The promises of post-Katrina recovery may be wearing thin for New Orleans voters, who are less satisfied with life in the city and more pessimistic about the future than in recent years, according to a University of New Orleans poll released Wednesday.
The poll, one in a series conducted by UNO’s Survey Research Center examining how residents view the quality of life in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, found that suburbanites remain happy with their government and public officials. But in New Orleans, although elected officials remain popular, there is growing discontent over the quality of some services, particularly those that benefit lower-income residents.
Also, while about half of the city’s residents favor Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s efforts to remove monuments to Confederate officials from prominent sites on city streets, opinions on the issue are highly polarized along racial lines and may be costing him support among white voters.
The main finding from the poll, conducted March 5-17 among 800 registered voters in the two parishes, is not necessarily bad news for the city: 66 percent of voters are at least satisfied with the quality of life in New Orleans. But that represents an 8-point drop from 2013, the last time the survey was conducted, and is moving close to the roughly 60 percent approval rating found in a 2004 poll, the last one before Hurricane Katrina.
The results may be a sign that after 10 years of promises to fix the city’s problems — leading to Landrieu’s frequent pledge to rebuild New Orleans “not as she was but as she always should have been” — the shine may be wearing off the recovery as residents look around and see a city still awash in problems, including major concerns about crime.
Less than a third of residents now believe the city has become a better place to live in the past five years — a 15 percentage point drop since 2013. Only 46 percent think things will improve in the next five years, the lowest figure since before Katrina and 8 percentage points lower than three years ago.
“Overall, I think it appears the post-Katrina recovery honeymoon is over,” said Ed Chervenak, a UNO political scientist and director of the Survey Research Center. “We’ve moved into a new normal that looks like the old normal, where you have a polarized community that is not necessarily optimistic about the future and is not very happy about the performance of government.”
That’s shown in increasing complaints about city services, notably those of top importance to low-income residents such as affordable housing, public transportation, public recreation and other services for the poor.
Contrasted with the volatile results from New Orleans compared with 2013, people in Jefferson have maintained a consistent and positive outlook. About 94 percent of the parish’s voters questioned say they are satisfied with their quality of life, a figure that has remained largely consistent for the 30 years the polls have been conducted.
Crime remains a major concern of New Orleans residents, with almost half of voters saying it is the biggest issue facing the city. That’s actually a decline from the last survey, which found that 61 percent of voters believed it was the most significant issue, and the survey’s authors suggest the drop may result from the crime rate trending downward. But a combination of several high-profile incidents and personal experiences with crime may be making residents feel less safe, according to the study.
About 30 percent of New Orleans voters reported they have personally been a victim of a crime or are related to someone who has, a 5 percentage point increase since 2013. More than a third of residents say they don’t feel safe around their homes at night. More than 20 percent report hearing gunfire near their home more than a few times a month; the percentage of black residents who fall into that category is twice that for whites.
Still, ratings for officials in the New Orleans criminal justice system are largely high. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has a 55 percent approval rating, and 62 percent of voters approve of the job being done by Police Superintendent Michael Harrison.
An exception is Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who has a 40 percent approval rating. But even that low mark is an improvement from 2013, when a third of voters approved of the job he was doing.
Complaints about crime also may be crowding out other major concerns of residents, including the state of the city’s streets or schools.
New Orleans residents have soured on the economy, with only 31 percent believing there is a good chance of new jobs and industry coming to the city. That’s 10 points lower than in the 2013 poll and 7 points lower than among Jeffersonians.
Landrieu’s rating has dropped, with 60 percent of voters approving of him overall, down from 65 percent in 2013. Still, many voters seem to separate out their feelings about the mayor from their criticisms of city services and policies, Chervenak said.
More black residents, for example, said they support Landrieu now than did in 2013, despite findings in the poll that they are more likely to think crime has increased and are less satisfied with the quality of life than their white counterparts.
“All (New Orleans) mayors tend to have very high ratings, even if we’re not very happy with the services that City Hall is providing,” Chervenak said.
In the background of the latest approval ratings is Landrieu’s call to remove the monuments of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and a white supremacist militia known as the White League. Chervenak speculated that controversy may explain much of Landrieu’s sharp loss of support among white voters, down from 78 percent in 2013 to 49 percent this year. About 57 percent of white voters who oppose taking down the statues also said they disapprove of the mayor.
Overall, about 50 percent of voters support removing the monuments, 31 percent oppose it and 19 percent offered no opinion.
This was the second time a survey has presented findings on that question for Orleans Parish, rather than the state as a whole. A previous survey by a UNO doctoral student just after the City Council voted 6-1 in December in favor of taking down the statues found about 34 percent of voters supported removal.
Race, unsurprisingly, plays a large role in where people fall on that question. About 60 percent of black voters, who make up a majority of the city’s population, support removing the monuments, while a nearly equal percentage of white voters oppose efforts to take them down.
The Landrieu administration, responding to the survey’s results, issued a statement Wednesday, saying, “New Orleans is moving in the right direction,” while touting the mayor’s efforts to reform City Hall’s finances and promising more improvements to streets and public safety.
Meanwhile, news was better for other elected officials in the area.
In Jefferson, more than 40 percent of voters said the parish’s quality of life has improved in the past five years, and another 35 percent said it has remained the same. Half of the respondents think it will improve in the next five years.
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni has a 71 percent approval rating about three months into his first term, and about 72 percent of voters approve of the job being done by the Parish Council.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.