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Jan. 18, 2006 Press Contact: William Harms
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Survey finds large racial differences in response to Katrina


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Read the complete study (Word document)

In the News
“Racial split blamed for New Orleans lag”
Jan. 19, 2006

Michael Dawson discusses the study on "848"
Jan. 20, 2006

Melissa Harris-Lacewell discusses the study on "News and Notes with Ed Gordon"
Jan. 23, 2006


The process of deciding how to rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is undermined by sharp racial gaps between blacks and whites about what should be done, according to new research by political scientists at the University of Chicago.

Their project, the 2005 Racial Attitudes and the Katrina Disaster Study, is the first to analyze racial differences in reactions to the reporting of the tragedy and people’s attitudes toward the responsibilities of the victims to avoid the disaster. The research is being conducted by the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and headed by Michael Dawson, the John D. MacArthur Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science; Cathy Cohen, Professor in Political Science; and Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Assistant Professor in Political Science.

Dawson will discuss the findings at a seminar, “Revisiting the Dream in the Aftermath of Katrina: Race, Class and Politics,” from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19, at the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago, 969 E. 60th St.

The research team is studying the responses of 1,300 people, evenly split between blacks and whites, selected randomly by Knowledge Networks, a firm that uses television and Internet-based technology to complete the survey.

“This data shows why, four months after the disaster, we still can’t decide what to do to rebuild New Orleans. There is no political will to act,” Harris-Lacewell said.

Some of the reasons the national consensus is still unresolved may come from the way the disaster was initially reported, Harris-Lacewell suggested. Shortly after the hurricane struck, people were shown images of both black and white people being rescued as well as reports that either described them as refugees or referred to them as Americans.

To test how reporting on the tragedy influenced people’s reactions, survey participants were shown separate television images of both black and white families and asked two questions: “The federal government should spend whatever necessary to rebuild the city and restore these Americans to their homes,” or “Although this is a great tragedy, the federal government must not commit too many funds to rebuilding until we know how we will pay for it.”

Whites who viewed the images of white victims described as refugees were 6 percent more likely to support rebuilding than they were if they viewed a black family described as refugees. Blacks had similar responses, whether people were described as refugees or as Americans, but were 5 percent more likely to support rebuilding if they were shown a black family.

Overall, blacks supported the federal government spending whatever is necessary to rebuild and restore people to their homes by 79 percent. Only 33 percent of whites held that position.

Among blacks, 89 percent felt that the reason blacks were trapped by Katrina was that they didn’t have resources to escape, while 56 percent of whites held that view.

Part of the coverage of the aftermath of the tragedy was reporting on remarks by rapper Kanye West that President Bush does not care about black people. While 9 percent of blacks felt his remarks were unjustified, 56 percent of whites held that view.

In addition to the work of the team analyzing data, Harris-Lacewell traveled to New Orleans in November 2005 to interview people and attend community meetings. She found attitudes and responses divided racially as well.

“African-Americans blamed local government. They felt that the local authorities had not maintained the levees or else blew them up so that their neighborhoods were flooded,” she said. Whites were more likely to attend meetings at which a plan with modest goals to restore the core tourist section of the city was given priority, she said.
Last modified at 02:35 PM CST on Monday, February 12, 2007.

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