Poll: Bush Not Taking Brunt of Katrina Criticism

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.

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

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.

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.)

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

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 percent 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 -- most, 58 percent, give the government positive marks.

Rating the Government's Handling of...
  Positive Negative
Situation overall   48%   51%
Gas prices   20   79
Looting   26   71
Evacuations   38   59
Food, water needs   43   56
Search, rescue   58   39

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

Most Americans, 55 percent, also say Bush does not deserve a significant level of personal blame for problems in the federal response to the crisis. And while 44 percent do assign him blame, only about half of them, 23 percent overall, blame him "a great deal."

Some of these views seem to take into account the magnitude of the natural disaster: Forty-four percent say the situation shows serious problems in the federal government's emergency preparedness overall, but more, 54 percent, instead say that this particular disaster was a special case. Republicans, in particular, take the latter position.

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