A Recap of Katrina and Bush Approval

The comparison will be inevitable so here is my analysis of Katrina & Bush approval written 1 year post-Katrina. The impact will surprise.

The link to my post-Katrina analysis is here & includes links to posts written as the story developed in fall 2005.

In the chart, there are drops at Katrina & at the Scooter Libby indictment. Then Nov 11 marked a White House push in defense of the wars.

What will surprise most readers is the impact of Katrina was a 1.4 point drop in approval but no increase in the rate of decline.

Prior to Katrina approval was falling 1 point each 32.6 days so a loss of 1.4 points was the equivalent of 46 days of decline overnight.

But after Katrina, the rate of decline did not increase, continuing down about a point per month until the Libby indictment.

The combination of year-long downward trend, plus shocks due to Katrina & Libby (also Miers SCOTUS nomination) had big cumulative impact but the notion Katrina alone caused Bush to crater is incorrect. It cost him the equivalent of an extra month+ of decline, no small thing.

The botched Miers nomination hurt approval among Republicans, & Libby, added to woes that were apparent in the long term 1 pt/mo fall.

A president over 50% approval in January fell to 39% by early November. Katrina, Miers & Libby contributed to the fall, but only modestly.

Inevitably attention will focus on Trump’s handling of Harvey. The lesson of Katrina is the impact may be smaller than might be expected.

The link to my original post is here. http://politicalarithmetik.blogspot.com/2006/08/katrina-and-bush-one-year-later.html


Here is a copy of that post from 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”.



New lows, but are they sticky?

Today produced two new lows for Trump approval, one in the normally Trump-friendly Rasmussen poll (above) and one in the normally less friendly Quinnipiac poll (below.)

I wrote on Twitter today about the Rasmussen drop before seeing the Quinnipiac result, but the central point is the same for both. “New lows” are often not sticky. A poll may hit the new low only to rebound a bit from that. If polls are subject to random noise (they are, due to random sampling and other reasons) then a “new low” may well just be a unusual bit of noise that will go away next time.  For this reason, before getting too excited (or upset) about “new lows” we should be skeptical until confirming evidence arrives, in the form of repeated lows by the same poll and by multiple polls showing the same trend. (This applies equally well when we see “new highs”.)

Here are my (lightly edited) comments from Twitter early this afternoon:

I wrote yesterday that polls often bounce back up a little after hitting “new lows”. Monday Rasmussen hit 39% Trump approval for 1st time. Then on Tuesday Rasmussen was unchanged at 39% Trump approval, not bouncing back up.

Now Wednesday, Rasmussen is at 38% Trump appoval, a second new low in 3 days, and the opposite of a bounce back up.

Meanwhile Gallup has read 37, 37 & today 36. Gallup has been in the 36-40 range since early June so these numbers are not “new” for them.

But Rasmussen has until now been consistently among the highest polls for Trump approval. (See first chart at the top of this post.) The decline is therefore striking.

I still expect Rasmussen to hit a low and bounce back up, but if Gallup should also break through 36 to 35 (registered once on 3/28) or below, we would have evidence that there is a genuine new low, not just a short-term bounce down.

Now that we have the new Quinnipiac poll in hand there is another piece of evidence. Quinnipiac’s new approval reading is at 33%, a new low for their poll.  But is this indicative of a drop in approval? It is certainly down from Quinnipiac’s previous poll which was at 40, but that one was actually a little high. Q-poll had previously been in the mid-30s. So the current 33, is a new low, but not one far from most of their previous polls.

As you can see in the chart below (repeated from above) the Quinnipiac polls averages 5.1 percentage points below my trend estimate as of the days the Q-polls have been completed. With a current trend estimate of 37.4, we’d expect the Q-poll to be at about 32.3, quite close to the 33 of the actual poll.

