Katrina: Huge Racial Divide in Public Opinion
While the public is generally critical of the government response to Hurricane Katrina (much more so than in earlier polls) blacks are far more likely than whites to think this.
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 Ã‚ 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.
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 Ã‚ 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.
In addition, blacks and whites draw very different lessons from the tragedy. Seven-in-ten blacks (71%) say the disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in the country; a majority of whites (56%) say this was not a particularly important lesson of the disaster. More striking, there is widespread agreement among blacks that the government’s response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the storm’s victims had been white; fully two-thirds of African Americans express that view. Whites, by an even wider margin (77%-17%), feel this would not have made a difference in the government’s response.
The disaster has had a far more significant personal impact on blacks than whites. African Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites (43% vs. 22%) to say they have a close friend or relative who was directly affected. African Americans are also much more likely than whites to report feeling depressed and angry because of what’s happened in areas affected by the hurricane.
Blacks also hold more sympathetic attitudes toward the people who became stranded by the flooding in New Orleans. An overwhelming majority (77%) say most of those who stayed behind did so because they didn’t have a way to leave the city, not because they wanted to stay (16%). Most whites agree, but by a slimmer 58% to32% margin. Most blacks (57%) also think people who took things from homes and businesses in New Orleans were mostly ordinary people trying to survive during an emergency. Just 38% of whites see it that way, while as many (37%) say most who took things were criminals taking advantage of the situation.
This is sad, although not particularly surprising. We’ve known since at least the O.J. Simpson trial that blacks and whites have a far different view of America in general and “the system” in particular. Compounded by the fact that blacks are overwhelmingly Democrats and that the view of the relief effort is polarized along party lines, that general trend is only exacerbated.