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Reaction to Katrina split on racial lines

More blacks view race as factor in federal response

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(CNN) -- White and black Americans view Hurricane Katrina's aftermath in starkly different ways, with more blacks viewing race as a factor in problems with the federal response, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.

The poll found that six in 10 blacks interviewed said the federal government was slow in rescuing those stranded in New Orleans after Katrina because many of the people in the Louisiana city were black. But only about one in eight white respondents shared that view.

The numbers were similar on whether the rescues were slower because the victims were poor, with 63 percent of blacks blaming poverty and 21 percent of whites doing so.

The poll, based on interviews with 848 whites and 262 blacks September 8-11, had a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points. (Interactive)

In a separate survey on Katrina reaction that was not broken down by race, a majority of those interviewed said they disapproved of President Bush's handling of the disaster. (Full story)

Before the release of the polls, Bush denied allegations that the response to Katrina was slower because the thousands of people stuck in New Orleans were mostly poor and black. (See video on Bush's response to criticism -- 2:28)

"The storm didn't discriminate, and neither will we in the recovery effort," said Bush, who toured the streets of New Orleans on Monday for the first time since the storm hit August 29.

But according to the poll broken down by race, blacks were more likely to blame Bush for problems in New Orleans, with 37 percent holding him most to blame for the fact that many residents were trapped inside the city after it flooded.

Twenty percent of blacks primarily blamed New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, 11 percent blamed the residents themselves and 27 percent blamed no one at all.

Among whites, 29 percent blamed Nagin, 27 percent blamed the residents, 15 percent blamed Bush and 24 percent held no one responsible.

Just over half of whites interviewed -- 51 percent -- said bureaucratic inefficiency was a bigger obstacle in the response than neglected domestic needs. But 56 percent of blacks blamed the domestic needs, such as emergency preparedness and infrastructure.

More blacks than whites said they were angry about the government's response to Katrina, 76 percent to 60 percent, and Bush is one target of their ire.

Among blacks, only 15 percent said Bush did a good job in the initial days after Katrina, and 36 percent thought he did a good job in recent days. The number for whites was 49 percent for the initial days and 63 percent more recently.

With federal agencies in general, as compared with ratings for Bush in particular, the approval for the initial response was 13 percentage points lower among whites and 13 points higher among blacks.

On the question of whether Bush cares about black people, 67 percent of whites said they believe the president does care, but only 21 percent of blacks agreed.

A majority of both races said there should be an investigation by an independent panel into problems with the government's response, with 88 percent of blacks and 67 percent of whites backing such an inquiry.

Poll results indicated that issues related to the Katrina response are likely to have more staying power in the black community, with 71 percent of blacks paying close attention to the story, compared with 56 percent of whites.

The reaction to looting in New Orleans in the days after the hurricane also broke down along racial lines.

Half of all whites said people who broke into stores and took things were mostly criminals. Only 16 percent of blacks agreed, with 77 percent saying the looters were mostly desperate people trying to find a way to survive.

Seventy-seven percent of blacks were bothered when the residents who evacuated were referred to as "refugees," while only 37 percent of whites had a problem with the term.

The poll was taken in the days before Monday's resignation by Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (See video on Brown's resignation -- 2:16 )

In the survey, 54 percent of blacks said Brown should be fired, compared with 45 percent of whites.

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