Poll: Bush Not Taking Brunt of Katrina Criticism

While people are angry that the Katrina relief effort has been too slow and inefficient, most are not blaming President Bush, according to a new ABC-Washington Post poll.

Poll: Bush Not Taking Brunt of Katrina Criticism (AP)

Americans are broadly critical of government preparedness in the Hurricane Katrina disaster — but far fewer take George W. Bush personally to task for the problems, and public anger about the response is less widespread than some critics would suggest.

In an event that clearly has gripped the nation — 91 percent of Americans are paying close attention — hopefulness far outweighs discontent about the slow-starting rescue. And as in so many politically charged issues in this country, partisanship holds great sway in views of the president’s performance.

The most critical views cross jurisdictions: Two-thirds in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the federal government should have been better prepared to deal with a storm this size, and three-quarters say state and local governments in the affected areas likewise were insufficiently prepared.

Views of Hurricane Response
  Yes No
Federal government adequately prepared?   31%   67%
State/local government adequately prepared?   24   75
Blame Bush?   44   55

Other evaluations are divided. Forty-six percent of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of the crisis, while 47 percent disapprove. That compares poorly with Bush’s 91 percent approval rating for his performance in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but it’s far from the broad discontent expressed by critics of the initial days of the hurricane response. (It also almost exactly matches Bush’s overall job approval rating, 45 percent, in an ABC/Post poll a week ago.)

Similarly, 48 percent give a positive rating to the federal government’s response overall, compared with 51 percent who rate it negatively — another split view, not a broadly critical one.

When it gets to specifics, however, most ratings are worse: Majorities ranging from 56 to 79 percent express criticism of federal efforts at delivering food and water, evacuating displaced people, controlling looting and (especially) dealing with the price of gasoline. In just one specific area — conducting search and rescue operations — do most, 58 percent, give the government positive marks.


Partisanship, as noted, plays a huge role: Nearly three-quarters of Republicans approve of the president’s performance, and two-thirds rate the government’s overall response positively. About seven in 10 Democrats take the opposite view on both scores.

Bush’s Response to Katrina
  Approve Disapprove
All   46%   47%
Democrats   17   71
Independents   44   48
Republicans   74   22

These results are interesting and pleasantly surprising. While generally less well informed than the elites on the issues, the general public tends to show better judgment, especially on non-technical matters. Most people understand that this is an unprecedented catastrophe, that the government is doing all it can, and that we’ll learn from this tragedy and get better.

That Democrats and Republicans have different views is hardly unexpected, although the degree of polarization is somewhat so. Since the 2000 campaign and its bitter aftermath, the Democratic machine has maintained a steady stream of anti-Bush vitriol that has clearly had its impact, making even rank-and-file Democrats believe the worst of the president. This has had, as Newton would have predicted, an equal and opposite reaction among Republicans who are no doubt too defensive about “their” president.

The aggregate poll results, though, strike me as about right. The evacuation order came too late, too little was done to help the poor get out, and the degree of lawlessness was not well anticipated. On the other hand, a swarm of resources from the federal government and surrounding states was immediately forthcoming and there has been a gratifyingly generosity toward those who have been left stranded.

Given the vast amount of resources we have poured into the Department of Homeland Security since its creation, however, one would have hoped that things would have been better. But, while presidents have some impact on the bureaucracies under their nominal command, they still have to rely on the system.

Bill Clinton would, no doubt, has done a far better job as Healer-in-Chief, a presidential duty not covered in Civics texts but nonetheless important. His gifts in that role were unrivaled, although this president has his moments. The federal response to the crisis, though, would have otherwise been virtually identical.

On a related note, David Broder believes the president will ultimately emerge strengthened from this disaster.

It took almost no time for President Bush to put his stamp on the national response to the tragedy that has befallen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, a reminder that modern communications have reshaped the constitutional division of powers in our government in ways that the Founding Fathers never could have imagined.

