BP vs. Katrina

Here’s the latest on public reaction to the BP oil spill:

A month and a half after the spill began, 69 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll rate the federal response negatively. That compares with a 62 negative rating for the response to Katrina two weeks after the August 2005 hurricane.

There are a couple of obvious reasons for this. The first is that the BP disaster has gone on for a long time. People have short memories, and within just a few days of finally getting assistance into New Orleans the outrage over Katrina had started to ease. The same thing will happen when the BP blowout is capped, but in the meantime public reaction is just going to get worse and worse.

The other reason, I suspect, is purely political: during Katrina, Republicans largely rallied around the federal response because they wanted to defend George Bush from lefty criticism. In the case of the BP spill, Democrats have been much less willing to do the same for Barack Obama. And sure enough, the poll results suggest this is exactly what’s happened. The reverse-partisan split in negative reactions is about the same between the two events: 81% of Republicans are critical of federal response to the BP spill while 79% of Democrats were critical of federal response to Katrina.

But take a look at the same-party response. In 2005, only 41% of Republicans were critical of their own administration’s response to Katrina. In 2010, 56% of Democrats are willing to criticize their administration’s reponse to BP. That alone accounts for most of the difference in public reaction between the two events.

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