In contrast, Rasmussen averages +4.8 points ABOVE the trend. So their current 38% is very low for them. Based on past deviations from trend, we’d expect the Rasmussen poll to be closer to 42.2 than to 38. For this reason, I think the new low for Rasmussen is unlikely to persist. Why they have fallen so much more than would be expected given the overall trend is a bit of a mystery. It could be substantive. Rasmussen samples likely voters while most other pollsters are using adult voter or registered voter samples right now. Likely voters are more attentive to politics, so it is possible that greater attention has brought some decline among the Rasmussen respondents. But if so, why this week rather than last week, or the week before? The more circumspect evaluation is that for some reason the samples of the last three days have had an unusually strong negative view of Trump, and that as Rasmussen’s sample moves to new respondents, the overall approval will likely return to the usual +4.8 over trend, or thereabouts.

All that said, the approval trend accounting for all polls has declined a bit in recent days, to the current 37.4 that I calculate.  Real Clear Politics puts it at 38.4 approve and 56.9 disapprove while HuffPost/Pollster has it 37.5-58.4 and 538 is 37.0-57.5. There is a lot of agreement across our different methodologies, and all are showing a slight decline in the trend estimate in recent days.

It is always good to compare trends across pollsters, rather than only looking at one poll or only looking at the overall trend estimate. Here are Trump approval & disapproval trend comparisons across all pollsters with 2 or more polls since January.

Trump approval at (almost) six-months

Donald Trump’s approval trend has remained well below previous newly elected presidents through mid-July. Trump has consistently remained within about 2 points of 40 percent approval since the beginning of his second month in office, with a current trend estimate of 38,9%.

Bill Clinton also suffered low approval ratings for part of his early months, though not as consistently low as Trump’s have been. In July Clinton’s approval-disapproval readings were 45-48 7/9-11/93 and 42-49 7/19-21/93. His 6 month low was 37-49 6/5-6/93. This was also his all time low for his entire presidency.

Gerald Ford, though not an elected president and hence not included in the chart above, also fell off in approval near the end of his first six-months with readings of 38-43 1/31-2/3/75 and 39-45 2/28-3/3/75. His six month low was 37-39 1/10-13/75, also his all time low.

The chart below shows when each president reached his all time low approval reading. Clinton and Ford both hit 37% in the first six months, but never returned to those lows. Trump hit 35-59 in one Gallup poll so far, 3/26-28/17, but has not broken that low since.

While no other president has been as consistently low as Trump in the first half year, seven post-war presidents have equaled or exceeded his low mark at some point in their terms. Given his start, there is ample historical evidence that approval can fall into the 20s at some point.

The data used here are from Gallup polls, which have maintained a consistent wording of the approval question and have the longest historical time series. Polls by other pollsters may differ from these records based on the Gallup data. The Trump and Obama data are based on Gallup’s daily (3-day rolling sample) polling of presidential approval.

Data for all post-war presidents around July or 6 months into term.

Ike 69-15 7/4-9/53
Ike 73-13 7/25-30/53

JFK 72-14 6/23-28/61
JFK 75-12 7/27-8/1/61

LBJ 74-12 6/4-9/64
LBJ 74-14 6/11-16/64

RMN 58-22 7/10-15/69
RMN 63-21 7/24-29/69

GRF 38-43 1/31-2/3/75
GRF 39-45 2/28-3/3/75
** GRF 6 month low 37-39 1/10-13/75

JEC 62-22 7/8-11/77
JEC 67-17 7/22-25/77

RR 60-29 7/17-20/81
RR 56-30 7/24-27/81

GHWB 67-18 7/6-9/89
GHWB 69-19 8/10-13/89

WJC 45-48 7/9-11/93
WJC 42-49 7/19-21/93
** WJC 6 month low 37-49 6/5-6/93

GWB 57-35 7/10-11/01
GWB 56-33 7/19-22/01

BHO 60-33 7/15-17/09
BHO 55-41 7/17-19/09

Gallup Daily
DJT 40-55 7/9-11/17
DJT 38-56 7/13-15/17

Gallup Weekly
DJT 38-57 7/3-9/09
DJT 39-56 7/10-16/09