Poll Shows Racial Divide on Storm Response

Susan Page and Maria Puente, USA Today, Sept. 12

WASHINGTON—There is a lot that Americans agree about in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: that government agencies initially stumbled but are doing better now, for one, and that more money and attention should be paid to addressing the issue of poverty.

But a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Thursday through Sunday finds a stark racial divide on other issues, including attitudes toward the hurricane’s victims, the performance of President Bush and the reasons the government’s early response was so wanting.

Six in 10 African-Americans say the fact that most hurricane victims were poor and black was one reason the federal government failed to come to the rescue more quickly. Whites reject that idea; nearly 9 in 10 say those weren’t factors.

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But Rae Clifton, 52, a Web designer in Atlanta who is black and was among those surveyed, is certain that race and class did count. “If it had been a 17-year-old white cheerleader who was caught in the water, somebody would have tried to get there faster,” she says. “But because it was poor people . . . caught in a situation, it was, ‘OK . . . we’ll get there after a while.’ ”

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One in four of those surveyed blame the mayor of New Orleans; another one in four blame the residents themselves. One in five blame the Bush administration.

But blacks are much more likely than whites to hold the federal government responsible. Whites are much more likely to hold the residents responsible.

Images of the looters shown grabbing food, water and TV sets also split along racial lines. Whites by 50%-44% say most of those involved were criminals taking advantage of a situation. Blacks by 77%-16% say they were mostly desperate people trying to find a way to survive.

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