Residents continue to see Sandy recovery as incomplete, Rutgers-Eagleton Poll finds

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – New Jerseyans still feel the effects of Sandy almost 18 months after the Superstorm wreaked havoc here as they continue to express skepticism that normalcy will return any time soon, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Two-thirds of residents say the state is not yet “back to normal” following the storm.

Among those who think recovery is not finished, just eight percent are optimistic that it will be complete within the next year. Another 58 percent think it could be up to five years before things return to their pre-Sandy conditions, while 12 percent see it taking up to a decade. And some New Jerseyans are even more pessimistic: 4 percent see recovery taking more than a decade, and 13 percent say pre-Sandy normalcy will never return.

“What’s striking is how many New Jerseyans are still less than optimistic about Sandy recovery,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “A year ago, 78 percent thought New Jersey was not fully back, a reasonable finding just six months after Sandy. But the number has been stuck since November, suggesting a long-term sense that putting things back together is a rough task.”

Most residents also continue to give mediocre ratings to the recovery’s progress. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning “not at all recovered” and 10 meaning “fully recovered,” recovery of the Shore region is rated at 5.0 on average, barely changed from November 2013, and lower than the 6.2 rating recorded in June 2013. Garden Staters score recovery for homeowners who sustained damage even lower, at 4.8, while assessments of tourism and business recovery are much more favorable, both at an average of 5.9. All show  little change since November.

“Despite five more months of recovery efforts, New Jerseyans do not perceive any real progress,” noted Redlawsk. “The number thinking recovery is more than five years off is actually up somewhat, and recovery ratings have stalled.”

Even while discouraged about the status of recovery, residents are more positive on how the state government has handled Sandy recovery efforts overall: 15 percent say very well, 52 percent say somewhat well, 19 percent say somewhat badly, and 9 percent say very badly.

Results are from a statewide poll of 816 New Jersey adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from March 31 to April 6, 2014. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points.

Sandy’s impact and partisanship influence Shore recovery ratings

While New Jerseyans on average give recovery at the Shore a middle rating, that average hides variation that suggests some pessimism. Ratings are spread widely: just under one-quarter give a 5 to Shore recovery, while another 24 percent give slightly positive ratings of either 6 or 7. But roughly the same share rates Shore recovery as only 3 or 4. Overall, about a third of residents are above 5 on the recovery scale for the Shore; a much larger 63 percent rates Shore recovery at 5 or lower.

Recovery ratings for the Shore are related to partisan allegiances and feelings toward Gov. Chris Christie. Republicans give a higher average rating (5.4) than either independents (5.2) or Democrats (4.6). Similar patterns occur based on favorability towards Christie: those favorable rate Shore recovery at 5.4, while those unfavorable rate it at 4.5. A similar pattern occurs among those who approve versus those who disapprove of Christie’s job performance specifically on Sandy. 

Statewide, those who were personally affected by Superstorm Sandy give progress at the Shore an average rating of 4.9, while others are slightly more positive, at 5.1. Shore residents give progress there a 4.9 average rating as well. Urbanites also average 4.9, while suburban residents report a 4.8 recovery score and exurban residents a 5.2.  Those living in the southern region of New Jersey near Philadelphia, where the storm caused less damage, give the highest rating, at 5.5.

Shore residents are more negative about how homeowners who suffered damage are doing compared to others around the state, averaging a 4.2 rating. But statewide, those personally affected by Sandy score homeowner recovery the same as those who were not directly affected, both at 4.8. But having had one’s own home or business significantly damaged lowers the rating to 4.4 versus 4.9 for those not reporting significant damage. As with Shore recovery, Republicans on average give a 5.3 rating to homeowner recovery, higher than independents (4.7) and Democrats (4.6).

Business and tourism recovery seen slightly better

New Jerseyans are slightly more positive about progress with the recovery of tourism and business in general than about the Shore or homeowners, with an average rating in both these areas of 5.9. Residents are most likely to rate tourism recovery rather positively, at 7, with three quarters giving it a score of 5 or higher. For business recovery, 81 percent rate it at 5 or above.

 While tourism recovery is rated slightly higher by those living down the Shore (5.9) than in most other regions, those personally affected by Sandy give lower ratings than those who were not (5.7 versus 6.1). Republicans and those favorable toward Christie rate the recovery of tourism higher than do Democrats and independents, and those who approve of Christie’s handling of Sandy recovery rate tourism more than half a point higher than those who do not.

As for the recovery of business in general, those living down the Shore give the lowest rating (5.5) compared to other regions, as do those in the lowest income bracket (5.4). New Jerseyans personally affected by the storm show little difference from those who were not (6.0 versus 5.9). As with other areas, those in Christie’s corner once again give higher ratings than those who are not.

State recovery efforts given some kudos

Residents’ assessments of the state’s efforts at recovery as a whole appear more optimistic than their perceptions of individual aspects of the process. Partisans of all stripes mainly think the state has handled recovery reasonably well, though to varying degrees. A quarter of Republicans say the state recovery effort is going very well and another 59 percent say somewhat well. Independents are slightly less positive (at 16 percent very well and 53 percent somewhat well), as are Democrats (11 percent very and 46 percent somewhat well). But a majority of all three groups sees the state’s efforts in a positive light. Eighty-one percent of residents who are favorable toward Gov. Christie also say the state’s efforts are going well, but even among those unfavorable toward the governor, nearly half feel the same. 

Among the 35 percent of residents who disapprove of Christie’s job performance on Sandy, most are negative about how the state is doing: 39 percent say very or somewhat well, but 58 percent come down on the negative side. Not surprisingly, among the 55 percent who approve Christie’s performance on the storm’s aftermath, 88 percent say the state has done at least somewhat well in its recovery efforts.

Even those who say life is not yet back to normal are more positive than negative on the state’s recovery efforts, with 62 percent thinking the state has done at least somewhat well handling the challenge. This positive view fades the longer residents think it will take for the state to return to normal. Fewer than half of those who think recovery will take 10 years or more say state efforts are going well.  There is little difference by region – even 61 percent of shore dwellers say the state has handled recovery efforts at least somewhat well – and virtually no difference between those affected personally by Sandy and others.

Impact of Sandy lingers

Sixty-seven percent of Garden Staters say post-Sandy New Jersey is not back to normal, while 26 percent say it is, and 8 percent are unsure. Not surprisingly, 84 percent of those in the hardest hit Shore areas say things are not back to normal, higher than in any other region of the state by double digits.

While a quarter of New Jerseyans say the state has already returned to normalcy, the rest are not overly optimistic, expecting rebuilding to take another one to five years.  Partisanship no longer has a tremendous impact on when residents expect normalcy to return; a majority of Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike say it will take one to five years, though they hold that view to varying degrees. Those personally affected and those who suffered significant damage to their homes or businesses look very similar to their counterparts.  Even Shore residents are mostly on par with other regions.

About half the state’s residents say they were personally affected by Sandy and its aftermath.  More than a quarter of those affected say they suffered significant damage to either their businesses or homes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION POLITICAL, ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, Professor David Redlawsk may be contacted at 319-400-1134 (cell), 732-932-9384, ext. 285 (office), or until 11 p.m. Questions and tables are available during embargo at Visit our blog at for questions, tables, and additional commentary. Follow the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll on Facebook at and Twitter @EagletonPoll.