Because the commander in chief is also the communicator in chief, when a crisis emerges the nation’s eyes turn to him as to no other official. We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.

He points to a discussion at a recent forum on executive-legislative relations.

Tellingly, the two former members of the House invited to speak at the forum amplified — rather than disputed — these complaints. Democrat Martin Frost of Texas said his former colleagues “are very good at staying in touch with their districts and being reelected.” But they do not spend enough time in Washington (with the prevailing Tuesday-to-Thursday workweek) to do the oversight of executive departments needed to keep an effective check on presidential power.

Republican Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma was even more scathing. He recalled that Harry Truman, as a Democratic senator from Missouri serving in a Democratic Congress, made a name for himself — and helped the country — by investigating World War II procurement practices in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. “Can you imagine [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist directly challenging Don Rumsfeld?” Edwards asked.

The decline of oversight hearings on Capitol Hill reflects what many of the commentators called a loss of institutional pride in Congress. Majority Republicans see themselves first and foremost as members of the Bush team — and do not want to make trouble by asking hard questions. Democrats find it more rewarding to raise campaign funds and cultivate their own constituencies.

The result is that a system of government in which Congress was supposed to be “the first branch” is — as this week once again has demonstrated — one in which the lawmakers are thoroughly overshadowed by the magnified figure of the president.

Indeed. As the old saying goes, “the president proposes, the Congress disposes.” As a result, the president gets the lion’s share of the credit and the blame for what happens in the country–whether he’s responsible or not.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Don Surber says:

    Politicizing the worst natural disaster in United States history is childish, churlish and obscene.
    Can my former party at least wait a week before dumping on the prez?

  2. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    I just want to say, grumpily, that there’s every reason to think the actual relief, supplies, etc were provided as quickly as humanly possible, when you have to get through a couple hundred miles of force-4 hurricane damage.

  3. Gene Disentious says:

    While I agree that it is a far stretch to blame George Bush exclusively for the damage caused by the hurricane, I believe that the disregard for the need to upgrade an aging infrastructure exemplifies a major problem with this administration.
    The following quoted from http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0905/090105jv1.htm

    Mike Parker, the former head of the Army Corps of Engineers, was forced to resign in 2002 over budget disagreements with the White House. He clashed with Mitch Daniels, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, which sets the administration’s annual budget goals.

    “One time I took two pieces of steel into Mitch Daniels’ office,” Parker recalled. “They were exactly the same pieces of steel, except one had been under water in a Mississippi lock for 30 years, and the other was new. The first piece was completely corroded and falling apart because of a lack of funding. I said, ‘Mitch, it doesn’t matter if a terrorist blows the lock up or if it falls down because it disintegrates — either way it’s the same effect, and if we let it fall down, we have only ourselves to blame.’ It made no impact on him whatsoever.”

    The response to this charge from the Corps of Engineers is quoted below from the same article.

    In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, the Corps’ chief of engineers, denied that funding problems contributed to the crisis in New Orleans. “It is my opinion that based on the intensity of this storm, the flooding of the central business district and the French Quarter would still have occurred. I do not see that the level of funding was really a contributing factor in this case.”

    While the first statement is true in my estimation, it is deceptive. If the funding had been given and the plans to upgrade the flood mitigation infrastructure had been carried out, the levee may still have been breached, but I find it hard to believe that the improvement in the response to the disaster would be insignificant.

  4. Stacy says:

    The hurricane certainly wasnt Bush’s fault, but he bears some responsibility for the poor response on the part of DHS and FEMA. Also, I dont think he provided leadership like he did after 9/11. He stayed on vacation until the bodies started piling up and criticism mounted.

    The state and local officials also bear some responsibility. I am not sure if finger-pointing accomplishes anything, but I can imagine if this happened in his brother’s home state, the feds wouldnt be arguing over local officials filing the paperwork for federal assistance too late.

