PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll shows that the American public is strongly positive about the federal government’s response to the recent California wildfires. Most Americans also believe that the federal government’s performance in responding to this disaster has been better than its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Democrats are somewhat less positive about the government’s response to the wildfires than are Republicans. Despite the contention by some that the wildfires were a result of global warming trends, only a minority of Americans believe that global warming was either a major or even a minor cause of the conflagrations.
The federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in the late summer of 2005 was widely considered to be late, inadequate, and -- in some aspects -- inept. The response of the federal government to the wildfires that swept across Southern California thus presents a new opportunity to answer the question of whether the government has gotten its act together and improved its emergency response capabilities.
The results of a new Gallup Panel survey conducted over the Oct. 25-28 weekend shows that the American public would answer that question with a decisive a “yes.” The poll shows that over two-thirds of Americans say they approve of the way the federal government has responded to the wildfires in California.
Only 13% of Americans disapprove, while about one out of five have no opinion.
There is a slight political tinge to the public’s reaction, with Democrats more critical than Republicans of the federal response. This could reflect sheer partisan politics, but it could also be accentuated by fallout from Katrina. The government’s response to the hurricane that ravaged New Orleans, along with large areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, became in some circles emblematic of the shortcomings of the Bush administration in general. Some observers speculate that Katrina has been a factor in President Bush’s falling job approval ratings and perhaps the Republican loss of both the House and the Senate in the November 2006 elections.
Still, the differences by political identification are not large. Even among Democrats, a majority say they approve of the government’s response to the wildfires.
A second question included in the weekend poll asked Americans to compare the federal government’s response to the California wildfires to its response to Katrina. Consistent with responses to the question mentioned earlier, Americans by a 3-to-1 margin say the current governmental response to the wildfires has been better, rather than the same.
There has been some discussion that the California wildfires -- and for that matter, all manner of weather-related calamities facing the human species -- are a result of global warming. The Washington publication The Hill last week, for example, quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as saying: “One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming."
But the American people seem to reject that hypothesis. Asked if global warming is -- or is not -- a cause of the fires, 67% said it is not.
Both the federal government and global warming get a pass from the American public in relationship to the wildfires that raged through Southern California last week. The substantial majority of Americans say they approve of the job the federal government has done in terms of responding to the wildfires, and by a 3-to-1 margin, Americans say the current response is better than the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Most Americans do not accept the hypothesis that global warming was either a major or a minor cause of the California wildfires.
Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 25-28, 2007. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup’s nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. The final sample is weighted so it is representative of U.S. adults nationwide. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
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.