Republicans have taken some comfort from the poll numbers that have come out so far on Hurricane Katrina, which have suggested that most Americans aren’t buying the Democrats’ unfair attacks.
Think again. The AP/Ipsos poll numbers that came out today, and can be accessed here, are horrible. President Bush’s approval rating is down into Gingrichian territory at 39%, with “strong disapproval” at 40%.
What is noteworthy, I think, is that the numbers on Hurricane Katrina per se are bad, but not abysmal. The public seems to think that everyone dropped the ball; state and local governments actually fare worse than the federal government and President Bush. Here are the percentages who say each of the following are responsible for either “a lot” or “a good amount” of the blame for Katrina-related problems:
State governments: 74%
Local governments: 67%
U.S. government: 63%
President Bush: 55%
Local residents: 48%
The idea that there were unacceptable delays in getting aid to hurricane victims, right or wrong, is deeply ingrained. No fewer than 67% say that they “Felt angry that relief for the hurricane victims came so slowly,” and that this feeling is “deep.”
So what’s the problem? The problem is that the Democrats’ relentless attacks on President Bush are hurting him across the board. People may think that the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans did a lousy job in connection with the hurricane, but no one outside Louisiana cares about them. What the AP/Ipsos poll indicates is that, issue by issue, Bush’s ratings are terrible. He is getting no credit for the booming economy. Iraq is in worst-ever negative territory by a 37% to 62% margin. Even “foreign policy issues and the war on terrorism” is negative by 43% to 55%.
Other numbers signal trouble for Republicans across the board. 65% disapprove of Congress’s performance, and the same percentage say the United States is on the wrong track.
The AP/Ipsos poll has often been an outlier, and this one is a “random adults” survey in which only 76% claimed to be registered voters. For those who take a lot of comfort from the fact that in this and most other polls, Democrats are over-represented compared to the most recent election turnout, consider this bizarre fact: in this poll, half of the respondents were asked for their party affiliation or “leaning” at the beginning of the interview, while the other half were asked at the end along with other demographic questions. When respondents were asked at the beginning, they broke 41% Republican and 45% Democrats. But when they were asked at the end, they responded 42% Republican and 51% Democrat. Apparently the process of answering questions about President Bush was enough to persuade an additional six percent that they were Democrats!
Here’s my point: whatever you think of the mechanics of a particular poll, the direction of President Bush’s poll numbers is clear. And it seems clear that Hurricane Katrina, and the outrageous attacks that the Democrats have pursued over the past week, have dealt him, and the Republican Party, another blow. I see no evidence that the Democrats are paying a price for their dishonorable tactics. And they won’t pay a price, unless the Republicans start defending themselves and attacking the Democrats the way they deserve to be attacked. The “turn the other cheek” approach that the administration has followed for years–don’t respond to attacks, no matter how unfair, just try to ride out the news cycle and move on–has resulted in one needless wound after another, and cumulatively they have now damaged President Bush’s standing with the public, likely beyond repair.
UPDATE: On a more cheerful note, from the Boston Globe, talking about the show that preceded last night’s NFL season opener in Boston:
[W]e got remotes of rapper Kanye West and pop rockers Maroon 5 from a generic-looking, red-white-and-blue stage in Los Angeles. Maroon 5 came off vapidly (doing just one song, ”Harder to Breathe”), while West did one tune, ”Heard ‘Em Say.” Yet it was disconcerting to hear his name booed loudly by Patriots fans who evidently didn’t appreciate his nationally televised comment the other night on a Hurricane Katrina benefit that President Bush ”doesn’t care about black people.” The boos were thunderous and lasted for much of his number.
UPDATE: We can’t possibly respond to the many, many readers who emailed responses to this post. Comments were about equally divided between optimism and pessimism. That figures, since I fluctuate between those poles myself, with a slight edge to the optimistic end. Thanks to all who wrote.