NEW YORK – Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina (search) made landfall on Louisiana, a new FOX News poll finds that Americans think hurricane relief should be President George W. Bush’s top domestic priority right now — outdistancing several other hot button issues, including the economy and gas prices. Bush’s approval rating has taken a hit since the hurricane and now sits at the lowest level of his presidency. The bright side of Katrina: A majority of the public thinks the hurricane will ultimately make the country stronger and most believe that Americans are pulling together more now than they have for previous disasters.
The poll finds that helping those affected by the hurricane should be the number one item on the president’s domestic to-do list. From a list of seven issue areas, a plurality (27 percent) says hurricane relief should be the top priority for Bush right now, the economy comes in second (17 percent), followed closely by homeland security (14 percent) and gas prices (10 percent). No other issue receives double-digit support, though at 9 percent health care comes closest — edging out Social Security (8 percent) and education (5 percent).
Today, 41 percent of voters approve and 51 percent disapprove of President Bush’s performance, which is the lowest job rating he has received in a FOX News poll. The president’s approval rating is down 4 percentage points from two weeks ago (45 percent, August 30-31), around the time the magnitude of Katrina’s damage was becoming clear. Before the hurricane, 47 percent approved and 44 percent disapproved (July 26-27).
For most of Bush’s presidency, approval among his party faithful has not only been well above 80 percent, but also for a significant amount of time above 90 percent. The average approval rating for his presidency among Republicans is 90 percent; today 81 percent approve. Bush’s approval rating has gone into single digits among Democrats, coming in at 8 percent in this week’s poll. For independents, 30 percent approve.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on September 13-14.
Ratings for Congress have actually improved slightly since Hurricane Katrina. Two weeks ago, 28 percent approved and 53 percent disapproved of the job Congress is doing (August 30-31). Today, 34 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove.
Last week Sen. Hillary Clinton (search), D-N.Y., called for an independent commission to investigate the government’s response to the catastrophe. By 46 percent to 32 percent voters think Clinton’s request was politically motivated rather than sincere. In addition, more than twice as many respondents think Democrats (40 percent) are trying to use the hurricane for political gain than think Republicans are (15 percent), though one in five think both sides are.
Voters are somewhat more likely to blame state and local governments in Louisiana and Mississippi than the federal government for the problems responding to Hurricane Katrina. Forty-two percent say the state and local governments are more responsible, while 29 percent say the federal government and 19 percent say "both." Earlier this week President Bush said, "To the extent the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility," and yesterday Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (search) made a similar comment.
If a disaster were to strike in their area, clear majorities say their state (62 percent) and local (62 percent) officials are prepared to handle it. An even higher number — 71 percent — say their family is prepared.
Many Americans (57 percent) support people being forced to leave their homes during a mandatory evacuation, with less than half as many (25 percent) in support of allowing people to stay no matter what. If given one or two days notice of a potential disaster, the poll finds hardly any Americans (5 percent) say they would stay put, as fully 83 percent say they would evacuate.
"These figures show a common problem in survey research," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "People have faith in their own government and their own behavior, but are ready to fault others. While hurricane alerts will probably get more respect for the next couple of years, human nature being what it is, we can expect that history will repeat itself, if not on the scale of Katrina, sooner rather than later."
At 33 percent, hurricanes top the list of natural disasters most likely to keep people from living in a certain area of the country, followed by earthquakes (26 percent), tornadoes (14 percent) and floods (12 percent).
Some blame global warming for Katrina’s extraordinary strength (22 percent), however more than half (56 percent) think the storm’s power was more likely a random act of nature. A sizable 40 percent minority believes natural disasters are messages from a higher being, but just over half disagree (51 percent).
Though opinion is sharply divided, a slim plurality of Americans say they are more concerned about a natural disaster (36 percent) than about a terrorist attack (34 percent) happening in their area. Twenty-one percent say neither threat concerns them.
Nearly half think the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will have a greater, long-term affect on the country, while 28 percent think Hurricane Katrina will and 21 percent think both equally.
A few positive highlights: A majority (56 percent) thinks that in the future New Orleans will come back better than it was before, 61 percent think Hurricane Katrina will ultimately make the country stronger and 71 percent say they feel like Americans are pulling together more in response to Katrina than they have for previous disasters.
An overwhelming 86 percent say they have prayed for the victims and 73 percent say they have donated money to a relief organization. Moreover, a sizable majority is confident (21 percent "very" and 47 percent "somewhat") the donated funds are reaching those in need.
The hurricane has spurred another kind of action as well, as almost four in 10 say that since Katrina they have taken steps to prepare their family for an emergency.
On the issue of gas prices, almost all Americans say they are taking action: 85 percent say they have tried to conserve gasoline, including over half that say they have tried to conserve "a lot."
The poll finds that a 57-percent majority supports suspending the federal gasoline tax until gas prices come down.
Who controls prices anyway? Without the aid of being read a list, just over a third (36 percent) say they think domestic oil producers have the most control over gas prices, while roughly equal numbers think the government (13 percent), OPEC (12 percent) and the president (10 percent). Only 5 percent think consumers control prices.
Even so, two-thirds say they would "seriously be willing" to join a nation-wide movement to cut gasoline consumption by 10 percent to get the attention of oil producers.
• PDF: Click here for full poll results.