Poll: Bush Strong on Terrorism, Wrong on Katrina

March 8, 2006 — -- There are highs and lows in public opinion for President Bush today, as the Senate moves toward accord on his controversial surveillance program and he visits New Orleans to survey hurricane recovery efforts.

The president's good news involves what's long been his best issue, the nation's response to terrorism. Sixty-two percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll support extending the Patriot Act, which he's scheduled to sign Thursday.

A narrower majority -- 54 percent -- calls the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretap program acceptable. Senate Republicans reportedly have reached an agreement with the White House on allowing such wiretaps for up to 45 days without court clearance.

While most Democrats and liberals oppose the Patriot Act renewal, larger majorities of other political and ideological groups -- independents, moderates, Republicans and conservatives -- support it.

At the same time, however, privacy is a growing concern. The country is divided on whether the government is or is not doing enough to protect Americans' rights as it conducts the war on terrorism: 46 percent say it is, but 51 percent think not -- over half for the first time and double what it was in fall 2002. In this case, most conservatives and Republicans think the country's doing enough; others are more apt to think not.

Handling the campaign against terrorism is still Bush's best issue. A slight majority, 52 percent, supports his handling of it overall. That's well down from his career average 67 percent. While 56 percent think the country is safer from terrorism than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, that's down too, from 64 percent in January.

New Orleans — Bush's ratings on hurricane response are far worse. In retrospect, 63 percent now disapprove of the way the president handled the government's response to Hurricane Katrina -- his single worst rating of eight issues tested, and nine points worse now than it was two weeks after the hurricane struck.

That view again is highly partisan. Sixty-six percent of Republicans approve of the way the president handled the Katrina response. Just 39 percent of independents and 9 percent of Democrats agree.

Ports — Another difficult issue for Bush is the Dubai Ports deal that would give the United Arab Emirates-owned company management of six U.S. ports. Some Republican leaders Tuesday threatened to block the deal. In this poll, not only do 70 percent of Americans oppose it, but that includes majorities in Bush's political base -- 62 percent of conservatives and 59 percent of Republicans.

Methodology This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone March 2-5, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.