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Poll: Katrina sparks shift in American priorities

For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, a poll finds that more than half of Americans say it is more important for  President Bush to focus on domestic policy, and Hurricane Katrina is partly responsible for the shift.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hurricane Katrina has made Americans heartsick. They’re depressed about the images of destruction and despair they see from the storm zone and they increasingly want President Bush to shift his attention toward home, a poll released Thursday found.

More than half of Americans now say it is more important for the president to focus on domestic policy — the first time since Sept. 11, 2001 that domestic matters have been viewed as a higher priority than the war on terrorism in polling by the Pew Research Center.

Two-thirds said the president could have done more to get relief efforts going quickly, according to the survey.

The slow-moving response to the hurricane appears to have shaken American confidence in the government’s ability to deal with a major disaster. Four in 10 said the response to the hurricane has made them less confident about the government’s ability to handle a major terrorist attack.

Almost six in 10 in the Pew poll, 58 percent, say they have felt depressed because of what’s happened along the Gulf Coast. Pew polling indicates that at no point during the Iraq war has that high a percentage of people said they were depressed because of the war.

Despite those gloomy feelings, many people have found encouragement in the response to the storm — 59 percent saying what they’ve heard and read about the storm has made them more optimistic. Many from around the country have offered help to the evacuees.

People were divided on those who took things from homes and businesses after the storm — equally likely to say they were trying to survive or criminals taking advantage of the situation.

The Pew poll of 1,000 adults was taken Sept. 6-7 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.