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September 20, 2005

Katrina: More from Gallup/CNN/USAToday

The Gallup/CNN/USAToday partnership released a new survey last night that shows President George W. Bush’s approval rating at 40%, disapproval at 57%.  Approval of the way Bush is handling “the response to Hurricane Katrina” now stands at a similar 41% approve, 57% disapprove.  Both CNN and USAToday have poll stories, USAToday also provides full results, and as always, Gallup provides a very complete analysis and full results on its web page (newly designed as of this week, but the same subscription policies apply -- David Moore’s analysis will be free to all today, subscription required thereafter). 

As always, the poll is broader in scope than the narrow focus of this blog post may imply.  Read any of the analyses of all that's there, which is considerable.  But for now, let's focus on a few key findings:

1) Bush's job rating.  The USAToday graphic emphasizes the four point drop in approval between the survey Gallup conducted just before Katrina hit (45% on Aug 29-30) to now (40%).  The problem is that Gallup had conducted a poll the week before that showed Bush at roughly the levels seen on the current poll (40% approve, 56% disapprove), and Gallup showed no such decrease in their first two polls after Katrina.  As the chart below shows, Gallup's numbers have been zigging and zagging quite a bit lately, and are not easy to interpret if you assume that every zig and zag is meaningful. 

0920_bush_job_rating


Now, to MP's eyes, this poll to poll variation looks mostly like the sort of random error that is a typical part of the survey process.  We get one big hint of this when we plot party identification (in this case, the percentage who identify or "lean" Republican) against the percentage that approve of Bush's performance.  Note how the lines in the chart below zig and zag in near unison.  While MP cannot know for certain that party identification hasn't been changing in this manner in recent weeks, it seems unlikely.

0920_recent_bush_and_party


The best evidence of this, and the best way to read the Gallup numbers, is to average together their polls to effectively increase the sample size and smooth out the random error.  The chart that follows does this, creating monthly averages for the Gallup poll for all of 2005 (Gallup fields 3 to 4 polls per month).  In this chart, the pattern is smoother and considerably easier to interpret (and also quite consistent with other polls during 2004).  Most important is that the Gallup data, when averaged this way, makes it clear that the big drop in Bush's overall job rating occurred just before Katrina and that his rating has been roughly the same or perhaps slightly worse since (Charles Franklin reached essentially the same conclusion before seeing the latest Gallup numbers).   

0920_yearlong_bush_and_party


Note also the pattern in the average value for the percentage Republican or lean Republican.  Gallup's party identification question (which, unlike many other polls, emphasizes the short term by asking respondents to think about "politics, as of today") shows a slight gradual decrease in Republican identification during 2005.  And, as we would expect, most of the shift appears to be from Republican to independent.  There is an important lesson here in the debate over weighting by party, but MP suspects that those on opposite sides of the debate will reach different conclusions.  We'll come back to that debate another day. 

2) The Katrina Job Rating. The analysis by Gallup's David Moore includes a helpful table that shows how the Katrina specific job rating compares to other issue job ratings of President Bush.  As the table shows (MP recreated it to make it more legible in our format), the Katrina rating is slightly higher than Bush's overall rating, and higher still than ratings of Bush's performance on the economy and Iraq.

0920_specific_job_ratings


All of this leads Gallup's Frank Newport conclude, in his first Gallup Blog post since February (thanks to attentive MP reader "Y" for the tip):

I also suggest caution in accepting the argument that the hurricane caused precipitous damage to the president's standing. Americans had significantly downgraded their assessment of Bush before Katrina . . .

Most available data reinforce the fact that Bush's handling of Katrina is not his greatest weakness at this point. In Gallup's polls, Bush does worse on his handling of Iraq, the economy, foreign affairs, and in particular, gas prices . . .

In short, it is a mistake to assume that the public's mood, views of the economy, views of the top problems facing the country, and views of the administration have undergone profound changes as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The drift toward negativity on these measures was well underway in the late summer. The same problems that faced the nation -- and President Bush -- before the hurricane face him after the hurricane.

True enough.  The Gallup data and the data we have seen elsewhere back him up.  However, there is another way to look at Bush's situation. 

First, if views of the President's handling of Katrina tend to correlate with his current overall job rating, that is not good news for the President.  After all, as the chart above makes clear (and the Pollkatz graphic makes clearer), Bush is currently at a low ebb.  The glass is 60% empty.  Had his job rating been at this level a year ago, the election outcome would have been different.

Second, and far more importantly, if Katrina did not alter Americans overall rating of Bush, they certainly did collapse perceptions of Bush on one key dimension: Being a "strong and decisive leader."   The percentage of Americans who describe Bush as a strong leader fell steadly from 60% just before Katrina, to 51% on the current survey (a result also seen in recent CBS polls).   To paraphrase pollster Peter Hart's conclusion in looking at his own poll NBC and the Wall Street Journal, Katrina effectively "burst" perceptions of Bush as a strong leader.  That may not collapse his overall job rating, but it is a bad sign for the President. 

0920_strong_leader_1


9/22 - Corrected label placement in the strong leader chart above.

Related Entries - Polls in the News

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on September 20, 2005 at 10:22 AM in Polls in the News | Permalink

Comments

You can see conservatives grumble about these numbers here, courtesy of a Daily Kos roundup:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/9/20/16582/1619

Posted by: Simka | Sep 20, 2005 8:35:26 PM

Mickey Kaus picked up this item at http://slate.msn.com/id/2126671/

Thanks for putting the good data presentation together.

Posted by: Dave T | Sep 21, 2005 5:25:27 PM

Charlie Cook pointed out that until recently Republican partisans of all kinds adhered to Bush at high levels, and that this was his "silver lining", given the distribution of party IDs across the spectrum. Where does that stand now ? The ID party graph did not help me much about that.
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