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Hurricane Katrina has come and gone, but President Bush’s approval ratings do not appear to have moved much: They were low before the hurricane, and they are low today. And much the same can be said for Congress.

A Sept. 8-11 Pew Research Center poll found 36 percent approve of the job Republican leaders in Congress are doing. That’s not significantly different from May (35 percent). An identical 36 percent approved of the job Democratic leaders were doing, down from 39 percent in May. [IMGCAP(1)]

Although the Pew generic ballot question showed a big advantage for Democrats (50-42, Democrats over Republicans), the responses to a question about whether respondents favor re-electing their own representative — as usual — showed no change. Fifty-eight percent said their member should be re-elected.

Thirty-one percent in an October 1994 Pew poll wanted “most members” re-elected, 36 percent in the new poll did.

In a Sept. 6-8 AP/Ipsos poll, 32 percent approved of the way Congress was handling its job. One-third approved in early August. In a Sept. 9-12 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 29 percent approved of the job Congress was doing, which was virtually identical to the 28 percent who said the same in July.

But even though the GOP controls Congress and the White House at a time of falling approval ratings, the Democrats do not appear to be gaining much ground.

When Pew inquired about which party could do a better job in eight areas, Democrats gained ground since the last asking of the questions (July 2004 for most items) in only one: dealing with the nation’s energy problems.

In the poll, 57 percent said that developing new energy sources was a more important priority, while 36 percent said protecting the environment was. Fifty percent, up from 42 percent in mid-March, favored drilling in Alaska.

The Blame Game. By my count, six different pollsters asked who deserved the blame for the response to Hurricane Katrina. Some asked the question in several different ways. Interestingly, nearly every question that offered people the option of saying “no one” found more people choosing it than any other response.

In a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health poll of 680 adult evacuees in Houston, 28 percent blamed the federal government most, followed by 22 percent who volunteered “all equally” and 8 percent “nobody.”

As for whether any top official should have been fired, 63 percent in a Sept. 5-6 Gallup poll said they didn’t think so; 48 percent felt that way in a Sept. 8-9 PSRA/Newsweek question. In a Sept. 8-11 Gallup poll, 47 percent said Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown should be fired, while 37 percent said he should not be. He subsequently resigned after being taken off Katrina duty.

Independent Commissions and Partisanship. All polls showed support for some kind of independent commission to investigate what went wrong. But the public is going into the process with open eyes.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 71 percent told interviewers that they believed a Congressional investigation would get bogged down in politics, while just 26 percent said it would focus on the facts. As for the opinion of Democratic critics of the administration, 36 percent said they mainly wanted to find out what went wrong, while 60 percent said they wanted to use the issue for political advantage.

In a Sept. 13-14 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 75 percent said the country needed more leaders getting things done and fewer independent commissions studying what should have been done. Ten percent disagreed.

A Sept. 16-18 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll found that 81 percent of respondents preferred an independent commission to conduct the Katrina probe, while 18 percent favored one by Congress.

Private Charities’ Performance. After Hurricane Katrina, the public gave much higher marks to private charities than it did to government at any level.

In a Zogby International poll, 32 percent described the government’s response as excellent or good, and 67 percent said fair or poor. By contrast, 86 percent rated private charities’ response as excellent or good, and only 9 percent said it was fair or poor.

Of the evacuees in the Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll who said at least one organization helped them, 41 percent said the National Guard/Coast Guard/military helped most, followed by private organizations such as the American Red Cross or Salvation Army (39 percent).

Hurricane Katrina and Global Warming. In a Pew poll, 25 percent said global climate change caused the hurricane, but 66 percent said it was just the kind of severe weather event that happens from time to time. Twenty-two percent in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll said the cause was global warming; 56 percent said it was a random act of nature.

The Democrats and Iraq. In Pew’s new poll, 30 percent said the president had a clear plan for bringing the situation to a successful conclusion. Eighteen percent said Democratic leaders in Congress had a clear alternative for dealing with the situation there; 71 percent said they did not.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.

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