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Journal of Public Management & Social Policy

Abstract

Just months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, New Orleans held a mayoral election. With so many displaced residents, it was difficult to gauge attitudes, but there are perhaps few more important situations in which the public’s attitudes need to be examined. This paper examines the methodological challenges with survey research in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We conducted a traditional survey just days before the election and attempted to correct for our inability to reach particular segments of the population through post-stratification weights. The results of our poll were relatively accurate for all of the candidates but one – the winner. We recommend in the aftermath of a disaster that researchers provide not only a range of possible outcomes, but also that they should consider other methods, such as focus groups, and alter the usual questions to account for the post-disaster context. Given that the opinion environment after a major disaster is marked by indecision and confusion, it is not surprising that respondents were unsure of their vote choice and/or changed their mind just before the election. Our experience should provide some caution to researchers seeking to measure opinion in these circumstances.

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