Poll: Katrina Shakes Confidence

US President George W. Bush making statement after tour of Hurricane Katrina damage to New Orleans, Louisiana, photo 2005/9/12 AP

Americans see the damage from Hurricane Katrina affecting more than just the Gulf Coast — 56 percent believe it will have a negative impact on the national economy as well. Evaluations of the national economy are low, and the belief that it is getting worse has risen to a level unseen since just after Sept. 11, 2001. Katrina has shaken Americans' confidence in the government's ability to manage a crisis. Americans overall trust in government is also low.

President Bush's ratings on handling the crisis improved slightly this week, but remain low. His overall job approval rating is mostly unchanged, but Americans have doubts as to whether his administration has clear plans for dealing with the Katrina recovery and rising gas prices.

THE IMPACT OF KATRINA: DECREASED CONFIDENCE
In addition to the devastation it wrought, Katrina also left Americans with battered confidence in their government's ability to handle crises. Americans now say they've lost confidence in the government's ability to respond to catastrophes, either to terror attacks or natural disasters, after watching what they believe was a sluggish response in the Gulf.

HOW DID KATRINA CHANGE YOUR CONFIDENCE IN GOVERNMENT'S ABILITY TO RESPOND TO DISASTER OR TERROR…?
More confident now 8%
Less confident now 56%
No change 33%

Twenty-nine percent of Americans say they generally trust the government in Washington to do what is right most of the time, the lowest level in seven years; the last time it was lower was October 1998. In July 2004, this number stood at 40 percent.

TRUST THE GOVERNMENT TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT?
Always/Most of the time
Now
29%
7/2004
40%
10/1998
26

Only sometimes/Never
Now
69%
7/2004
59%
10/1998
73%

This measure of trust in government has, historically, been low since the early 1970's, and hasn't reached 50 percent in this poll in twenty years.

THE ECONOMY AND KATRINA
This poll finds negative views about the overall economy, amid rising gas prices and the expected economic effects of Hurricane Katrina. 49 percent now say the economy is in good shape, and 50 percent say it is fairly or very bad.

VIEWS OF THE ECONOMY
Good
Now
49%
6/2005
54%
1/2005
57%
9/2004
56%
10/2003
45%

Bad
Now
50%
6/2005
45%
1/2005
42%
9/2004
43%
10/2003
54%

The outlook for the economy is pessimistic. Just 13 percent think it is getting better, and 47 percent think it is getting worse. This is the largest percentage of Americans thinking that the economy is getting worse since immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when more than half thought it was getting worse.

ECONOMY IS GETTING:
Better
Now
13%
1/2005
25%
9/2001
8%

Worse
Now
47%
1/2005
29%
9/2001
55%

Same
Now
38%
1/2005
45%
9/2001
35%

Some of the negativity about the economy may be due to Americans' worries about Katrina's economic impact: 56 percent say the hurricane's aftermath will have an adverse affect on the U.S. economy.

KATRINA'S IMPACT WILL MAKE U.S. ECONOMY…
Better 10%
Worse 56%
No change 32%

RECOVERING FROM KATRINA
Overall, Americans would rank the New Orleans rebuilding efforts as a higher urgency than two items that have been high on the Bush Administration's priority list for some time -- tax cuts and changes to Social Security. In separate questions, 73 percent of Americans said they'd prioritize rebuilding New Orleans over cutting taxes, and 63 percent would put reconstructing the Crescent City ahead of changing Social Security.

REBUILDING NEW ORLEANS IS A HIGHER PRIORITY THAN…
Cutting taxes
Yes
73%
No
20%

Changing Social Security
Yes
63%
No
26%

Most Americans would be willing to pay more in taxes to help recovery efforts, generally, and to help pay for housing and job re-training for the displaced victims, as well.

WILLING TO PAY MORE IN TAXES TO HELP…?
Katrina recovery
Yes
56%
No
37%

Job training and housing for victims
Yes
62%
No
32%

Most of those who are willing to pay more in taxes for either purpose would be amenable to a specific increase in the amount of $200 dollars a year.

But whether or not they're voluntarily willing to pay more, a large majority of Americans -- 73 percent -- think their taxes will increase as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

And while writing a bigger tax check to help recovery is okay with most, Americans draw the line at the gas pump: just one in five would be willing to pay more for gas in order to help recovery efforts.

WILLING TO PAY MORE FOR GAS TO HELP RECOVERY?
Yes 19%
No 76%

AFRICAN-AMERICANS, BUSH AND THE KATRINA RESPONSE
As the images broadcast from New Orleans in the wake of Katrina made clear, so many of those left stranded there for days were African-American.

Overall, Americans are unlikely to believe race played any role in the slow response to the tragedy, with 59 percent saying it was not a factor. Whites in particular are unlikely to say it was a factor. But African-Americans across the country see things very differently: two-thirds say race played a major role in the timing of the response.

DID RACE OF THOSE STRANDED AFFECT OFFICIALS' RESPONSE TIME?
Yes, major factor
All
21%
Whites
12%
Blacks
66%

Yes, minor factor
All
16%
Whites
17%
Blacks
15%

No, not a factor
All
59%
Whites
68%
Blacks
17%

African-Americans are just as critical of FEMA's response time as all Americans. And they give harsher judgment on whether federal officials are doing all they can now. Unlike whites, and Americans overall, African-Americans think federal officials could still be doing more than they are now.

ARE FEDERAL OFFICIALS DOING ALL THEY CAN NOW?
Yes
All
53%
Whites
57%
Blacks
32%

No
All
40%
Whites
38%
Blacks
59%
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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