Poll: Bush Approval Drops

Public views of the federal government's hurricane response have grown sharply more critical in the last week, pushing George W. Bush's leadership and performance ratings to career lows. A record 57 percent of Americans now disapprove of his work overall.

As striking as Bush's rating -- his disapproval is higher than the worst for either of his last two two-term predecessors -- is the intensity of sentiment against him: Forty-five percent of Americans "strongly" criticize Bush's performance in office, an unusually deep well of disapproval. Far fewer, 27 percent, strongly approve.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

Bush gets 50-50 ratings for strong leadership and for trust in a crisis -- long his strong suits, both now down sharply to career lows. A record 61 percent say he doesn't understand their problems. And his ratings on other issues have soured as well: A record 62 percent disapprove of his work on Iraq. On the economy, 58 percent disapprove; on gas prices, it's 72 percent. Even on handling terrorism, long the keystone of his support, half now approve of Bush's performance.

One brighter spot for the administration is the nomination of John Roberts as chief justice of the Unitef States: Fifty-five percent support his confirmation.

Bush's Handling of the Issues
  Approve Disapprove
Terrorism   50%   47%
Katrina   44   54
Overall job   42   57
Economy   40   58
Iraq   38   62
Gas prices   25   72

KATRINA -- On Katrina, opinion has moved further away from Bush and his administration. Fifty-four percent now disapprove of his work on the hurricane, up seven points from an ABC News/Washington Post poll Sept. 2, four days after the storm hit the Gulf Coast. What had been essentially an even division on Bush's response is now disapproval by a 10-point margin.

More, 62 percent, rate the overall federal response negatively, up 11 points from initial public attitudes. Sixty-three percent say that two weeks after the hurricane hit, the administration still lacks a clear plan on how to handle it; rather than recovering its footing, the administration has lost eight points on this measure since Sept. 2. And three-quarters of Americans favor a 9/11 commission-style investigation of the hurricane response, apart from anything Congress might be planning.

There may be repercussions as well for administration policy on taxes: Nearly six in 10 Americans say consideration of tax cuts should be set aside for the time being.

RACE -- The survey also finds a profound division between black and white Americans in their perceptions of the disaster response. Blacks overwhelmingly say hurricane preparedness and response were shortchanged because of the race and poverty of many of those affected, and call it a sign of broader racial inequality in this country. Whites are far less likely to see it that way.

Katrina and Race
  Yes, whites No, whites Yes, blacks No, blacks
Did poverty and race affect hurricane protection?   28%   69%   71%   27%
Did race and poverty affect speed of response?   24   73   76   21
Is relief effort indication of broader racial inequality?   25   73   63   36
Does Bush care about black people?   65   28   26   68

Seven in 10 blacks, for instance, believe New Orleans would have received better flood protection and emergency preparedness resources if it had been a wealthier, whiter city, rather than a largely poor, African-American one. Fewer than three in 10 whites agree.

Similarly, 76 percent of blacks think the federal government would have responded more quickly to rescue people trapped by floodwaters if more of them had been wealthy and white rather than poorer and black. Fewer than a quarter of whites share that view.

And among blacks, fewer but still a sizable majority, 63 percent, think problems with the hurricane relief effort are an indication of broader racial inequality. Among whites, a quarter agree.

There's the further issue of perceptions of Bush's own empathy. Sixty-eight percent of blacks think he doesn't care about the problems facing black people in this country; among whites, that declines to 28 percent. And even more blacks -- 88 percent, more than in any other group-- say Bush doesn't understand the problems of people like them.

PARTISANSHIP -- On explicitly racial issues, views depend heavily on racial perspectives. On broader political issues, though, it's partisanship that counts the most (and blacks are the most loyal Democratic voting bloc).

Overall, for example, 84 percent of blacks disapprove of Bush's job performance, and 69 percent disapprove strongly -- but those ratings are essentially no different than they've been all year, and are much the same among black and white Democrats alike. Similarly, seven in 10 Republicans approve of the president's performance on Katrina, compared with only 22 percent of Democrats -- with white and black Democrats again in general agreement.

Putting some blame on the victims is another area, and a less explicitly political one, in which differences are more partisan than racial. This poll asked what was a bigger problem -- that some people stayed in the hurricane's path because they didn't take the warnings seriously, or that some people had no way to leave and the government failed to provide transportation. Six in 10 Republicans say it was the former; six in 10 Democrats say the latter, with similar views among black and white Democrats alike.

Anger at the government's response also is more partisan than racial. Just over six in 10 Democrats are angry about it, regardless of their race, compared with just under a quarter of Republicans.

These results are from an ABC News/Washington Post poll on Hurricane Katrina and other topics that will be released in its entirety at 5 p.m. today. The poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 8-11, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,201 adults, including an oversample of 200 black respondents. The results have a three-point error margin. Fieldwork by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

Click here for more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.

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