In Katrina's wake, the president's popularity and job-approval ratings have dropped across the board. Only 38 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is doing his job overall, a record-low for this president in the NEWSWEEK poll. (Fifty-five percent of Americans disapprove of his overall job performance.) And only 28 percent of Americans say they are "satisfied with the way things are going" in the country, down from 36 percent in August and 46 percent in December, after the president's re-election. This is another record low and two points below the satisfaction level recorded immediately after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal came to light. Fully two-thirds of Americans are not satisfied with the direction of the country.
But Katrina's most costly impact could be a loss of faith in government generally, and the president, in particular. A majority of Americans (57 percent) say "government's slow response to what happened in New Orleans" has made them lose confidence in government's ability to deal with another major natural disaster. Forty-seven percent say it has made them lose confidence in the government's ability to prevent another terrorist attack like 9/11, but 50 percent say is has not. (Note: our question asked about "government" in general, so we cannot say whether respondents meant state, local, federal or a combo of any of the three.)
More critical to President Bush -- and the GOP's future as the nation's majority party: most Americans, 52 percent, say they do not trust the president "to make the right decisions during a domestic crisis" (45 percent do). The numbers are exactly the same when the subject is trust of the president to make the right decisions during an international crisis.
Why the gloom? Forty percent of Americans say the federal government's response to the crisis in New Orleans was poor. Thirty-two percent say it was fair; 21 percent say it was good and five percent believe it was excellent. Americans don't think much of the local and state governments' responses either: 35 percent say state and local officials did a poor job and 34 percent say they did a fair job; 20 percent say they did a good job and five percent say an excellent job after the storm hit.
The Katrina effect is evident in how Americans rate the president personally. In every category, the view of the president is at all-time lows for the NEWSWEEK poll. Only 49 percent of Americans now believe the president has strong leadership qualities. The same percentage of registered voters feel that way, 49 percent -- down from 63 percent the week before Bush's reelection. Only 42 percent of Americans believe the president cares about people like them; 44 percent of registered voters feel that way -- down from 50 percent the week before the election. And only 49 percent of Americans and the same percentage of registered voters believe Bush is intelligent and well-informed -- down from 59 percent before the election.
Similarly, public approval of the president’s policies on issues from the economy (35 percent) to the war in Iraq (36 percent) to terrorism and homeland security (46 percent) have suffered. Demonstrating the widespread havoc that Katrina has wrought on the president’s political fortunes—even far from issues of disaster response—for the first time in the four years since 9/11, more Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of terrorism and homeland security than approve of it.
Reflecting the tarnished view of the administration, only 38 percent of registered voters say they would vote for a Republican for Congress if the Congressional elections were held today, while 50 say they would vote for a Democrat.
Just to put these figures in perspective, here are some comparisons to disapproval figures from Gallup -- Bush is now comparable to Clinton in 1994 and moving towards Jimmy Carter territory:
Bill Clinton's highest disapproval rating was 54% in September 1994. In fact, several polls that year found at least 50% of Americans disapproving of Clinton's performance as president.
In the summer of his re-election bid, 60% of Americans told Gallup they disapproved of the way George H.W. Bush was handling the presidency. Across the 14 polls conducted from May 1992 through October 1992, a majority of Americans expressed disapproval in Bush.
In January 1983, 56% of Americans said they disapproved of Ronald Reagan. Five polls conducted from December 1982 through February 1983 found at least 50% of Americans disapproving of Reagan.
Many of the polls conducted in 1979 and 1980 found majority disapproval of Jimmy Carter's performance. His highest disapproval was 59% in June and July 1979.
Just prior to his resignation as president, 66% of Americans said they disapproved of the way Richard Nixon was handling the presidency.
In March 1968, Gallup found that 52% of Americans disapproved of Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson's disapproval ratings were at 50% or higher only four times in his presidency.
Harry Truman scored the highest disapproval rating in Gallup's history -- 67% -- in January 1952. Truman also scored the lowest approval rating in Gallup's history, 23%, in the same poll.