Hurricane Victims' Views Vary on Government's Response

by Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll

FEMA named as most helpful agency

After major natural disasters, victims often look to the government -- federal, state, or local -- for aid and assistance. A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll* of those affected by Hurricane Katrina finds generally mediocre ratings of the federal and state governments' responses to the disaster, and more positive ratings of the local government's response. Despite criticism about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) response, nearly half of those surveyed cite it as the agency that was most helpful to them. Louisiana and New Orleans residents are more critical of the government's response than are Alabama residents and Mississippi residents.

The poll, conducted in cooperation with the Red Cross, interviewed a random sample of 1,510 adults who applied for disaster relief from the Red Cross because of Hurricane Katrina. The vast majority of aid applicants were from Louisiana, with significant numbers also from Alabama and Mississippi.

Federal Government

Overall, slightly more than one in three of these hurricane survivors say the federal government did an excellent (10%) or good (26%) job in dealing with the hurricane and its aftermath. A similar percentage, 32%, say it did a poor job, while 30% rate its job as only fair.

Louisiana residents are the most negative toward the federal government -- just 31% say it did an excellent or good job -- compared with 42% of Mississippi residents and 56% of Alabama residents. Those who previously resided in New Orleans are even more negative in their evaluations -- just 24% rate the federal government's response in positive terms, while nearly half, 47%, say it did a poor job.

State Government

State governments get only slightly better marks from these hurricane victims than the federal government does. Thirty-nine percent of respondents say their state government did an excellent (11%) or good (28%) job of dealing with Katrina and the aftereffects, 29% say fair and 30% poor.

Both Mississippians (58%) and Alabamans (67%) give positive evaluations to their state governments and more positive evaluations to their states than the federal government. Louisiana residents, however, rate the state government response no more positively than they rate the federal response, with 30% describing their state's response as excellent or good and 37% as poor (31% say only fair). Again, residents of New Orleans are even more negative, with 21% rating the state response as excellent or good and 49% as poor.

Local Government

A majority of hurricane survivors in the poll say their mayors and other local officials did an excellent (19%) or good (32%) job in responding to the hurricane. That includes 47% of Louisiana residents, 56% of Mississippi residents, and 72% of Alabama residents. New Orleans residents are again more negative than positive in rating their local officials' responses -- 33% say they did an excellent or good job, and 38% say poor.

FEMA

Another set of survey questions asked respondents to say, on an open-ended basis, which government agencies were most helpful to them, and which they were most dissatisfied with. FEMA was the most frequently mentioned organization on both counts.

Nearly half of respondents, 49%, say FEMA was most helpful to them, somewhat surprising given the sharp criticism of FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina. Six percent of respondents say food stamps, which are provided by federal and state governments, were most helpful. Two percent say the National Guard or military. About one in three respondents could not identify a government entity that helped them most.

Louisiana residents (57%) were about twice as likely as Mississippi (29%) or Alabama (26%) residents to cite FEMA as most helpful to them. An even higher percentage of New Orleans residents, 69%, say FEMA was most helpful.

Most respondents, more than 6 in 10 in total, could not name a government organization that they were most dissatisfied with. FEMA was most often mentioned, by 26% of the sample. Two percent mentioned state government agencies.

Bottom Line

Hurricane Katrina victims are critical about the way the federal government handled the aftermath of storm, with only a third rating it positively. State and local governments are rated more positively. Typically, Americans tend to be more positive in their evaluations of state, and especially local, governments than the federal government in general.

Louisiana residents and those who lived in New Orleans prior to Katrina are more negative in their assessments of all three levels of governments than those affected by the hurricane in other areas. The Red Cross list of applicants clearly shows that Louisiana residents were much more likely to seek assistance than Alabama or Mississippi residents, and the poll shows Louisiana residents were much more likely to be displaced following the hurricane than residents of neighboring states. As such, their need may be greater, and swift government response -- certainly difficult in a disaster of this magnitude -- is more important to their wellbeing.

*This poll was conducted in cooperation with the American Red Cross.

Results are based on telephone interviews with a sample of 1,510 adults, aged 18 and older, drawn randomly from the American Red Cross database of applicants seeking assistance due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Interviews were conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 9, 2005.

The vast majority of applicants provided a working contact telephone number to the Red Cross. Gallup did reverse phone lookups to obtain telephone numbers for the portion of the selected sample that did not provide a contact number. Where necessary, Gallup interviewers tracked down updated telephone numbers when respondents had moved from their previous location. Interviews were conducted on both landline and cellular telephones. Full details on the poll methodology can be found at http://www.galluppoll.com/.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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