A tale of two hurricanes

September 21, 2018, 5:00 PM GMT+0

Americans see the handling of Hurricane Florence as better than the handling of Hurricane Maria

As Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas and moved inland over the weekend, the Economist/YouGov Poll measured American’s immediate response – as well as their view of the handling of Hurricane Maria, the 2017 storm that battered Puerto Rico and is still the source of partisan controversy.

So far, at least, the federal government gets high marks for its preparation and immediate response to the current storm, but less so for what it did during Maria.

Democrats are especially critical about the handling of Maria. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats disapprove of the government’s response to Maria, 60% disapprove of the federal government’s preparation for the storm, and 74% say it did not respond fast enough. So far, Democrats are more positive about the preparation and response to Florence. By two to one (39%-20%) they say the government has done a good job preparing for the current storm. And they divide evenly in their evaluation of the response.

As for the President’s performance during these two natural disasters, so far Americans approve his handling of Florence, by 43% to 28%. But by 46% to 39%, they disapprove of his handling of Hurricane Maria.

Americans don’t just blame the President and the federal government for the management of Maria. They also blame Puerto Rico for its poor preparation. They think the governments of North and South Carolina did a much better job: more than two thirds say they did a good job preparing for Florence.

Even Democrats agree (42% to 27%) that local governments in Puerto Rico (governments dominated by Democrats) did a poor job preparing for Hurricane Maria.

The political divide over Hurricane Maria extends to the statistics of hurricane casualties. Earlier, the Puerto Rico Commonwealth’s government reported 64 deaths. But after a review of island death patterns by academic researchers, that figure was revised to nearly 3,000. President Trump has made it clear he does not believe the new figure.

Democrats overwhelmingly disagree with the President. So do independents. Republicans are divided. Republicans with a college education are twice as likely to accept the higher figure as to reject it; Republicans without a college degree narrowly agree with the President and view the lower number for Hurricane Maria deaths as correct.

Hurricane Florence may be more personal for the country. In the poll, conducted while the storm was raging, nearly half of adults (49%) said they personally know someone who has been affected by Hurricane Florence. 55% of those living in the South knew someone. Personal contact with those affected by Hurricane Maria is lower. Just 29% say they personally know someone. 43% of Hispanics say this.

More than four in ten adults have had personal experience living in areas affected by severe weather, and nearly one in four say they have had to evacuate their home at some point in their lives. Those in the South are even more likely to have this experience: 59% have lived in an area affected by serious weather; 34% have had to evacuate. Would most Americans evacuate today they if they were told to do that by the government? More than a third would definitely follow the government’s advice, and nearly as many would “probably” do that.

Those who have evacuated before are not much difference from the public overall on this question.

Americans divide on whether or not climate change has contributed to the severity of recent hurricanes. Climate change is happening, more than eight in ten American agree, and a majority (55%) attributes it to human activity (those 65 and older are less likely to say this). Republicans don’t blame human activity for climate change, though most believe it is taking place (77% of Republicans agree climate change is happening, but only one in three think humans are to blame).

Republicans with college degrees are more likely than those without degrees to think humans are responsible for climate change, but they are no more likely than others to blame it for the severity of recent storms. By more than two to one, Republicans say recent hurricane severity is just something that happens from time to time.

See full toplines and tables results

Image: Getty

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