The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 6-7 among 1,000 Americans, found a huge racial divide in perceptions of the disaster and lessons to be learned from Katrina’s aftermath.
For example, 71% of blacks say the disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in the country; a majority of whites (56%) feel this was not a particularly important lesson of the disaster. And while 66% of blacks think that the government’s response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the storm’s victims had been white, an even larger percentage of whites (77%) disagree.
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 most among his core constituents – Republicans and conservatives.
The disaster has triggered a major shift in public priorities. For the first time since the 9/11 terror attacks, a majority of American say it is more important for the president to focus on domestic policy than the war on terrorism. And the poll finds that Katrina has had a profound psychological impact on the public. Americans are depressed, angry and very worried about the economic consequences of the disaster. Fully 58% of respondents say they have felt depressed because of what’s happened in areas affected by the storm. In recent years, this percentage is only surpassed by the 71% that reported feeling depressed in a survey taken just days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The survey finds that while the hurricane has drawn broad public attention, spiraling gas prices have attracted as much interest as reports on the storm’s impact. Roughly seven-in-ten are paying close attention to each story (71% gas prices, 70% hurricane’s impact). That represents the highest level of interest in gas prices in the two decades of Pew’s News Interest Index.