bump in the ratings they give to recovery progress in certain geographic and socioeconomic areas, but scores still indicate a need for additional work. On a 10-point scale, with 1 meaning “not at all recovered” and 10 meaning “fully recovered,” New Jerseyans rate recovery of the Shore at 5.8 on average, up almost a whole point since April 2014 but still lagging behind other areas. Respondents score recovery for homeowners with damage from Sandy even lower, at 5.3, up a half-point.

Assessments of business and tourism recovery are much more favorable. Residents rate businesses at 6.9, up one point from 18 months ago. Tourism receives the biggest boost and one of the best ratings of all the recovery areas, now at 7.1 on average, up from 5.9.

New Jerseyans rate recovery of the state in general about the same as they did during the first summer post-Sandy, also at 7.1 on average – tying with tourism as one of the two highest scores.

“On the third anniversary of Sandy making landfall in New Jersey, we see a somewhat greater sense of optimism and progress,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers. “ At the same time, residents know the state has not completely returned to its pre-Sandy days and are very aware of those geographic areas and individuals who continue to need help the most – the Shore and homeowners who suffered storm damage.”

Results are from a statewide poll of 935 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Oct. 3 to 10, 2015. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Sandy’s original impact, partisanship color Shore and homeowner ratings

While New Jerseyans on average give Shore recovery a so-so rating, there are signs of greater positivity and progress than in April 2014. One-quarter give Shore recovery a 5, while almost half give higher ratings of either a 6 (12 percent), 7 (19 percent), or 8 (15 percent) – quite a switch from 18 months ago. Another quarter of residents rate Shore recovery lower than 5, distributed somewhat evenly among these lowest rankings.

But this overall positive view varies with key factors. Shore residents give progress in their area a 5.5 average rating – slightly less than other regions but still an increase of over half a point since 2014. Those personally affected by Sandy give progress at the Shore an average rating of 5.7, though this is also up almost a point since last time. Those who were not affected give a slightly higher rating, though not by much, at 5.9. Views on the state being back to normal matter greatly here, however: there is almost a two-point disparity between those who believe normalcy has returned and those who do not, with the latter giving a much lower average rating, 5.1 versus 6.9.

Partisanship and approval of Gov. Chris Christie on Sandy also have an impact. Republicans, those who are favorable toward Christie, and those who approve of his efforts on Sandy recovery are all more likely to rate the Shore higher than their counterparts.

Similar patterns emerge in rating recovery progress of homeowners who suffered storm damage. Just over half of New Jerseyans rate homeowner recovery at 5 or lower; while just under half rate it higher, mostly concentrated among scores of 6, 7, or 8. Shore residents are more negative compared to others around the state, giving an average score of 4.9 in this area, compared to exurbanites and suburbanites who give slightly higher ratings – at 5.6 and 5.5, respectively. Those personally affected by Sandy score homeowner recovery similarly to those not directly affected – 5.4 versus 5.2 – but those who say life is not yet back to normal are much more negative than those who say the opposite. While there is no difference by partisanship in scoring this area, those who disapprove of Christie’s recovery efforts give the most negative score of all on average, at 4.5.

Business and tourism much improved across the board

New Jerseyans are much more positive about progress with the recovery of tourism and business in general than about the Shore or homeowners. Residents are most likely to rate tourism recovery rather positively, with 40 percent evenly divided between a score of 7 and 8; 88 percent give it a score of 5 or higher. For business recovery, Garden Staters are most likely to rate it an 8, at 25 percent, and 90 percent rate it at 5 or above.

Even those living down the Shore and those personally affected by Sandy give tourism recovery an average rating of 7.2 – up more than a point for both groups since April 2014. But residents who believe the state is not yet back to normal post-storm rate this area a 6.6, compared to 7.8 among those who believe normalcy has returned.

Republicans are slightly more likely to rate tourism higher than Democrats or independents. Those who disapprove of Christie’s handling of Sandy recovery, in general, show a large disparity compared to their counterparts – an average rating of 6.6 compared to 7.4 among those who approve of Christie’s Sandy-related efforts.

As for the recovery of business in general, ratings among those living down the Shore show quite a boost from 18 months ago, now at 6.8 from 5.5, looking more like the scores given by residents in other regions. New Jerseyans personally affected by the storm now give slightly higher ratings than those who were not, 7.1 compared to 6.7, though both have increased more than half a point since last polled. Once again, those who say life has returned to normal and those in Christie’s corner give higher ratings than those who disagree in each of these areas.

State as a whole seen as “stronger than the storm” across the board

More than nine in 10 residents give post-Sandy progress across all of New Jersey a rating of 5 or higher; half rate the state’s recovery an 8 (28 percent), 9 (16 percent), or 10 (6 percent).

Residents from all areas of the state give similar ratings, not much of a difference from when last asked two and a half years ago. Those affected by Sandy in fact rank state recovery slightly higher than those not affected, 7.2 compared to 6.9, but even back in June 2013, Sandy victims were no more likely to give lower scores in this area, standing virtually on par with those not affected during that first post-Sandy summer. While views differ little by partisanship, those disapproving of the way Christie has handled Sandy score state recovery more than a point lower than those who approve, 6.4 compared to 7.5 on average. Views on post-Sandy normalcy produce the largest gap – an average rating of 8 among those who believe the state is back to normal, versus 6.4 among those who do not.

“We started asking these recovery scales when Gov. Christie rated conditions on the boardwalk during that first Memorial Day Weekend post-Sandy,” said Koning. “We see that views on New Jersey post-Superstorm have really not changed from 2013; residents continue to think the state is doing well. We also see gains in all other recovery areas between April 2014 and today. But whereas business and tourism are now roughly tied with state recovery as a whole, we see the least movement and a continuation of a large rating gap between these aforementioned areas and perceptions of recovery among those most impacted by the storm.”

Widespread sense of Sandy’s lingering disruption despite recovery progress

New Jerseyans across the board still feel the state is not back to normal three years later. Shore residents are most likely to feel this way, compared to those living in other areas: 67 percent take this more negative view, while about half in every other region feel the same. Residents unfavorable toward Christie and especially those who disapprove of the way he is handling Sandy recovery efforts are much more negative than Christie supporters, with 59 percent and 73 percent, respectively, sharing a more negative outlook.

Normalcy is also influenced by gender, age, and income. Women take a more negative view, at 61 percent, than men, who are more split (45 percent to 47 percent). Feelings of a return to normalcy decrease with age; 54 percent of millennials feel the state is back to normal, compared to just 21 percent of senior citizens. Pessimism is greater among all but residents in the most affluent households: while over half of residents in all other income brackets feel normalcy has not yet returned, those in households making $150,000 or more are split at 47 percent.

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