Last December, I coined a new term -- "The Suck Index" -- to describe a list of government services that local voters rated so poorly that pollsters had to add another category beyond "poor" to adequately express voters' unhappiness. The recurring UNO "quality of life" survey thus let voters rate a dozen public services as "very poor" in addition to "good," "only fair" and "poor."
Last week, UNO pollster Dr. Susan Howell released the latest Quality of Life survey, completed April 5 and measuring voter attitudes and opinions about the same dirty dozen services in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. With only one exception, the survey results showed that things still pretty much suck in New Orleans.
The UNO survey helps crystallize voters' perceptions about important issues and political figures and, over time, measures progress -- or lack of progress -- based on key services. In these post-Katrina times, it seems absurd to use the term "quality of life" to describe life in New Orleans. Hence, The Suck Index, which is based on the percentage of voters who rate certain government services as "poor" or "very poor."
The last survey measured voter attitudes in October 2006. Six months later, only one service in New Orleans -- control of litter and trash -- showed dramatic improvement, while Jefferson Parish services fared much better overall.
Here are the results for New Orleans, with parenthetical comments and comparisons to October -- and remember, the higher the number, the more things really suck:
• Overall level of government services -- 53 percent (no change).
• Police protection -- 37 percent (down from 41 percent in October, but within the overall 6 percent margin of error).
• Availability of housing -- 62 percent (down from 71 percent in October, a significant improvement).
• Availability of medical care -- 59 percent (up from 51 percent in October, and a dangerous trend).
• Conditions of roads and streets -- 70 percent (down from 75 percent in October, but still really sucky).
• Control of traffic -- 38 percent (not as bad as most other services, but this one scored only 30 percent in October, so the trend is disturbing. Besides, anything over 30 percent is bad. Ratings of 40 percent or more officially "suck.")
• Availability of public transportation -- 38 percent (ditto above; up from 33 percent in October).
• Drainage and flood control -- 56 percent (up 8 points from October's score of 46 percent. This is really bad news for the Corps of Engineers and the Sewerage and Water Board, especially considering the survey was finished well before the May 4 deluge.)
• Control of litter and trash -- 35 percent (down a whopping 30 points from October's 65 percent score. Maybe Sidney Torres IV should run for mayor.)
• Control of abandoned housing -- 75 percent (the most "sucky" score of all, and up 3 points from October's 72 percent.)
• Opportunities for employment -- 27 percent (statistically insignificant change from October's 26 percent. If you can find a place to live -- and if you can afford the rent or the homeowners insurance -- you should have no problem getting a job here.)
• Likelihood of new jobs and industry -- 37 percent (up 3 points from October's score of 34 percent, indicating a continued gloomy economic outlook on the part of voters).
By contrast, voters in Jefferson Parish rated none of those same categories worse than 39 percent, and all but one showed slight or significant improvement since October. "Conditions of streets" went from 20 percent to 22 percent "poor" or "very poor," but that's well within the margin of error. More important, "drainage and flood control" -- always a hot-button issue in Jefferson -- improved from 34 percent to 26 percent. This is very good news for embattled Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, whose approval rating increased to 61 percent among Jefferson voters, with only 28 percent expressing disapproval of him. In October, Broussard's approval rating was only 53 percent, with 32 percent disapproval.
To no one's surprise, except maybe his own, Mayor Ray Nagin's approval rating sucks almost as badly as the services he's supposed to be providing. Overall, only 33 percent of New Orleans voters "strongly approve" or "approve" of him -- down from 40 percent just six months ago -- while 62 percent "disapprove" or "strongly disapprove" of him (up from 56 percent in October).
Equally predictable, and maybe even to his liking, Nagin's numbers betray a racial divide. Whites disapprove of his performance by a margin of 82-15 percent, while blacks approve of him by a narrower margin of 51 percent to 42 percent. It's significant, however, that Nagin's approval rating among blacks has slipped since October, when he had a 62 percent approval rating and only 35 percent disapproval.
It all kinda makes you wonder: How badly do things have to suck before Nagin realizes he's no longer a rock star?