10/19/2005 - The public overwhelmingly supports the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding aid already approved by Congress. Going forward, however, as many Americans worry that the government will spend too much on hurricane relief as say it will spend too little. And while Katrina's potential impact on the budget has become a major issue in Washington, there is much greater public concern hurricane assistance will not go to people who really need it.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted among 1,500 adults from Oct. 6-10, finds that 51% of Americans say their biggest concern about the government's relief effort is that the money will not go to the needy, while 32% worry that the money will be wasted on unnecessary things. Just 6% say their biggest concern is that the relief effort will add too much to the budget deficit.
The survey finds growing public perceptions of economic inequality in the aftermath of Katrina. Nearly half (48%) believe that American society is divided between the "haves" and "have-nots." That represents a 10-point rise since March 2005, with the increase coming across the economic spectrum.
But there has been a much smaller increase in the percentage of Americans who say they themselves fall into the "have-not" group from 34% in March to 38% currently. A plurality of Americans (47%) continue to identify themselves as among the "haves."
So far, there is no evidence that the crisis along the Gulf Coast has fundamentally changed long-term public attitudes on race, poverty and the role of government. But there has been a decided shift in views of the government's priorities. Half of Americans now say it is more important for President Bush to focus on domestic policy, while a third says he should focus on the war on terrorism. The number citing domestic policy a more important priority has declined a bit since the days immediately after the hurricane (from 56% to 50%), but is still much higher than it had been since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In addition, the public by more than three-to-one (64%-20%) believes it is more important for Bush to focus on domestic policy than on foreign policy generally. This represents a significant shift since January, when a smaller majority (53%) felt Bush should focus greater attention on domestic than foreign policy.