A superstorm. A mile-wide tornado. A wildfire that killed 19 firefighters in seconds. These three crushing natural disasters, all in the past year, illustrate a new challenge facing policymakers: Should communities damaged by disaster rebuild in the same places, knowing the risks of the same thing happening again? Or should they encourage residents to move to safer ground, potentially wiping those places off the map?
More Americans say they favor financial help for rebuilding than relocating, and both options draw even greater support among those hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy.
A survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research examined resilience following last year’s superstorm, and found that among those living in the hardest-hit neighborhoods of New York and New Jersey, 79 percent said they favored government funding to help victims of such disasters rebuild in the same neighborhood.
That doesn’t mean they’re opposed to policies encouraging relocation, though they are a bit less likely to back them — 59 percent were in favor of state governments purchasing homes in disaster-stricken regions so residents can move to a safer area.
That pattern follows the poll’s findings nationwide: 65 percent support funding for rebuilding in the same location and 53 percent back government assistance with relocation.
The survey, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, also showed that about 1 in 4 Americans believe they live in an area extremely at risk in the next five years of being hit with a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, severe flooding or fire that causes widespread destruction.
Those who say they face such a risk express nearly identical views on rebuilding and relocating as those who do not see such a threat on the horizon for their neighborhoods.
The opinions of those who’ve faced disaster head-on from Sandy would have been invisible in a standard national poll of 1,000 adults. To get a better look at opinions among those who’ve lived through the disaster, the AP-NORC Center devised an oversample in 16 counties deeply affected by the storm.
The term oversample gets thrown around a lot in stories and discussions about polling. For example, those who say a survey has included more Republicans than Democrats, or vice versa, will sometimes accuse pollsters of having oversampled one side or the other, usually the party with which they disagree.
But in practice, oversampling isn’t used to produce results tilted toward one side or the other, and no one should be able to tell from the results of a scientific poll that a group has been oversampled.
Pollsters use oversamples to increase the number of people interviewed from a group that otherwise would have been too small to be meaningful. For example, residents of the 16 Sandy-affected counties here make up only 5.3 percent of the national population, according to the Census Bureau’s 2012 population estimates. That means a perfect random survey of 1,000 would have included just 53 people from those counties, clearly not enough to analyze.
Instead, the survey researchers did extra interviews with randomly-selected people who live in those counties, and in the end, applied weights to keep them from being overrepresented in the national results. Although the interviews from Sandy-affected counties made up half of the sample, they ultimately count for 5 percent of the national results.
Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JennAgiesta
Digits is Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta’s take on the numbers that reflect our world and the survey research techniques used to find them.