Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina and Bush, One Year Later

A year ago, Katrina hit New Orleans. Coincidentally, PoliticalArithmetik made its debut on Labor Day last year. As a result, I fell into an analysis of the ongoing effect of Katrina on President Bush's approval ratings. Hadn't planned for that, but then neither had FEMA.

With the anniversary of Katrina, there are lots of news stories offering a retrospective, so why not here as well.

You can read over the original Katrina analysis (and see if it stands the test of time!) here,
here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Now seems a good time to go back and reestimate the effects of Katrina with complete data, rather than as a moving target. As always, my model fits the impact of events on approval, including both a possible immediate shift in approval and a possible change in slope. With Katrina and the Miers/Libby fiasco, the effects were essentially shocks that changed the level of approval but didn't shift the slope appreciably. Since then, the post Nov 11 rally, the winter decline, post-immigration speech rally and now post July 9 apparent stability, the slopes have shifted along with the level.

The figure above shows the plot of the fitted values for the linear model (in red) and for my usual trend estimator of approval (in blue). The blue trend is more flexible, but as is clear from the plot the linear fit is a good approximation of the non-linear trend. The linear model is a bit rough at points of change in direction, where it tends to overshoot the trend a bit. But for the crucial Katrina impact, the match between linear and non-linear trends is quite good.

The non-linear trend is actually worse at capturing sudden change points, so the blue trend appears to start down before Katrina hits. That is an artifact of how the trend is fit, and in this case the red linear model does a better job capturing Katrina's effect.

The immediate impact of Katrina was a loss of 1.4 percentage points in President Bush's job approval rating, based on a statistical analysis of all polls taken since 1/1/05. That doesn't sound like much, but just prior to Katrina he was losing approval at a rate of 1 percentage point
each 32.6 days, so a loss of 1.4 points was the equivalent of 46 days of decline all in one moment. Or looked at another way, approval declined about 8 points from January 5 2005 until the end of August. It then dropped by 18% more following Katrina. (8 x .18 = 1.4).

By comparison, the impact of the Libby indictment and the Miers withdrawal (in the same week) was a further loss of 1.6 points, marking the low point of 2005 (almost-- things started rebounding on Nov 11, a week or so later.)

Or a third take. Approval on 1/5/05 was 50.2%, based on my approval trend estimate. By 8/28/05 it had fallen to 42.2%. By 10/2/05, the day before the Miers nomination it had fallen to 41.2. By 11/11/05 it was 38.9%. (This comes from a different model so is a little different in the numerical details from the previous paragraph, though the basic point is the same-- Katrina was bad, Miers/Libby was worse, probably because the latter hurt approval among Republicans more than did Katrina.)

So let's not exaggerate, but Katrina was a substantial "hit" to approval after a decent summer in which the approval decline had flattened out a little bit (though not started back up) after a very poor winter and spring that included the failed social security reform.

My take on Katrina was that it kept the White House away from it's agenda (if it had one at the time-- from where I sit the focus seemed to drift after the social security defeat.) In any case, Katrina made the issue for the fall "incompetence" and "cronyism", which was just reinforced and exacerbated by the inexplicable Miers nomination.

Only on November 11 and thereafter with the President's renewed defense of his policies in Iraq, and a White House that seemed to stay on message for several weeks, did the decline reverse, with a considerable recovery by the end of the year. I think that the period after 11/11 was the first time that the White House seemed back in control of its affairs since giving up on social security reform.

Some of the perceived incompetence may still haunt the administration. Democrats don't seem to be that successful making it a campaign issue, though. And so far we've not had a hurricane for FEMA to manage WELL this season. If there is one, and they do well, then the administration can point to "fixing the problem" in time for the elections. If it goes poorly, however...

Katrina established some negative expectations about FEMA in particular, Homeland Security in general, and the administration including the President himself. If it performs better than expected the next opportunity, then that might actually be a good thing for the administration. This hurricane season, coinciding with the fall campaign, presents both an opportunity and a peril in establishing whether the administration has in fact solved the problems at FEMA and Homeland Security and the "competence thing".

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