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Catastrophic Reactions: Public Opinion in the Wake of Disaster

Major catastrophes have the potential to create widespread changes in public opinions of government officials, public policies, and government capabilities because crises events prompt intense media and public scrutiny of the performance of government. This study examines opinions in one such case, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The images from Hurricane Katrina, especially in New Orleans, were highly emotional and shown continuously on cable television and network news over a prolonged period of time. Americans were riveted by what they saw. Besides the extensive property damage, the images portrayed unbelievable human suffering. Thousands of people were stranded and in need of rescue. People located at designated safety areas lacked food, water and medical supplies. With the loss of order and the images of American's suffering, journalists and the public turned their attention to assigning blame. Our study examines how the media covered the crisis, how blame was apportioned among political figures, and how the public responded to the diverse and sometimes conflicting messages in the media. The study helps untangle the role of emotion and predispositions in shaping attributions of blame following a catastrophe, and also examines how those attributions translate into policy preferences, evaluations of leaders, and long term confidence in government to deal with other crises.

Support for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation (SES-0553047), the Department of Political Science at Florida State University and the Department of Political Science at the University of New Mexico.

Overview of Study



Principal Investigators

Lonna Rae Atkeson
Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science
Office: (505) 277-7592
Email: atkeson@unm.edu

Cherie D. Maestas
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
Florida State University
Office: (850) 644-7328
Email: cmaestas@fsu.edu