    Basically, the political Right only see bush as responsible when the outcome is good. If its not, then its someone else’s fault- whether its the pre-war intelligence or the fact that the head of the Dept. of Homeland Security announced today he didnt know the primary levee had given way until 36 hours after the fact and despite the media being aware of that. Also, it would be appropriate t o question why Bush put a lawyer who worked with Arabian horses in charge of FEMA and why he placed FEMA under the auspices of DHS after 9/11.

    But I doubt any of those sorts of questions will be addressed here. You will all be too busy slamming the left for politicizing this disaster, all the while you do the very same thing yourself.

  5. Jonathan says:

    I’m not a republican, and I’m definately not a democrat, I am a member of the Louisiana National Guard…..the lack of leadership in this crisis has doomed it to a fast start, and doomed thousands to death. Most of the leadership of the LAANG is overseas fighting the war in Iraq, it is hard to organize a relief effort with literally no equipment, no radios, trucks that don’t function, and commanders that send their troops out to the field to “relieve” the citizens of the city with nothing but cell phones that won’t function after the storm and a truck that will probably break down. But, that is not the only problem, if Louisiana were maybe more important; maybe this would have been like Florida and we could have had semi trucks staged and ready with supplies to go the minute the hurricand had passed. Why wasn’t that done?? Why did we have to wait a week for FEMA to get their marginally over funded rear ends in gear. I’m sorry we’re not New York, or Miami but we are definately an important part of America and deserve the same funding. Hopefully the rise in gas prices and the lack of foreign goods coming through our ports will wake everyone up to our significance, we have much more to offer than Mardi Gras and soul food.

  6. Jack Ehrlich says:

    The previous poster would have us believe the whole national guard was in Iraq. Seems as thought there are plenty there now. There were lots of people left in New Orleans because of lack of transportation, lack of belief that Katrina would actually hit New Orleans and many other reasons. The first responders and those with the most responsibility were the Mayor of that city and the Governor of that state. Hundreds of buses could have been used to evacuate the citizens, both sides of the freeway could have eased evacuation. Putting 25000 people in the Superdome without food or water is criminal. No federal agency is in place that has the capacity to handle a disaster the size of a state exists. But the LA national guard and state troopers could have been on scene almost immediately. They were not. That is not the fault of the feds, it is a local failing.

  7. Dale says:

    I hear a lot of blame being thrown in President Bush’s direction. It’s really irritating. I’m not saying the Federal Government (specifically FEMA) moved as fast as it should have or could have but the local officials didn’t have there act together either. I found a chronology of the storm on The Guardian’s (of all places) website. I also found the declaration by the LA Governor on 28 Aug and a story from VOA News regarding President Bush declaring a state of emergency for the Gulf Coast on the same day that the LA Governor declared a state of emergency.

    Oddly, after rereading the Governor’s declaration I didn’t see any request for troops from other states or federal troops. She seemed primarily concerned with the Fed’s picking up the tab. She seems to have seriously underestimated the severity of this hurricane.




    Hopefully, the good thing that comes out of this whole thing is that everybody learns a lesson from this. Starting with the meaning of the words “mandatory evacuation”.

  8. Ron (Washington DC) says:

    OK, as an 18 year military man and veteran of several military actions, and Bush supporter, here’s how I see it. Yep, the LA state gov’t failed…yep, the NO city gov’t failed. However, by mid-day Tuesday it was clear that this was a major national emergency with the situation getting worse and worse. At that point I expected some leadership from the national level. I expected the President to order active duty troops into NO to at least restore order. A couple of Army or Marine companies could have been in there in a matter of a few hours. That’s what they train for and that’s what they do – enter places that are hard to get into. Why did it take until Friday afternoon before any order was restored in the major concentrations of people seeking to leave? To restate, when things broke down, the Commander in Chief should have taken control and ordered an immediate deployment of active duty forces – that’s leadership.

  9. Dale says:

    I found this video on Gateway Pundit. It is of the storm surge coming into Gulfport, MS. Kyoto could have prevented this?

