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Poll: Katrina Response Inadequate

Americans think the response to Hurricane Katrina was inadequate, and spread the blame around all levels of government. President George W. Bush finds disapproval on his handling of the matter, too -- and the public now shows diminished confidence in his abilities to handle a crisis or provide leadership, as well as in the government's ability to protect the country.

RATING THE RESPONSE

President George W. Bush's overall response to Katrina meets with disapproval today -- a dramatic change from the public's reaction just after the storm hit on August 29th. Last week, in the two days immediately after Katrina made landfall, a majority of Americans said they approved of Bush's response, although more than a third were not sure. Now, only 38 percent approve. A majority disapproves.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF RESPONSE TO KATRINA

Now
Approve
38%
Disapprove
58%
Don't know
4%

8/30-31
Approve
54%
Disapprove
12%
Don't know
34%

Last winter, eight in ten Americans approved of how Bush handled the tsunami disaster in Asia.

Bush is also seen as acting too slowly in responding to the disaster that followed Katrina.

BUSH'S RESPONSE TO KATRINA WAS…

Too quick
1%
Too slow
65%
About the right speed
32%

Large majorities think the federal government, FEMA, and Louisiana's state and local government all could have performed better in Katrina's wake.

WAS THE RESPONSE TO KATRINA ADEQUATE?

Federal government
Yes
20%
No
77%

FEMA
Yes
24%
No
70%

State and local government
Yes
24%
No
70%

In 1992, after Hurricane Andrew decimated parts of Florida, 41 percent of voters thought the federal government performed adequately there. 40 percent of Floridians that year said the same.

Americans see the response to Katrina as insufficient in part because it was slow: an overwhelming eight in ten say the federal government didn't act fast enough.

DID FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RESPOND AS FAST AS IT COULD?

Yes
16%
No
80%

Now, with evacuation efforts having been stepped up over Labor Day weekend, more Americans see things looking up. 60 percent of Americans say the federal government is doing all it can to help now.

ARE FEDERAL OFFICIALS DOING ALL THEY CAN NOW?

Yes
60%
No, could be doing more
36%

CONFIDENCE IN THE PRESIDENT AND THE GOVERNMENT

President Bush's image appears to have suffered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The public now has lower confidence in his response to crisis, and his leadership in general.

Now, just 48 percent of Americans say Bush has strong qualities of leadership -- the lowest number ever for the President in this poll. A year ago, as he was campaigning for re-election, 64 percent of voters said Bush was a strong leader. And in the weeks after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, 83 percent of Americans said the President had strong qualities of leadership.

DOES BUSH HAVE STRONG QUALITIES OF LEADERSHIP?

Yes
Now
48%
9/2004*
64%
9/2001
83%

No
Now
49%
9/2004*
34%
9/2001
14%

*among registered voters

Moreover, just 32 percent express "a lot" of confidence in the President's ability to handle a crisis. This is a sharp change from four years ago when, in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, 66 percent expressed "a lot" of confidence in Bush's ability to handle a crisis.

CONFIDENCE IN BUSH'S HANDLING OF A CRISIS

Now
A lot
32%
Some
19%
A little
25%
None
23%

9/2001
A lot
66%
Some
24%
A little
7%
None
2%

This drop in ratings for Bush reflects greatly lowered views of his management, and somewhat lessened views of his compassion. Asked if Bush cares about the needs and problems of people like them, 55 percent of Americans say he does, and 43 percent say he doesn't -- these views have changed a bit from February 2004, when 62 percent said he cared and 38 percent said he did not. And 51 percent today say Bush cares at least somewhat about the needs and problems of blacks, specifically; 46 percent say he doesn't. Two years ago, 59 percent said he cared about blacks and 34 percent said he did not.

HOW MUCH DOES BUSH CARE ABOUT NEEDS AND PROBLEMS OF…

People Like You
A lot/some
Now
55%
2/2004
62%

Not much/none
Now
43%
2/2004
38%

Black People
A lot/some
Now
51%
9/2003
59%

Not much/none
Now
46%
9/2003
34%

Despite the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, Bush's overall approval rating is virtually unchanged from last week. Now, 42 percent of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing as President, while 52 percent disapprove.

The President's rating on the war in Iraq has also changed little: 35 percent approve of the job he is doing. 51 percent now approve of the job Bush is doing handling terrorism; last week 54 percent approved.

BUSH JOB APPROVAL

Overall
Now
42%
Last week
41%
July
45%

Terrorism
Now
51%
Last week
54%
July
55%

IraqNow
35%
Last week
38%
July
41%

This week, as last week, men are more likely to approve of Bush's overall job performance than are women. 47 percent of men approve; 37 percent of women approve.

As for the government in general, only half of Americans have confidence in the U.S. government to respond to natural disasters. Only 19 percent have a lot of confidence. 15 percent have none at all.

CONFIDENCE IN GOVERNMENT TO RESPOND TO NATURAL DISASTERS

A great deal
19%
Fair amount
32%
Not much
34%
None at all
15%

There has even been a decline in just the last week in perception of the government's ability to protect Americans from terrorist attacks -- 40 percent now have either not much or no confidence, up from 26 percent a week ago.

