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.

nSummary of Findings: Huge Racial Divide Over Katrina and Its Consequences (Pew)

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.


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.

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.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. This nugget

    Seven-in-ten blacks (71%) say the disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in the country

    says more about the black leadership establishment than anything else. With Jesse and Al and the Congressional Black Caucus members harping about nonexistent racism constantly in the abstract, now they’ve got a huge natural disaster in which the majority of sufferers were minorities, and voila they play up this logical fallacy of cause and effect.

    It’s as infuriating as it is unfair to the victims: their brainless, vicious talk simply foments racial hatred and class warfare while it does nothing to help the poor and disadvantaged rise up and succeed. Aah, but this is what Jesse and Al and the Congressional Black Caucus require, in order to maintain power. QED.

  2. DL says:

    There is no way that logic and truth can alter what 40 years of white hatred have brought about in the minds of blacks. Many prefer to believe they are victims – many are just plain envious of white success – many are embarrassed by black failures (compared to Asians, other immigrants etc.) and must blame someone. I have long felt because of these trends and their willingness to believe their own prejudice, that conservatives should not waste time nor money trying to convince blacks to become Republicans. In short- I’ve given up!

  3. Anderson says:

    Okay, but “nonexistent racism”?

    You think racism in America is nonexistent?

    Or did I misread you?

  4. DL says:

    You misread me. Individual racism will always exist(on both sides) – efforts, money, programs(trillions in the great society)haven’t altered the situation. The liberals need them on the plantation and pay and preach envy and victim hood accordingly and sadly, they buy into it.
    Their culture has been destroyed by the welfare state and the commensurate loss of strong leadership from fathers at the head of every family. They seem to have nothing left but blame someone else for their failures. Rap, riots, drugs, and fatherless children, were not created by racists – more likely by do-gooders!

  5. Anderson says:

    Sorry, DL, our comments were simultaneous; I was actually addressing The MaryHunter.

    I can see that our beliefs diverge widely, but may I suggest at least one factual correction?

    To suppose that the welfare state “destroyed” black culture would be to suggest that slavery and Jim Crow had left same in good enough shape to be destroyed. Surely not?

  6. PIP says:

    Bush has done more for African-AMericans than anyone. He appointed both COndi Rice and Colin Powell to big time positions in the administration. Even though poverty rates amongst blacks have increased during Bush’s presidency, that’s no big deal and it aint his fault. He has demonstrated his knowledge and concern for the issue of race through his relationships with proud AMericans like Powell and Rice and Thomas.

    It is clear that it is either a coincidence that most of the evacuees were Black or that black and feminist leadership in the state of Louisiana ran things into the ground so these folks didnt have a chance.

  7. ken says:

    Of course the fact that liberal states like Massachussetts have records of more successful mariages than does any conservative state tells it all. Liberal policies are better for strong families than are conservative policies.

  8. DL says:

    You might consider liberal Mass also has a very high percentage of Catholics that might just account for some of that -where did you get your figures?

  9. DL says:

    I would recommend you research Tom Sowell, Walter Willians . who have shown numerical data on Harlem’s intact families, crime rates, out of wedlock births etc, that show LBJs Great Society caused great harm. I remember growing up in Massachusetts – teen girls walking through mixed race neighborhoods at night without undue worry as to their safety. They wouldn’t do it today.

  10. Anderson: you didn’t misread me. Naturally racism exists: White against Black, Black against White, Hispanic against Asian, pick your combination. Humans can and do hate others for no reason other than ignorance.

    What I meant was that since the victorious and necessary civil rights movement, and given affirmitive action (which I do not support but acknowledge as existing), minorities do not need to cry Racism! at the drop of a hat if they’re think that they’re not getting what they feel is their fair share. In fact, ‘Fair share’ is a myth. No one is entitled to anything except Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. In all else: you have to work for it. Even the “Pursuit of Happiness” is an act in itself; it doesn’t mean you’re going to successfully pursue it.

  11. DL, great points to both Anderson and Ken. Sowell is fantastic on racism.

    Ken: what you said just plain doesn’t make any sense to me. You say Liberal and Strong Families in the same sentence, and all I can think of are the Kennedys and the Clintons on one hand; and on the other, the poor fatherless kids in inner cities who are raised to be dependent, rather than to go and fight for a job and upward mobility.

  12. DL says:

    The problem is quite basic. There is a dependency psychology that destroys the soul. having spent my younger years on welfare I opted to get out by working -they took 60% of my paycheck -Mom needed more – I had to support a car etc.as a young teen. I chose that route as better than just being handed the check. Others in my family didn’t – they still expect the Govt(they hate it also)to take care of them -unemployment etc.
    I saw kids ship over in the Navy because the navy “will take care of me” In too many cases an attitude of resentment develops and is directed toward the benefactor. This dependency was spelled out in the old USSR. They kept them drunk. Our country allows them to make excuses for their behavior.

  13. DL, you’ve got quite an admirable life story and you’re so articulate on this issue. Glad to have met you in this thread. Please do stop by my blog sometime.

  14. Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet) says:

    Some great observations DL, Mary. Can’t wait to see if a troll attack ensues. I will keep up through out the evening to see if it develops.

  15. Marcia L. Neil says:

    Must ‘Mardis Gras’ always be celebrated at New Orleans proper? The madcap descent upon the region each year can surely be suspected to be some displacement scheme. Christmas, Flag Day, and other holidays are not confined to one densely targeted region each year — they are celebrated in cities and town throughout the nation. The pressure on New Orleans should be alleviated with recognition of Mardis Gras as a celebration that can be adapted to other locales.

  16. Scott in CA says:

    Oh, yes, racism. I suppose if a tsunami hits Hawaii, and 70% of the victims are Asian, Bush will be accused of hating Asians. This is SO tired and SO over. I work in the Big City Welfare Department here in California. The most vicious racism I see is directed at Whites and Asians – by Blacks. It is unbelievably vile, and they don’t seem to care who hears or sees it.

  17. Fred Glynn says:

    I am curious what people think on this issue.
    Do you think that places like Gulfport will not get there fair share of relief since the majority of the victims in those areas are white?