Poll: Huge Racial Divide Over Katrina and its Consequences; Two-In-Three Critical of Bush's Relief Efforts

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

09/08/2005 - The American public is highly critical of President Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Two-in-three Americans (67%) believe he could have done more to speed up relief efforts, while just 28% think he did all he could to get them going quickly. At the same time, Bush's overall job approval rating has slipped to 40% and his disapproval rating has climbed to 52%, among the highest for his presidency. Uncharacteristically, the president's ratings have slipped the most among his core constituents ­ Republicans and conservatives.

However, the public also faults state and local governments, as well as the federal government, for the response to Katrina and its aftermath. While 58% think the federal government has done only a fair or poor job in reacting to the devastation along the Gulf Coast, about half (51%) give sub-par ratings to state and local governments in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The storm and recent spike in gas prices have triggered a major shift in public priorities. For the first time since the 9/11 terror attacks, a majority of Americans (56%) say it is more important for the president to focus on domestic policy than the war on terrorism. While most Americans are already feeling the pinch from higher gas prices, nearly half (46%) say they are very concerned the hurricane will send the nation into an economic recession.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 6-7, 2005, among 1,000 Americans, finds that the hurricane has had a profound psychological impact on the public. Fully 58% of respondents say they have felt depressed because of what's happened in areas affected by the storm. In recent years, this percentage is only surpassed by the 71% reporting depression in a survey taken just days the Sept. 11 attacks. But it is significantly greater than the percentage who reported feeling depressed in the opening days of the current war in Iraq.

Half of those polled (50%) say they have felt angry because of what happened in areas hard hit by the hurricane. But overall opinion on this measure obscures a substantial racial divide in reactions to the disaster ­ as many as 70% of African Americans say they have felt angry, compared with 46% of whites. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to know people directly affected by the hurricane and are generally much more critical of the government's response to the crisis. 

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