CONFIDENCE IN GOVERNMENT'S ABILITY TO PROTECT CITIZENS FROM TERRORISM

A great deal
Now
19%
8/29-31
18%

A fair amount
Now
40%
8/29-31
54%

Not much/none
Now
40%
8/29-31
26%

And most Americans-- 59 percent - say the government's response to Katrina has hurt the U.S.' image overseas.

KATRINA RESPONSE HAS MADE U.S. IMAGE OVERSEAS…?

Better
7%
Worse
59%
No different
27%

PLACING BLAME FOR THE DISASTER

Americans fault government at all levels for lack of preparation before the storm hit. More than two-thirds of Americans say the federal government did a poor job preparing for Katrina. State and local governments fare just as poorly.


PLANNING BEFORE THE STORM: GOVERNMENTS DID A…

Good job
Federal government
22%
State and local governments
20%

Poor job
Federal government
69%
State and local governments
70%

Other factors get blame, too. When asked specifically about the cutbacks in spending on New Orleans' levees that have taken place in recent years, most Americans -- 69 percent -- consider those cutbacks a contributing factor in the flooding. This includes 45 percent who call them a major factor.

WAS REDUCED FEDERAL SPENDING ON LEVEES A FACTOR IN FLOODING?

Yes, major factor
45%
Yes, minor factor
24%
No
21%

And when asked, most Americans say that having National Guard materials and manpower in Iraq was at least a minor factor affecting the response and rescue efforts in the Gulf. But few call that a major factor.

DID HAVING TROOPS IN IRAQ DELAY HURRICANE RESPONSE?

Yes, major factor
23%
Yes, minor factor
34%
No
41%

However, half say the race and class of those in need did not play a role in the speed of the response: 50 percent say the fact that most of those left stranded were African-American did not impact how quickly authorities responded, and that had most of those left behind been white, the response would have been the same. 48 percent say it was at least a minor factor.

DID THE RACE AND CLASS OF THOSE STRANDED AFFECT SPEED OF THE RESPONSE?

Yes, major factor
29%
Yes, minor factor
19%
No, not a factor
50%

Asked to volunteer who or what they blame the most for the living conditions and flooding that plagued New Orleans last week, the government, and specific government officials at all levels are most frequently named. Some others volunteer that the residents themselves are most to blame, faulting them for their behavior or for not evacuating in the first place.

WHO IS MOST TO BLAME FOR SITUATION IN NEW ORLEANS LAST WEEK?

Federal government
17%
New Orleans city gov't
15%
Government generally/ all levels
14%
The residents themselves
12%
Louisiana state gov't
7%
President Bush
5%
New Orleans mayor/ Ray Nagin
4%
LA Gov./ Kathleen Blanco
2%

Some of those residents stranded after the storm were involved in looting and violence, and Americans divide over whether this was justified in light of their plight. 47 percent say there was no excuse for it under any circumstances; 41 percent say it was justified. The question asked about both looting and violence, and at least some respondents wanted to distinguish between the two. 8 percent volunteered that while they thought looting was justified in the circumstances, violence was not.

LOOKING AHEAD IN THE GULF REGION

Americans clearly want officials to focus on helping out in the region: the hurricane's aftermath has rocketed to the top of American's list of the most important problems now facing the country, alongside the war in Iraq.

U.S. MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM

Now
War in Iraq
18%
Hurricane
18%
Economy and jobs
13%
Gas/oil crisis
7%

8/29-31
War in Iraq
24%
Hurricane
5%
Economy and jobs
13%
Gas/oil crisis
14%

Americans are pitching in, too: 74 percent report they or their household has donated to the relief efforts.

Many people around the U.S. have direct, personal connections to the troubles in New Orleans and the gulf coast: 29 [percent say they have family or friends directly affected by the hurricane.

Americans overwhelmingly think New Orleans will be back as a working city again -- but that it will take some time for it to do so.

WILL NEW ORLEANS BE A WORKING CITY AGAIN?

Yes, within a year or two
17%
Yes, but will take longer than a year or two
72%
No, it never will
10%

For many, that will be a chance to return: 35 percent of Americans have visited New Orleans before.

But as for what they themselves have seen in the past week, Americans say the U.S. media has done an excellent or good job covering the story: 41 percent rate the coverage excellent, 36 percent rate it as good.

GAS PRICES AND TROOPS IN IRAQ

One concern after the hurricane has been its potential impact on the availability of gasoline. But while few Americans -- just 15 percent -- report having to wait in long lines to buy gas, that problem is reported much more frequently in the south, where 31 percent say they have had to wait.

Still, many would like to see more measures to halt potential price increases: most Americans do NOT think the Bush Administration has done enough to keep the price of gas from rising in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. 71 percent say the Administration could have done more to keep the price of gas from going up. Just one in five think it has done all it could.

HAS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION DONE ALL IT COULD TO KEEP THE
PRICE OF GAS FROM RISING AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA?

Yes
22%
No
71%

Americans continue to express a desire to see troop levels in Iraq at least lowered, if not withdrawn altogether, but these sentiments have not changed much since last week. Today, 33 percent of Americans want all troops removed and another 25 percent want levels lowered; last week 29 percent wanted all troops removed and 26 percent wanted levels decreased.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 725 adults, interviewed by telephone September 6-7, 2005. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.