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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Abramowitz: Katrina Didn’t Undo Bush

Conservatives have been working overtime to convince Americans that the Gulf oil spill crisis is “Obama’s Katrina,” on the apparent theory that it’s a symbol of administration fecklessness on the order of Bush’s initial immobility during the destruction of New Orleans and the death of many of its citizens. Now blame-shifting for the disaster is entirely understandable coming from the “drill baby drill” crowd, one of whose heroes, Dick Cheney, probably contributed a lot more to the Gulf disaster than anyone currently on the public payroll.
But putting aside the injustice of blaming Obama for the spill or efforts to mitigate the damage, is it true that the “Katrina” label is politically as well as morally deadly?
Interestingly enough, Alan Abramowitz has taken a look back at the actual effect of the Katrina disaster on George W. Bush’s approval ratings, and finds that it was minimal:

President Bush’s average approval rating was 44 percent in August [of 2005], before Katrina, and 44 percent again in September, after Katrina. Moreover, the rate of decline in the months following Katrina appears very similar to the rate of decline in the months before Katrina.

In general, Abramowitz thinks Bush’s handling of Katrina confirmed negative impressions of W. that already existed, but didn’t create or even necessarily deepen them. But because the whole horrifying series of events occurred when Bush’s slide into unpopularity had grown unmistakable, and because the images were so vivid, they went down in popular memory as a major contributor to his political eclipse.
So simply intoning “Obama’s Katrina” and repeating it thousands of times may not have quite the magic effect conservatives intend.


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