    Not even President Bush could have caused (or stopped) this.


  10. Dale says:

    Not even the “all powerful” George Bush could have stopped (or caused) this. I found this video on Gateway Pundit’s blog.


  11. Dale says:

    This is all George Bush’s fault????? I don’t know if anything could have stopped this. This is video is of the storm hitting Gulfport, MS. I found it on Gateway Pundit.


  12. Anna Wardlaw says:

    Bush will not take responsibility for any thing. He always blames some one else. He is the president and need to take responsible for what happens on his watch. He was not there for the people of New Orleans soon enough. It is strange that we have always held the president responsible in responding to what happens on their watch but we protect Bush. Bush could not have changed a thing that happened but he could have come to their rescue more readily. Adam and Eve was fooled in the garden of Eden by the serpant and we are being totally fooled by the Bush administration. Wake up America!!!

  13. anjin-san says:


    Politicizing the disaster? You mean like the Bush admin attacking (any lying) about the actions of the mayor of NO & the govenor of LA to deflect blame from themselves?

  14. Jonathan says:

    FYI…most of the national guard troops present in LA at the moment are from Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi, the 256th brigade composes a majority of the army forces, leaving about 11,000 troops in LA of those only about 3,000 are available for call up due to medical or training deficiencies. The troops we had were on station along with the ones from Texas were stationed and ready in the Super dome and throughout the city of New Orleans, along with me for that matter to help with the evac and sheltering of citizens. Many of the people that got there sat. have been relieved and told to tend to our families as we were replaced by fresh troops from other states. My point was that the folks that we had were ill equipped and marginally equipped at best due to short sighted policies that sent most of our emergency response resources overseas with no thought to the future consequences to disaster response.

  15. Jonathan says:

    One other thing….as of sat. there is no way that putting even the 200 or so school buses in the Orleans Parish School District could have had any effect on the levels of people evacuated due to the seriously overcrowded interstate system. The one hour trip from New Orleans to Baton Rouge turned into a 5 hour round trip ordeal…at most if they were able to make two round trip trips they could have evacuated maybe 10,000 people, but I doubt very seriously that they could have made two trips…but then again it’s easy to criticize planning in hindsight, the national guard criticism is one that was raised upon deployment awhile ago, and again when our levy funds were cut, it was a disaster waiting to happen and we knew it…we were just jaded by how many hurricanes we had survived in the past without incident, so as we collectively put our heads in the sand our levies fell around us, and unfortunately we really didn’t have much to respond with.

  16. Linda says:

    I totally agree. All this finger pointing at the victims is useless. And let’s face it, the LA and NO officials were among the victims. By Tuesday–if he was paying attention–the President should have started calling the shots. He should have called those LA and NO officials and said, “Look this is getting out of hand. I can see you’re overwhelmed and here’s what I can do to help you. Do I have your approval to step in?” Instead he sat on his thumbs (stewing over supreme court opportunities???) supposedly waiting on them to call and say “Pretty please, Mr. President.” He would NEVER have done that if the Governor and Senator had been men or the Mayor had been white. And you’ll note that as soon as he came on site the WHITE MALE Congressman started showing up on the news spots to take the credit. They DELIBERATELY waited so the female and black leaders would look like failures. Yet he didn’t wait to step in when the disasters were in Florida. He came on the news first thing on the FIRST NEWS DAY saying publicly, “I’m here for you. Whatever the governor [i.e, his brother] needs, I’m here to help.” This is more racist AND chauvinistic than anyone is willing to recognize, much less admit. And that is shameful. Equality cannot be legislated; it must come from the heart . . . and clearly while he gives good after-the-fact lip service from prepared scripts and coached spinners, it is NOT in the SPONTANEOUS HEART of this President to SUPPORT women or blacks. The only women and blacks who succeed with this president are people-pleasing Aunt Thomasitas.