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.
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.