[UPDATE: Prof. Franklin has a composite look at Political Arithmetik on the Katrina effect one year later. The results are a bit different, but there's more than Gallup involved in the composite model.
Frank Newport at Gallup posts a fascinating review of Gallup data on Bush's numbers, and looks at correlation with Katrina and other major events.
Just how much damage was done to the standing of President George W. Bush in the eyes of the American public by the government's faltering response to Hurricane Katrina?
The conventional wisdom appears to be that his image took a major hit.
In a New York Times story on Monday, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg said: "His (Bush's) approval ratings have never rebounded from their post-hurricane plummet." The story later quotes New York Sen. Charles Schumer as saying: "I might argue that this was the worst thing that's happened to George Bush in the whole six years of his presidency." A Reuters dispatch from August 24, as reported in The Washington Post, said: "Katrina, which killed about 1,500 people and displaced hundreds of thousands across four states, was a catalyst for a slide in Bush's poll numbers from which he has only partially recovered."
Yet, despite this apparently widespread conventional wisdom, a close examination of the available Gallup Poll data suggests that while the public did disapprove of how Bush handled Katrina, and the public did downgrade their perception of Bush as a strong and decisive leader, it is difficult to pinpoint a precise and lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina on Bush's overall approval ratings.
Bush's job approval ratings throughout September 2005, were identical to his ratings in August, and although the president's ratings fell in October and November, they had recovered by December of last year and January of this year. Bush's major slide in the ratings occurred in late February through May of this year, and there is little evidence to suggest that this was a result of his handling of Katrina.
Whereas the job approval did not demonstrably change much, what changed in a big way is Bush's competency characteristics. More on the flip.
Written permission to occasionally use Gallup data.
So think about the combination of data.
"The drop in Americans' rating of Bush on these dimensions in September occurred at the same time that his overall ratings were holding constant. This supports the theory that the public did not directly translate their perceptions of Bush on some specific qualities relating to his handling of Katrina to their overall evaluation of him.
In short, while certain aspects of Bush's image may have been affected by Katrina, there was not a discernible effect on the highly important, overall approval rating."
Okay, that seems to hold by examining the three graphs. Bush's leadership characteristics especially, and his ability as a manager, took a big hit while his approval ratings stayed constant.
That begs the simple question: why? Why would people conclude that Bush is not compelent and not even a strong leader and yet not have the approval ratings drop further than they did?
It seems to me that polling starts running out of answers here. Of course, one might just as well ask why Bush's approval rating soared after 9-11. As has been analyzed to death elsewhere, it's not like he actually did anything useful in the first 48 hours.
What Bush did (and I wrote about this soon after) is articulate and act on something Americans at the time deeply desired. Whereas the British saw 9-11 as an affront to the Rule of Law, Americans wanted the message sent that if you kill an American you yourself are dead meat. Bush promised to deliver frontier justice. The fact that subsequent events proved that to be a short-sighted and damaging approach in some ways (see Iraq and the continuing problems in an increasingly unstable Afghanistan) did not and will not deter Bush's base from approving of him (see anything Christopher Hitchens or any other Bush dead-ender says.
Over time, as buyer's remorse sets in, more and more Americans realized that management skills actually count for something. Even those who agree with Bush's plans now fault him on execution (see anything Bill Kristol says). Katrina also exposed Bush's approach to Michal Brown governance - a lack of competence coupled with a lack of any accountability whatsoever (Michael Chartoff is still there, just as Rumsfeld is).
In some ways the polls now act as a lagging, rather than a leading, indicator of Bush's approval. He's lost Dems and indies. He now only has Republicans, and as Charles Franklin has shown, there are limits to how much further Bush can drop without partisan desertions.
It seems that Bush supporters, having nothing else, have rallied around Bush because the alternative is to admit to themselves they were wrong about Bush the man and Bush's policies and that would mean a goodly number of deaths to take into account. There's the ignored PDB and the deaths at the WTC. There's Katrina and the deaths and destruction in the Gulf Coast. There's the deaths in Iraq.
After savaging Democrats (who questioned Bush's legitimacy in 2000) for six years, it's not an easy conclusion to come to that Bush's policies might in some small way have actually affected any of the above, either before or after. What that says about them, I'll leave others to examine. But you'll get a hint when you see the desparate "okay we suck, but imagine what'll happen if those Democrats start running committee chairs in Congress" rhetoric.
What'll happen? Accountability. Now that is a scary proposition.